River 36 -- The War

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River

By Dawn Natelle, edited by Eric

Chapter 36 – The War

So far: grand openings abound, with the Ojibwe Co-op and the Waters house getting most of the attention. Nick’s and Marilyn’s house, and the credit union also opened. Finally, River gets another idea, and the First Annual St. Mary’s High School Fashion Show is the result.

In early November Mark and River were waiting for the sun to come up on a Friday morning when they heard a chorus of wolf howls from a few miles down the river. They got out of the water, and hurried off to see what was happening.

Quickly they came across a sight that amazed them. There were two pickup trucks, a van, and a half-ton truck. A dozen men were standing in a huddle around some sort of drilling apparatus that had been set up, and a huge searchlight had the area looking as bright as midday. There were a dozen of the local wolves around the men, including several between the men and the trucks, where full gun racks could be seen in the windows of the pickups.

“What’s going on here?” River called out when she gathered in the scene.

“Help us,” one of the men called. “The wolves are threatening us. We can’t get back to our trucks.”

“What are you doing here? Do you have permission to drill here?”

“Of course we do, that’s why we are doing it at three in the morning,” the man replied sarcastically. “Your people wouldn’t let us on the land for test holes. A couple tests will let us know which way the vein runs, and give us an idea where to drill off the reserve.”

“The vein starts just the other side of the river, and runs along here for about 1.5 miles in that direction, ending up in the small patch of non-reserve land that our company has staked a claim to. If you had asked, we would have saved you a great deal of trouble.”

“Can you just call off your dogs,” the man shouted. “We’ll pack up and get out of here.”

“They are wolves, and not dogs. You have just insulted them greatly, and I really don’t think you want to make them any more upset with you. You are on their land without permission. I have no control over what they do. They do know that I don’t like the sight of blood or violence, and that may be why they haven’t started tearing you to pieces.”

“Can you get to the truck, and bring us a gun or two, then?” the man said. He and his men were getting more and more anxious about their predicament.

“A gun? The wolves are my friends. You think I am going to give you guns to shoot at them? You might hurt one or two before they rip you to pieces. No sir. I think that the best thing for you fellows to do would be to start moving, slowly, in that direction. And don’t stop until you get to the highway four miles off. That is the edge of the reserve.”

Most of the men started moving immediately in the direction that River had suggested, but the leader took one more try.

“But what about our equipment? There is a lot of expensive stuff here.”

“I think that equipment is owned by the reserve now,” River said. “We thank you for your kind donation.”

The foreman paused again, until two wolves started moving closer. He then quickly headed off after his men. The wolves continued to surround the men on three sides to keep them moving towards the highway. Without their floodlights the men were nearly blind in the bush, and stumbled slowly taking nearly three hours to get to the road, getting there as the sun rose.

Back at the drill site, River told Mark to help her turn off the massive floodlights and any other equipment that was still running before they returned for another hour or so in the river.

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Nick was furious when he heard of the incursion later that morning. He immediately called Constable Terry Sloot at the OPP detachment in Terrace Bay. Const. Sloot was probably the officer in the detachment that had the most experience at the reserve, and he seemed willing to treat the natives fairly. He told Nick that he had just had a call from Northern Mining and Manufacturing that $500,000 worth of their equipment had been “stolen” from their yard, and that a dozen of their workers had been “attacked” by wolves just outside of the reserve. The company managers were insisting that a team of Ministry of Natural Resources rangers be formed to hunt down and eliminate the wolves.

“It all makes sense now that we have heard your side of it,” Const. Sloot said. “I couldn’t understand how equipment could be stolen from a yard in Sault Ste. Marie when the men were out at the reserve. I’ll head out and see you within an hour. You will return the equipment, I assume.”

“I don’t know about that,” Nick said. “It is a grey area of the law, and it may well be that we will put a claim on the equipment, since it was left on our property as the result of a trespass. We might not win the case, but the equipment will be tied up for a few years as it works through the court system.”

The constable was out less than an hour later, and as he investigated the site, while munching on a few of Liesl’s biscuits and some of Marilyn’s coffee, he came to the conclusion that the “stolen” equipment was found, but that it was being used illegally on reserve land.

During the day Nick and lawyers from Northern argued over the phone. Apparently the equipment was pretty crucial to the operations of the company in the area. There were other rigs in other locations, but none nearby and none that was not in use. The company really wanted its equipment back, and knew that Nick could hold the equipment for months, or years, while legal challenges were underway. After two years, two-thirds of the value of the equipment would be depreciated away.

The last call that evening came after school was out, and River was there to hear it. Nick had put his phone on speaker, so she could hear the increasingly angry shouting from the other end of the line. In the background they could even hear angry threats being made.

“Something is going to happen, and I think it will happen tonight,” River said.

“So soon? Will there be violence?” Marilyn wondered as she held her precious Luv close.

“There might be, but you will be a long way away from it,” Nick said. He turned to River and sternly told her. “You too. I don’t want you anywhere near that site. If nothing has happened before you go to the river tomorrow morning, I want you here.” He gestured at the river outside their house. “Not down at your normal spot at the meeting place.”

“Like that is going to happen,” River replied with as little sass in her voice as possible. “That is my river, and I intend to be close at hand when anything happens to it, or near it.”

Nick started three times to come up with an argument that would keep the girl away, and each time had to stop, knowing that nothing would keep her away. “All right, but keep your distance. And I want all the hunters from the band there. Some with guns, but more hidden in the bushes and trees with arrows.”

“No guns at all,” River insisted. “This could become a war, and I don’t want blood flowing into my river.”

Nick thought it over. “Agreed. Now I have to call Const. Sloot and let him know what we think will go down. He will be glad we are not carrying guns.”

“I better go over and get Liesl to whip up another batch of biscuits,” Marilyn said. “He really liked those.”

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Const. Sloot arrived just prior to midnight. His sergeant had not thought the threat was credible, and preferred to leave it. He did allow his officer to go to the scene and call for reinforcements if necessary.

Nick had several young boys at the entrance to the park and reserve, equipped with walkie-talkies, since there was no cell service deep in the reserve. They called in a half hour after midnight to report that three dilapidated old school busses full of men had sped through the gates.

Only two busses arrived at the drilling site, and all the men who poured out were carrying a rifle, ranging from simple hunting .22s to more powerful rifles. Unlike the United States, gun control in Canada meant that only hunting rifles were present, and no assault weapons. Half the men formed a circle around the drill site, facing outwards, while others immediately started working on the equipment, breaking it down to pack back on the trucks.

River had been standing next to Const. Sloot and as he got on his police radio to call the situation in to his station, she stepped forward. “Stop now,” she ordered. “You have no legal right to take this equipment. You are all trespassing.”

“What?” the foreman shouted with a sneer as he pointed his .22 at River. “Are you going to send your wolves after us? This time we have guns. Or are those men with bows and arrows supposed to scare us? A bullet flies a lot faster than an arrow, and does a lot more damage, too.”

“Stop this now,” Const. Sloot ordered in his police officer command voice. But a shot rang out suddenly, followed by another, and then there was a cluster of twangs as arrows were shot out in all directions.

Const. Sloot fell to the ground, and River was horrified to see a red rose appear on his forehead. He had stepped forward as the foreman shot at her, and had taken the bullet. In panic she looked around, seeing her brother beside her. “Mark,” she screamed, “take him to the river.” The huge boy picked up the 200-pound officer as if he were a rag doll, and started running full speed into the river, not stopping at the bank, but leaping as far as possible into the river.

River was close behind, and as soon as they were in the river she told Mark to go see if he could help others. She turned her attention to the officer, who was still alive.

“Can you save him?” she pleaded with the river.

After a few moments she finally heard the river say it could, but it noted that the injury was a grievous one.

As River held the constable underwater, she started seeing images. There was a young constable in full dress uniform, marrying a pretty woman. Then a picture of that woman, but now fully pregnant. Then a baby, who turned into a young girl laughing as her father swung her around in a suburban backyard. Then another girl a few years younger.

What are these images? River asked the river.

Those are his memories. I cannot save them, the river said.

What? What will be left?

The bullet went into his brain, the river said. He will lose much of his memories of the past.

No! River screamed. It is not worth saving him if he loses all that. His memories, his wife and children. Can’t you do more?

I will try, the river said. You are the most difficult rivertalker I have ever had.

Minutes later River started seeing the images that had flitted away in the river current fighting their way back upstream, and reuniting with the officer’s body. She hoped that this meant the river was successful.

Uh, River said hesitantly. I don’t want to be a pain, although I know I am, but is it possible that you not completely cure him? If he comes out of the river without a scratch, then those men will get away with it. Can he have the bullet and bullet hole still in him? Just no serious damage. The doctors can extract the bullet.

Yes, the river sighed. I can do that. I assume you will want the same for the native who was shot?

Someone else was shot? Who? a panicked River said. Is he okay?

Red Bear was shot in the arm, the river said. He is going to be fine. Your brother is helping me heal him. But now I have to put a bullet back into his arm.

When the river announced he was ready, River stood up, and floated the officer to the bank. Mark was there, and picked him up and laid him on the bank as a cordon of officers approached. There had been five other officers sent out from Terrace Bay on Officer Sloot's call, and when Nick had phoned in that an officer had been shot, officers had been sent in from Thunder Bay and there were now 20 more, with others on the way. A Ornge air ambulance was waiting and Officer Sloot was quickly strapped in, with Red Bear beside him for the flight to Thunder Bay.

The rest of the day was a blur. The police interviewing River were rather unkind in trying to find out what had happened to their wounded partner who had completely disappeared for three hours. River told them she felt that the cold water of the river might have stabilized him, but she had not realized it had taken that long. She learned what had happened when she fled with the officer. After the men started shooting, others raised their rifles. But the marksmanship of the people was amazing, and every gunman was stuck with an arrow within a second, so that only the shot at Red Bear was taken. Many men had their hands or arms welded to a gunstock by an arrow, and other men had arm wounds causing them to drop their weapons. Not one of the intruders was seriously hurt, although almost all of them were wounded in some way. Most were taken by convey to the St. Mary’s hospital, and then brought back for questioning.

The mystery of the missing third bus was also cleared up. The company had deliberately chosen older busses to minimize expenses, and one had lost its transmission when it hit a pothole that all the reserve drivers knew to avoid. The men on that bus tried to carry on by foot, but wolf howls around the bus kept them firmly inside. When the two shots were fired, they talked about heading out as reinforcements, but when no more shots were heard, they decided to hunker down.

The officers on the ground quickly determined the shooters. The foreman was one, and he was charged with attempted murder. He had intended to shoot River, but the officer had stepped in front of her at the last minute. He saw the bullet enter the officer’s forehead, and was sure it was a fatal shot. He knew that he would pay heavily for killing a police officer, and decided to take others with him. He started talking freely about how the plan had been set up by his bosses in an effort to rescue the equipment. They hadn’t planned on violence, but the fact that every man had some type of gun pretty much killed that defense.

It was mid-afternoon when word came through that Const. Sloot had miraculously survived his operation. From that point on, the officers took on a friendlier disposition. It was not harmed when the women of the reserve set up a refreshment table, serving hot soup, biscuits, venison stew, and coffee for all the officers investigating, and the men still being held after being released from the hospital.

In the end every man who had been in the invasion force was charged with trespass, weapons offences, and conspiracy. The men who had fired were also charged with attempted murder, and the suits back at the company offices were charged with conspiracy. There was no evidence that the top managers of the company in Toronto were involved, but they also faced serious questioning.

All the natives who had fired arrows were charged with assault, but Nick correctly predicted that all those charges would be dismissed on the first hearing. It irked the investigating officers to no end not to be able to charge River with anything, but they eventually let her go. However at services the next day there were four detectives in the crowd watching, and completely frustrated when the entire service was conducted in the Ojibwe language.

There were others at the service. The media had swarmed the place, with the first reporters appearing on Saturday morning, and the television remote vehicles coming in later that day. They started pulling out on Sunday afternoon, as the 24-hour news cycle moved to another day.

Six weeks later Nick reported that he had reached an agreement with the officials of Northern in Toronto. Neil Audette had gone over the equipment and pointed out the bits that would be useful to Ojibwe Mining. He had no use for the big drilling rig, nor the searchlights, so Neil agreed to return those to the company, who released everything else to the band.

At the following band meeting it was decided that Red Bear, the only native injured in the battle, would get his pick of the trucks to compensate him for his pain and suffering, even though when he returned from the hospital in Thunder Bay River had taken him for a complete healing, and he no longer even had a scar. He did have the bullet extracted in Thunder Bay as a souvenir. He chose the half-ton truck, and announced that he was forming a delivery service making runs from Thunder Bay to Sault Ste. Marie, and on to Sudbury by special request. That business thrived, and five years later he had three trucks on the road, each driven by a band member.

Terry Sloot was unconscious for a day, and recollected vivid dreams of his life during that time. When he came to, his wife and daughters, 13 and 11, were thrilled when he recognized them without hesitation. The doctors and nurses had explained that brain damage was to be expected from an injury of this type, and had prepared the three for the worst. The doctors were baffled by the injury. There was an entry wound, and the bullet had torn through several inches of brain tissue, which should have been devastating. But there seemed to be little damage on the entry wound. The operation to remove the bullet had done more damage, with a large hole in the skull to remove the bullet, while only a small bandage was needed for his forehead.

The man who shot the gun spent 10 years in jail getting early release on his 25-year sentence. The man who shot RedBear only got 15, but also served 10 since he was not as model a prisoner and was turned down at several parole hearings.

The gold fever in town ended with the war. Northern wanted nothing more to do with the town, and River and Neil took the officials of Copper Cliff and Canadian Shield onto the site and pointed out where the gold was, and that it would be inaccessible to them.

Canadian Shield left the area immediately, and Copper Cliff did two test drillings off of reserve land, coming up dry each time. They too soon left. All but one or two of the independent prospectors also moved on the more promising territories, but one or two stayed on in the town. They claimed to be prospecting, but also ran trap lines, and made enough money to live on through the sale of furs.



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