By Dawn Natelle, edited by Eric
Chapter 30 – School Days
So far: River learned how to tan a deerskin, and then there was a great coming together with people from many of the area reserves. The river taught all of them the language and the history, and one boy in particular learned something important. Homes were found for all the new students, and the high school is going to be close to bursting, mostly with grade 9 students. It was not all arrivals though. River had to say goodbye to Wayne, her first First Nations friend, as he heads back to university.
River was up at her normal time on Tuesday, excited about going to her first day of high school. Unlike most girls in her class, she didn’t worry about what to wear. River always wore First Nations costumes that were given to her by the women in the band who sewed. It seemed to be a mark of pride to have the rivertalker wear an outfit you had sewed, and River took great care to wear everyone’s contributions. It was a special honor to have her wear someone’s sewing at the Sunday services, so she had taken great care to never wear from the same designer twice. It was pleasing to see the pride in the face of the woman who had sewn her outfit as she stood in the river to address the people.
Today River chose the first dress she had been gifted, from Eve Sunflower, who had also provided River with several native dance lessons, when River could find the time. The dress was a beautiful one designed for Eve’s daughter to wear at pow-wows, which the girl had attended before committing suicide in her later teen years. It was Amy Sunflower whose death had caused River to start a campaign to end First Nations suicides.
At any rate, the dress was beautiful, and River considered it ideal for the first day of school. The town kids would laugh at it, she knew, but the reserve kids would see it and realize that she was proud to be an Ojibwe, even if only an honorary one. She felt especially proud because she had spent several hours in the river working on Mark’s new outfit. It would have fringe along the shoulders and down the arms and legs. She got most of it cut and stitched together before taking it back to Marilyn’s.
River had to wake Mark for his first day of class when she came back from the river, since the bus to the middle school at Terrace Bay left before 7:30 to allow it to be back at 8:30 for the first run to the local high school, and then another run at 8:50. High school classes had been pushed back to a 9:05 start to compensate for the needed second run to get all the new students from the reserve into town.
River wanted to be on the first bus, and found five other students waiting after she walked the five minutes from the campsite to the bus stop. She was the one person that everyone knew, both the local students and the ones boarding on the reserve. So she spent her time introducing everyone to everyone else, making them all feel comfortable. Some students only knew their roommate, so it was important to make all feel part of the group.
By the time the bus came, there were 17 people at the stop, and all were chattering together. River didn’t allow shyness to stop anyone, speaking to them, and then getting them talking to someone else, like an experienced party host.
It continued on the bus, where she flitted back and forth among the students that got on during the later stops, and continued all the way until the full bus got to the school. As first bus, they had to wait until the second group of students got in, which included almost all of the senior year students, who were much less excited about the first day of school. River continued her social activities until the bell rang, and all the students headed into the gym for first-day assembly, when they would be broken into classes.
In the gym, the principal welcomed them all to the school. This year there were going to be 145 students in six different classes. The school was built with eight rooms, one science lab, and a smallish gym. For the past few years there had only been one class per grade, but now there would be three grade nines, and one class for each of the senior years.
Then the senior students were sent off to their homerooms with their teachers, while the grade nines waited to find out which class they would be in. Principal Tweed made a really bad Harry Potter joke about sorting hats, which caused most students to groan. River smiled though. At least he was trying.
In the end Carla, River, and Cindy were all in 9B with Mr. George as their teacher. Cindy’s housemates, Wendy Jean and Galena were also in 9B, with Galena pushing Wendy’s chair. Luckily there were no stairs in the school, other than some storage attics. River found Wendy a bit grumpy at first, but passed it off as first day jitters. She knew that she was a bit nervous.
That dissipated when they got to homeroom and the hearty welcome that Mr. George gave them. He told them that he would be teaching Ojibwe to those who had signed up for it rather than shop or home ec. He then sent them off to their first class, which was English for most of them.
“River,” a familiar voice called out. She turned and saw Gail and Gina, her tent-mates from a few weeks ago in the JR camp. She had not really seen much of them, since they had worked with Wayne all day, and River was up long before they were. Lately they had been asleep already when she crawled into her sleeping bag for her short sleep.
“Who are the white girls?” Wendy asked with a sneer, ignoring the fact that Cindy, a white girl, was currently pushing her wheelchair.
“Girls, meet Gail and Gina,” River said. “They worked with me in Junior Rangers at the park this summer. We had some fun, until I got busy with other things. You girls know Carla. This is Cindy, and Wendy Jean and Galena from Moose Portage Reserve, who are boarding at Cindy’s.”
The girls only had a minute to chat, as Gail and Gina, in 9C, had to head off to science class.
At lunch, River was again flitting around the room. She didn’t need to eat, but went from table to table to chat with students, and to move the shy ones into larger groups so they could make friends.
“Look at her,” Emily Smythe said. “She is clearly the most popular girl in the grade. We should ask her to join.”
“She is pretty enough,” Jessica Baldwin said. The girls were in a group of six who sat at one table in the corner of the gym/cafeteria. They were the Spirit Squad, and they chose one student from each grade each year. Thus, they would have 10 students, one Grade 9, two Grade 10s, three from Grade 11, and four from Grade 12 by the end of the week. They had already chosen the girls they wanted from the senior years, usually friends of one or more of the current members. But Grade 9 was always harder.
The Spirit Squad was a sort of replacement for cheerleaders at St. Mary’s. The school was too small to have a football program, and also there had been no teacher with a cheer background. A few years back, however, a few students started the Spirit Squad to cheer on the boys basketball program, the main sport at the school.
Just then River walked close, and Jessica waved her over.
“Hi, I’m Jessica,” the girl said, introducing the others at the table. “We are the Spirit Squad, and we thought you might be interested in joining. You seem to know everyone in your grade.”
“Wow, that’s nice of you to ask. I’m River. I bet your group is great, but I really don’t think I will have time to help out. I have a commitment every day after school on the reserve.”
“You live on the reserve,” Emily asked with a gasp.
“Yeah, we are living in a tent in the park,” River said, smiling.
“You are poor?” one of the other girls blurted out.
“I guess it does sound like we’re homeless,” River laughed. “But we will be moving into one of the big houses being built down by the river. It won’t be ready for another few weeks, though.”
“Oh,” the girls seemed mollified at this.
“You know who would be good for your group,” River said, pointing. “Carla, the girl over at that table.”
“She’s an Indian,” one of the girls said.
“But she is pretty,” said another.
“But an Indian,” the first girl repeated. “We’ve never had an Indian before.”
“We prefer the term First Nations,” River said. “The people are not from India.”
“We?” Jessica repeated. “Are you Ind… First Nations? You are so blonde.”
River smiled. “I consider myself an honorary member of the band. Would you like me to call over Carla?”
“It might be a good idea to get someone from the band,” Emily said. “There are so many natives in Grade 9 this year.”
River was relieved. Clearly one girl was racist, but it didn’t seem to run through the entire group. If it had, she wouldn’t want Carla involved. “Do you want me to call Carla over?”
“Yes, do. We can talk to her at least. No promises, but we really do need to find someone from Grade 9,” Jessica said.
Carla came over at River’s wave, and after introducing her River went back to working the room, spending a few minutes at each of the Grade 9 tables.
As she passed a group of older students, one tall boy reached out a hand and grabbed her arm. “Hey cutie,” he said. “Why won’t you sit down with us? I’d like to get to know you better. You are super cute.”
“I was just visiting all the Grade 9s. You guys are older. But I guess I can chat for a bit,” River sat at an empty chair, making sure it was not the one next to the boy who had grabbed her.
“We’re Grade 11s,” the boy said. “I’m Josh Peterville. Captain of the basketball team as a junior.”
“Brag much?” one of the other boys sneered. “The captain won’t be picked until after tryouts in November.”
“Yeah, but who else is going against me? None of the Grade 12s are that good. I’m a cinch to get in. You should date me,” the boy said to River. “I saw you talking to the girls from Spirit Squad. Are you going to be the Grade 9 member?”
“No, I can’t,” River said. “And I can’t date you either. I’m only 14, and too young to go steady.”
“Your parents don’t have to know,” the boy said. “I’m 16, and have a car. We can go anywhere. I know all the romantic spots on the lake.”
River wondered just how many girls he had taken to those romantic spots. “Sorry Josh. I am too young, and if I wasn’t, there is someone else I would date.”
“Hah,” Josh sneered. “Some little Grade Niner? I will smear him.”
“The fact that you think I would go out with you after you fight someone I like shows me that you are not boyfriend material,” River said. “And it is not a boy my age. He is in college, second year, and you wouldn’t get near him without suffering a lot of pain. He wouldn’t fight you, unless he thought that you had bothered me. Then he would put you into the hospital. Now I think I see somewhere else I need to be.”
“Oooh,” the other boys at the table crowed at seeing the basketball player getting verbally chopped into little pieces by River. She just walked away, and soon after that the warning bell rang.
The last class of the afternoon was Ojibwe with Mr. George. He greeted the class in the language, and most of them knew it. There were a few white people in the class, mostly looking at it as a way to avoid shop or home ec. Cindy was one, and River, although she considered herself one of the people, and two others in a class of 30.
Mr. George asked that all those who didn’t speak the language show up at the meeting place at the river at 4 p.m. for a special event. He mentioned as he walked around the class that there were more than a dozen students from the other two Ojibwe classes that also needed to attend the event. He clearly was warning River, without pointing out that she would be the one conducting the ceremony.
At the meeting place River joined the other students, none of whom spoke the language. A few minutes after 4 a van pulled up, and Wendy Jean and Galena were helped out by Mr. George. The van would allow him to take the students from off the reserve home. Just then Mark appeared, and he pushed Wendy to the bank where all the other students were standing.
“Thanks for coming, class, or is it classes,” Mr. George said. “I have invited River Waters and her brother here to help us in this little ceremony that will help you all learn the Ojibwe language.” River caught on immediately. The teacher was going to make it appear as if he were the one the magic was flowing through, not River. The students would be less intimidated if it was a teacher, and not a fellow student conducting the rites.
“River, if you could lead the students out into the river,” Mr. George said. “Mark, could you help Wendy Jean?” The young boy picked the small girl up and carried her into the water as the rest of the students waded into the water.
“River is going to sing a few songs in Ojibwe, and as she does, you might start to pick up the words. This is how we will all learn Ojibwe.”
River started to sing the songs of the people, and a half hour later, when she finished, all the students had a basic understanding of the language, and Mr. George was going to be able to conduct his class in Ojibwe, as he had planned. He ended the session, and then left, taking the van load of students who were from St. Mary’s or Terrace Bay with him to be driven home.
“He’s left us,” Galena said as she watched the van pull away. Wendy Jean’s chair remained on the bank. She had spent the last half hour in Mark’s arms, and seemed to be enjoying it. “I don’t mind,” she said. “I’m enjoying it here. I think the water is calming me or something. I don’t feel tense like I usually do.”
“I would like you to stay a bit longer with me,” River said. “The river sometimes can cure people, or give them other boons. I’m hoping it can do something for you, Wendy Jean.”
River took the handicapped girl from Mark, and held her in the water. Then they both dropped, which threw Galena into a panic. “It is all right,” Cindy said. “She did the same thing with my Mom when she cured her of cancer. They can breathe underwater. I know, because I did it for a while too.”
“How is that possible? But then, how is it possible that it can cure her? She has been in a wheelchair since she hit a tree on a toboggan when we were eight.”
“The river can do wonderful things,” Mark said. “I am only 10, nearly 11, and it made me bigger.”
“You’re kidding,” Galena said as she and Cindy stared at him. “I thought you were, like, eighteen or something. Wow.”
After about a half hour, River stood up, bringing Wendy Jean with her. “Mark, can you take Wendy back to her chair? The river had other plans for her.”
“She can’t walk?” Galena said, disappointed. “I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t be,” Wendy told her sister, cheerfully. “The river has given me something even better. I realize now that I’ve been a real bitch for years, feeling sorry for myself, and making everyone else miserable. I especially need to apologize to you, Galena. You’ve taken the brunt of my nastiness, and never complained.”
“How could I?” Galena embraced her sister. “We were both on the same sled when it hit the tree, and you were paralyzed, while I just got a scrape on my arm. It was so unfair.”
“No,” Wendy Jean said. “The river told me that my handicap is what makes me special. It is not something to be pitied, any more than you should be pitied because you are cute. It is a part of me, and it said it could take it away from me.”
“It said it could cure you?”
“Of course. The river is Manitou. It can do anything. But if it cured me, it would be taking a part of me away. Instead it taught me how to live the way I am. It taught me how to block out the pains that come sometimes. And it said that I will soon find there is something special about me.”
She then curled up into Mark's arms, and let him carry her back to her chair. Just then Mrs. Winters drove up in the van she had bought, which had a ramp and a spot for Wendy’s chair in the second row.
“You got a new car, Mom,” Cindy crowed.
“Yes. We couldn’t keep depending on Nick to carry us all around, so the two of us went to Sault this morning and we found this on one of the lots. It seemed to call out to us, since Wendy Jean is in a chair. This gives her more mobility and will get her out of the house.”
“Thanks Mrs. Winters,” Wendy Jean said, with a tear in her eye. “You didn’t have to do this for me.”
“It is for all of us, Wendy,” Dawn said. “I needed to get a car. And when we saw this one in the dealership lot, there wasn’t a question that I wouldn’t get it. And Nick negotiated a great price for me. Apparently there isn’t a lot of demand for a handicapped van in Sault, and the dealer was planning to ship it to Toronto to be sold at auction, probably taking a lot less than what we paid.”
By now Mark had Wendy in her chair, and Nick was showing them how the ramp worked. Soon they had the chair strapped into its spot, and Galena hopped into the seat next to her, while Cindy took shotgun. The four drove off with a wave.
“So how was the first day at school, Mark?” River asked as they walked along the bank with Nick towards his RV.
“Not bad. Something I have to tell you about though. Are you going to the campsite?” he said. River had moved her tent back to the site when the JR camp broke up a week ago, and now was staying with the family, although the house was getting closer and closer to completion. The big remaining task was the fireplace, and Chip had promised that he and his boys would finish it before the second deer season. Alison was itching to move in on October 6.
“Yeah, I will be there for supper,” River said. “I just have one more thing to do.”
With that Mark veered off towards the camp as River and Nick continued on to the RV.
“Daddy’s home,” Nick called out as they entered. “Is my little treasure here?”
Marilyn handed Luv to her father immediately. River could tell. She was just about at her limit after a day of caring for the little one alone. It was the first day that she hadn’t had a clutch of teen and tween mothers helping her.
“You look like you could use a break,” River said. “Do you mind if Nick and I take Luv over to Grandpa Audette? I need to talk to him, and would like Nick there. And I think he probably needs his dose of Luv.”
“Yes, yes,” Marilyn said with relief. “I’ll head over to see Mom, and help her with supper. I’ll have to tell her to just slap me if I start talking baby talk to her.”
Neil was thrilled to get visitors to his little house, especially the smallest one. The house was as neat as a pin, and he was proud to offer coffees to his guests. But not too proud to take the baby and let River make the beverages. Soon they were all seated in the three easy chairs in the main room, with Luv happy on her grandpa’s lap.
“How is the divorce coming, Neil?” River asked.
He looked at Nick, who answered for them. “It has started, and a court date will come up at the end of September in Thunder Bay. I’m hopeful that it will be settled on that day. Since it is uncontested, there is no reason for a delay. With Neil not working it isn’t like she can ask for much more.”
“Good,” River said to Neil, “because I think I might have work for you. Work here on the reserve.”
“Are you planning a mine here?” Neil said with a laugh. “Because mining is probably all I know anything about.”
“Yes.” Neil’s mouth dropped, and Nick also showed surprise.
“I don’t know if either of you have met Chip Wilson,” River said. “But he is a stone mason, and I had the river teach him about all the rocks and minerals in the reserve, so he would know where to get good stone. Well, he told me something that I want to be kept secret, at least until after Neil’s divorce.”
Both men shook their heads in agreement.
“Chip said that the river told him there is a vein of gold running through the middle of the reserve. It starts out pretty small just a little north of the reserve, and then runs diagonally all the way down, ending just before the river. Chip says the river said it was a 5-ton vein. Do you know what that means?” River asked.
“Yes,” Neil said. “But are you sure it wasn’t point five-ton? That would be more normal. A 5-ton vein is one where a ton of ore will yield five ounces of gold. A half ounce would be more normal.”
“I can only tell you what Chip told me,” River said. “Is it possible for you to test it? Would you need special equipment?”
“I brought most of what I need down with me,” Neil said, pointing to the shed at the rear of the property. “It was mostly for sentimental reasons. I didn’t expect to ever use it again. I’m not going back to Sudbury until Luv is in college, and by then I’ll be too old to get a job.”
“You said that a part of the vein is outside the reserve,” Nick said. “We should make sure to wrap up claims on that land, so that nobody else can get into the vein.”
“I can do that, if you can handle the paperwork,” Neil said. “I’ve never filed my own claim, but I know what is involved.”
“I want Nick to form a mining company for us,” River said. “The band will own it, and Neil will be the first employee, as soon as his divorce goes through. We will stake out claims on the outside land that first day. Nick, can you research in case there will be problems with the band mining its reserve? And have the incorporation papers ready that first day?”
“Neil, this is all going to be volunteer work on your part, since we can’t pay you yet. But we will make sure you get compensated in the future. I need you to scope out the area, and try to figure out how much gold there is. And Chip said something about silver as well.”
“Silver is common with gold veins,” Neil said.
“I also need you to draw up a list of equipment you would need to mine the gold. Also a real business plan. How many people, what kinds of equipment and the costs, and how we are going to sell the gold. And keeping everything a secret until the last possible minute.”
“I can take core samples,” Nick said. “But as soon as they go to assay, the whole world will know the gold is there. And I should be able to eyeball the difference between a 5 and point five vein. I think I can get a good plan together in the next month. Gosh, this is exciting.”
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