River 42 -- Conclusion

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River

By Dawn Natelle, edited by Eric

Chapter 42 – Conclusion

So far: The mill has changed hands, and a media frenzy waited for the First Nations occupation to erupt into violence, which never occurred. Nick and River negotiate a settlement, and a new couple return to St. Mary’s.

A day after returning to work after her activities on the river, Const. Sandra Harper was passed by a black Mercedes travelling well in excess of the posted 110 kph speed in the opposite direction. Her radar gun recorded the speed at 140, and the offender was slowing down as soon as the driver had seen her squad car.

The constable pulled off on a lane, turned around, and then sped off in pursuit. She managed to get up to 180, hoping to catch up to the speeding car, but didn’t for nearly 40 kilometers. She was now outside of her patrol area, and was about to reduce to a safer speed when she saw the car ahead of her as she went around a bend. She hit the roof lights.

For a minute it seemed that the other car was going to run for it. It actually picked up speed, and when the radar tracking caught it, it registered 180, the same speed as the constable. She considered 180 to be the limits of what she felt safe in with the cruiser, but still increased speed to 190. She had been trained in high speed pursuits.

They were on one of the few long, straight stretches of the Trans-Canada Highway above the lake, and in the far distance Const. Harper saw a semi-truck was using the chance to pass a slower semi. As the highway was only two lanes, this meant disaster for the speeding cars. The trucks would pass safely if oncoming traffic were only doing 110 km/h, the speed limit. But at 180 disaster loomed.

Const. Harper immediately started to decelerate sharply. Then the driver of the Mercedes must have stopped looking in his rear view mirror and saw the impending disaster, as both semis started blowing their air-horns. The passing truck hit the brakes while the other one speeded up in hopes that they could avoid a collision.

The Mercedes started to brake hard, and slowed down rapidly. Unfortunately, the driver was having trouble keeping control of the car. In this wooded area the roads didn’t have deep ditches, but leaving the road surface at speed meant an unwelcome meeting with a tree.

The passing semi managed to pull back in behind the other load at the last second, and the two truck drivers watched the terrified driver pass by them. The rear trucker was less than a foot in behind the front one, although he was much slower and the gap quickly grew to a less scary one.

Then the cruiser sped past, with Const. Harper in full control of her vehicle. She came across the Mercedes less than a minute later. The driver had stopped and pulled over to the shoulder, and was slumped over the wheel.

The officer pulled in behind, leaving her flashers on, and with the car slightly onto the road to prevent her from being struck by another vehicle as she talked to the driver.

She approached the car, and tapped on the window. The ashen-faced driver started, then looked up dumbly at her for a moment, then lowered the window.

“What the hell were you thinking?” Const. Harper shouted at him. “You could have killed yourself. You could have killed or injured one or both of those drivers. You could have killed me. Why were you running?”

The man just stared out the front window. “I thought I could get away. This car can outrun a cruiser. If those trucks weren’t there …”

“Oh, so you make a habit of running from the police? License, registration and insurance please.”

Const. Harper took the paperwork back to her cruiser to run the information. She didn’t need the computer to identify the driver. Sidney Wilson Oldman of Terrace Bay. This was the man who was running the St. Mary’s mill before the natives took possession. He had a half dozen warrants outstanding against him related to environmental issues. And now she could add dangerous driving, failing to stop for a police officer and a few other traffic charges to that list.

Const. Harper called for a tow truck to pick up the Mercedes and went forward to arrest Oldman. He wore handcuffs back to Terrace Bay and the station. His former employees had already been transferred to Thunder Bay for trial, and he was to follow closely behind.

In Canada, justice moves slowly, and it was over a year before the trial was completed, and Oldman was sentenced to five years in prison. When River heard the sentence she was upset. You kill a man and get life, but kill a goddess and get five years? The river had to calm her, saying that he would pay for his mistakes for a much longer time.

Oldman only served a bit over two years in jail before being granted parole for good behavior. His wife had divorced him during the trial, so Sid moved back to Hamilton. He found that being a parolee was not conducive to getting a good job. The paper mill he had worked at as a teen pretty much told him that he wasn’t likely to get a job in any kind of manufacturing plant with his record of environmental crime.

After two years on welfare, Sid was finally willing to work for the mob, something he had resisted years before when his friends had joined up. But even they didn’t want him. They had no interest in someone visiting a parole officer weekly.

Eventually Sid got work. At minimum wage. He was the collector on a garbage truck for the city, which had a program to help first offenders get rehabilitated. But this really wasn’t a first-step job. It was a job Sid would work at until he retired on a meager government pension in 26 years. There wasn’t even much chance of promotion. In 12 years he was moved up to driver of the truck. It was a 25 cents an hour raise, ten bucks a week, but at least he no longer had to dump the smelly trash cans.

It was then, that the river told an older and wiser River what Oldman’s real punishment had been. For polluting the river with filth, he was forced to spend the latter part of his life dealing with trash, and going home each night needing to shower to get the lingering smell of garbage off him.

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Back at the reserve the aftermath of the problems were varied. It took three weeks before the Ministry of the Environment opened the St. Mary’s water system again. Free bottled water was available during that time, but residents started to complain about not being able to shower. The laundromat in Terrace Bay made a fortune that summer, with residents from St. Mary’s coming to wash clothes. The MoE brought in huge trucks of water, and hooked them up to the high school, so that it could reopen, and also to allow residents to at least shower in the gym changing rooms. This went on for several weeks, until the water system was opened. Even then there was a boil-water advisory for the following two weeks.

The people on the reserve were using their local systems as soon as River had announced that the water was safe. Those with friends in town spent a lot of time visiting their friends who came to bathe and wash clothes.

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The mission that Rod and the girls were undertaken had continued through the winter and spring, with the exception of the week when the river had been polluted. They had visited most of the reserves within 200 miles, and as a result the high school had hundreds of ‘intent to attend’ slips from students who wanted to attend the school near the river.

The principal was in a quandary. He was looking at five additional classes for the grade nine intake, two more for the grade 10s, and two more classes for students wanting to transfer in for the final two years. He made a pitch for an addition that would more than double the size of the school, but of course that went nowhere. Instead the board approved the installation of eight portable classrooms, including one double unit that would be used as a library, allowing the old library to be made into a classroom.

Desks for the students were only a part of the problem. There also needed to be teachers to fill them. The two new teachers who had been hired the past year now had experience, and as a result they moved to schools in the south. This could mean another 10 teachers coming to the school right out of teacher’s college, taking the job only long enough to move into a position nearer their home base when they could get one.

River came up with the solution. With the permission and support of the band, the school held a series of free summer camps for teachers in the Toronto school boards. Any teacher with five or more years of experience was entitled to come to the park and camp for a week, at no cost. Teachers love a bargain, so dozens and dozens applied, and for five weeks 20 families a week came to the park.

The result was that teachers interested in the outdoors got a taste of the Lake Superior beauty and wilderness. Hunting was off season, but nature walks by River made sure that the teachers saw the deer, moose, and bear in the area. Fishing was allowed, although only as catch-and-release until the stocks built up after the disaster with the mill.

The result was that out of 100 visitors, 14 applied to teach at the school. The principal was ecstatic, having only hoped for five or six experienced teachers. He turned to River to get her advice about who to select, since she had spent much of the summer running the camp and knew all the campers personally.

River (on the advice given by the river) knew that the one thing that could pull the outdoorsy teachers back to Toronto would be a bored and dissatisfied spouse. In three cases, this would be unlikely, because both partners were teachers, and both had applied. One of them had the wife teaching primary school, and the principal knew that he could make sure she was hired by the middle school in Terrace Bay.

That gave the principal five names. For the other five River selected ones whose spouse had careers or interests that would complement the needs of the town. One was a real estate agent, who could open a real estate office in the town. Another was a newspaper reporter who was thrilled when River suggested she start a local weekly newspaper for the town. A third woman wanted to start a bakery, and after River pointed out that the business would be slow during the winter, still was interested. Another two were Early Childhood educators and wanted to start a daycare center in the community.

The result was that as well as finding teachers for the school, River managed to find four more businesses or services for the town, filling in most of the vacant storefronts and leaving St. Mary’s looking like a vibrant, thriving community instead of the near ghost town it had seemed a year earlier.

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Mark and three of the older boys in the Junior Warriors developed their own summer job. The older boys, all 16 or 17, had learned that Mark had the ability to draw wildlife close to their camps and canoes when they had been out with Tall John. One of the boys was clever enough to see that this held potential for a summer job, and brought in his older brother and a friend.

The idea was to give nature trips by canoe down the river. The boys would load four canoes onto pickups, and take 8 people several miles upriver. For $10 a person, the boys would paddle the four canoes downriver, with Mark ensuring that they saw the beavers and otters who were repopulating the river, as well as deer, moose, bears and other animals along the banks.

The trip took just over an hour, and the boys were able to easily run four or five every day. They worked six days a week, and because Ben Stormcloud had donated the use of his canoes, they had few expenses. Each boy made over $400 a week, good money for teenagers and excellent for an 11-year-old like Mark. Of course, his mother made him put $350 of that into a savings account at the credit union, but even $50 a week make Mark feel like a millionaire.

The big thing was that the trips started to grow through word of mouth, and by the end of August the boys were doing 10 during the long summer days, and 12 on weekends. This meant that up to 100 people were coming to the river as a destination, and not just as a place to drive though going somewhere else. The park did a booming business, with many of the visitors camping for a few days before and after their canoe trip. So many in fact, that the camp office started coordinating and scheduling the trips for the boys, just to get a chance to add in a camping stay.

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Wayne spent the summer working at the mill. He learned more about business working for Ken Turnbell than he had in his first two years at university. He was asked to stay on at the end of August, but after talking it over with his sponsor, Gordon Millet, he decided that he should return to London for the final two years in his B.Admin. program, and the one or two in his MBA.

When he did get back to college, he learned that he could start taking MBA courses as a non-program student, and opted to take one per term. His experience from the summer, coupled with the glowing recommendation given by Ken, allowed him to get into the courses, which he aced, using his work experience. The result was that he would be able to complete his full MBA in one year after getting his undergraduate degree.

The Junior Ranger program that Wayne had been slated to manage continued, with another group of kids from St. Mary’s taking the positions. One of the other rangers took over Wayne’s duties, and she did quite well keeping her charges busy though the summer.

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Dale was busy as well. His construction business was growing. They were building eight houses in the new subdivision. These were not so grand as the five big ones that had been built, but with new teachers coming into the area all the homes would quickly be filled. In fact, the band was considering another five large homes, since most of the teachers coming from Toronto would have substantial equity from the sale of their Toronto homes, and could afford the luxury homes in the north.

Ginny’s House II was built over the summer, with a grand opening in early September, with all the new students marveling at the great facility that had been built for them and the reserve students. There was a secondary benefit for Dale’s company. The experience in building the facility qualified them to bid on the new high school, which everyone assumed was only a year or two down the road. Dale now had a workforce of 30 natives working on the various projects, and an additional five apprentices learning building trades.

Most of the experienced men on the crew were busy during the summer doing separate projects in their spare time. With all the students coming to the high school, there was demand for additional bedrooms being built onto reserve houses. Across the reserve there were a significant number of families that looked at the fees they got for boarding students as a boost to their income.

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Rod’s mission continued as planned over the next few years. They visited nearly 100 reserves a year, on an annual basis. The end of their mission actually had its genesis two years after the plant takeover, but took two more years to come into effect. It started when the group was visiting a Cree reserve to the west of St. Mary’s and a Ministry of Indigenous Affairs case worker was offended that the word Ojibwe was on the side of the RV.

The said worker then researched the program, and found that it was not affiliated in any way with the Ministry, and complained up the chain of command. Studies were conducted, and papers written and reviewed, and it was finally decided that the mission was a ‘good thing.’ However the federal ministry could not have a ‘good thing’ servicing only one small part of the country. The mission would have to become national, and cover the entire country.

At first River, Rod, and the girls were thrilled to see the government take an interest in their program. They knew it was working. There had only been a few teen suicides in the area over the years they had operated, and the elders of all the reserves were glad to have help in keeping their young people active and alive. The river had taught Cree to Rod and the girls, with a special Cree history and Cree songs that were used in those reserves. The costs of the program had started to be a strain on the reserve, and having the federal government fund it would be a boost.

Things seldom work out for the best when the government is involved. When the program was announced, it was decided that there would need to be 100 teams of five counselors to cover the entire country. Each team would consist of five persons who held an MBA or higher Psychology degree. There were also another 130 people providing support services from Ottawa, including a deputy minister to run the department.

However when the counselors were hired, there were only nine First Nations people who were qualified across the country, with most of the positions filled by white people who had no experience on reserves, and no knowledge of native languages. Instead three interpreters were hired for each of the 100 teams.

The idea of RVs was picked up, but 200 had to be purchased, since some committee in Ottawa was offended by the idea that the two sexes should sleep in the same RV. Also, while therapy wolves were integral to Rod’s mission, they were not possible across the country. Instead therapy dogs were put into the program. Unfortunately the dogs chosen by the counselors were not always apt. Somehow having a Bichon Frise or poodle appearing at a northern reserve did not have the same effect as a wolf had.

When the counselors were hired, more than half had Ph.Ds, and most of the others were working towards them. This led to the inexplicable decision to locate the regional offices in large cities that had universities with post-graduate psychology departments. The team for Northern Ontario, for example, was located in downtown Toronto. The workload for these people was set at one reserve visit per month, unless the counselors were involved in research projects. Most teams quickly picked up research projects, and as a result two years after the start of the program the average team was only visiting three to four reserves a year, with the counselors spending the rest of their time writing reports and doing research.

Then the kicker came in. When Rod and the girls applied to join the program that they had established, they were denied even the chance to interview for positions as counselors, since they didn’t have even undergraduate degrees. They were offered positions as translators, but to take them they would have to move to Toronto or Winnipeg. None of the St. Mary’s team wanted to live in a big city, so none applied.

The RV was pretty much shot, although Rod’s mechanical abilities had managed to keep it on the road for so many years, so the mission finally ended when the government program started. The various girls married and had kids, including Rod and Ria.

After two years of government inaction, with St. Mary’s on the list to receive its first visit from the counselors in three years, the river asked River to call a meeting of the original team. Apparently the lack of attention in the area was resulting in stress for young people growing, and the river worried that suicides might start to happen again. The government program, besides not covering the reserves frequently enough, did not click with the young people. The young First Nations kids could not relate to doctoral counselors from the city that only spent a few days a year visiting reserves. As well, without the mission going to the reserves, attendance at the new 600-student high school was starting to edge down.

It was decided to restart the mission. Gordon and Donna Millet donated a brand new RV, and the mill agreed to fund modest salaries for Rod and the girls. They started making the same two trips a week as before, and things were good again.

Until the government program happened to make one of its visits at the same time as the Ojibwe mission. The government counselors watched as the young people of the reserve all gravitated to the Ojibwe group, with its therapy wolf, and counselors who spoke their language, knew their songs, and knew the life that these young people were living.

The government response was as might be expected. They sued. An injunction was obtained banning Rod’s group from offering counseling services without certified counselors. Nick fought the injunction, but the court decided to ban the service until a court case, which would be two or three years away.

This only stopped the mission for a week. Nick came up with a statement for Rod to read at each stop at a reserve. It basically said that the mission was a goodwill visit from the Ojibwe to the remote reserve, and that the people visiting were just guests and entertainers, not certified counselors. That said, they were willing to chat with any teens that might be having problems coping. As friends, not counselors.

This infuriated the ministry, who called for another injunction. At that hearing Nick tore them apart, pointing out that in Canada there were no laws preventing friends from meeting one another. With the mission not claiming to offer counseling services, the government injunction was denied. As well, Nick noted that the government department was using statistics showing a decline in teen suicides in reserves across Canada as being down three per cent since their program started. He noted that most of the reduction had been in the northern area the mission served, and when that area was taken out, there was no decline at all. This seemed to demonstrate that the expensive program was a failure.

The full case never went to trial. The deputy minister decided to let the mission continue, since it was benefitting him in terms of the results he could show and he really didn’t want the media looking into its effectiveness. The reserve continued its mission, and the river was happy to see its people thriving again.

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River cuddled up next to Wayne in his pickup. It was a rather dilapidated one, now that he was no longer driving the new JR truck. River didn’t care. Wayne was working crazy hours at the mill, and would be leaving to school again in a few weeks. But they managed to find time just to be together, always mindful of the river’s restriction about contact.

River could finally understand why Edith Freedove had given up the river for marriage and a family. At that time the river hadn’t been clear with Edith about the need to wait, and she felt she had to make a choice. River knew that the choice was not the river or Wayne. It was the river and Wayne later, or Wayne now and no river. She could wait. Both her man and her river were important to her.

Life was good. For her, her people, and her river.



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