Category Archives: Building Bridges

Truly Home

How do you know when you are well and truly home? Three vignettes from my life in Treaty Four Territory, under the prairie sky.


I am well  and truly home!

Our two farm dogs, Lady (mum) and Herc (son) fell into their own routines when I abandoned them and went to Ontario. That routine involves hunting muskrat in the dugouts, clearly an absorbing task for a pair of canines. I would head off on my morning walk, call the dogs and to my great dismay, nobody came. When I was a few kilometres down the road and on my way back, I would see two distant black dots racing down the road towards me, wearing signs of dugout activity when they arrived. Wet, with flecks of lime green duckweed on their coats!

Now, some weeks and many morning walks later, the dogs have caught on and have let the dugout go in favour of a morning walk.(Muskrat relief, to be sure!) They can barely contain their joy when I come out the door. All the way down the lane, they do doggie backflips, fall over each other, contort their bodies and tails in movements of joy and excitement and anticipation. Lady even smiles, a kind of ugly but sweet grimace. They trip over each other. Sometimes I can barely move down the lane. I occasionally remember kicking one of these dogs predecessors once because I was so frustrated that I could not move. (Shame!) The walk down the lane is a good a barometer of how crusty (or not) I might be feeling in the morning.

Two things: I am grateful that we have a short lane. The dog’s antics fill my heart with joy and are the best beginning to a morning walk.IMG_1681 IMG_1686 IMG_1698

I am now able to walk across the south field because it has been combined. Field walking is even more pleasurable than walking down the road. I like the unexpected dips and swells, the curves and surprises of walking across the fields. I like the wild untouched areas – a grove of willows here, a wetland there, an unexpected rise over here. The dogs follow their noses, read each other’s body language, their tails erect and a certain tension in their body when they pick up a scent. They bound ahead, disappearing at times, surprising me later by coming up from behind. Their movement is like a dance, is like the swoop of the grass birds as they fly hither, is like the curve of the land itself, under this vast bowl of sky.


watercolour - Pheasant Creek Coulee

watercolour – Pheasant Creek Coulee

Last week, I was able to visit Pheasant Creek Coulee almost every day, sometimes with my paints, sometimes not. Colours are just beginning to change. The pinks of the bluestem grass on the hills is astonishing. This morning when I arrived, there were four Swainson’s hawks flying just over the hill where I often sit. I stopped and sat and watched them, listened to their sharp cries, wondered if they were a family or just a group of hawks who liked to hang out. The cry of a hawk is like the pungent scent of sage – no matter how many times you have heard it or smelled it, it catches you unawares, urges you to wake up, pay attention!

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I come to Grandfather Rock, a place where  I have painted often. In a certain way, trying to paint in this place is a way to come to know it better, to see all the shades alive in the pink of the bluestem, to wrestle with all of the troublesome yet beautiful greens. After some attempts to catch the feel and colour of the day, I return to what it is that I love most about this place – how to paint  the shape and curve of the land – the skeleton, the bones  beneath these hills.



Treaty Four Powwow, under the arbour. Flashing colours of dancers everywhere. Sound of drums beating here and there. A beautiful fall day nestled by Mission Lake in the folds of the hills of the Qu’Appelle Valley. Garbage floating off in the wind, or trampled underground. The smell of sweetgrass, of home fries, of deep frying. Powwow announcers trying to get people to come for the Grand Entry.

jingle skirts, Treaty Four Powwow. Photo courtesy of Kate Herberger,

jingle skirts, Treaty Four Powwow. Photo courtesy of Kate Hersberger,

I have just been to see our daughters, Jessie and Marina, and their horses Missy and Gatty. They have camped out here all weekend with other riders who made the trip here on horseback to honour the late Chief Irvin StarBlanket. Marina tells me that they have been asked to take part in the Horse Ceremony which will occur before the Special (Dance Competition) in honour of Chief Irvin. She is nervous. Gatty will do fine, she tells me. She is worried about riding in front of such a big crowd.

I am sitting directly across from where the riders will enter the powwow arena. Elder Mike Pinay, the announcer, shares something about the Horse Ceremony, and then says that two girls from outside the community have been asked to take part in this ceremony, to ride for the mothers and for the grandmothers. He goes on to say that it is unusual to ask outsiders to take part but that these girls are great friends of the community, and know some of  the ways of the community. It is a great honour for them to take part in this ceremony.

Mike then asks the StarBlanket Juniors drum group to begin their song and all of us stand. I stand tall, full of prayer, or pride, of love for these two daughters and the great honour they have of taking part in this. Marina nods in my direction as she rides by.The five horses circle the arbour four times, going slowly the first time around, then trotting, then loping. Drums beat, hooves beat, hearts beat…. I think of their grandmothers and great grandmothers….They look beautiful. Our daughters sit tall in the saddle.

When they are finished, I see them heading off towards the hills to let the horses have a good run, to let the horses loose. I have been proud of these girls many times before, but never like this.

These are not photos of the horse ceremony, but of the last part of the Memorial Ride.

These are not photos of the horse ceremony, but of the last part of the Memorial Ride.

some of the many riders and horses at Treaty Four

some of the many riders and horses at Treaty Four


Dufferin Park

My class mates Jake and Meghan buying their supper

My class mates Jake and Meghan buying their supper

Community Garden

Community Garden

I am so grateful to my friend Erin for telling me about the Dufferin Park Organic Farmer’s Market and all of the cool community things that go on in this park just a couple of subway stops away from my class. My classmates Jake and Meghan came along… we got lost, got drenched, ate very well and had a great time. I was able to buy my supper and the makings of an OZ picnic with Alice before I set out to explore the park. To learn more about this great expression of community you can visit the Friends of Dufferin Park website.


The outdoor oven the Friends of the Park use to bake bread

The outdoor oven the Friends of the Park use to bake bread

a children's area at the farmer's Market
a children’s area at the farmer’s Market

This bike was advertising a puppet theatre... I kept wondering if the puppets were in the blue box and might pop out at any time!

This bike was advertising a puppet theatre… I kept wondering if the puppets were in the blue box and might pop out at any time!

the knife sharpener

the knife sharpener

I would love a little gypsy cart like this for the Fort Qu'Appelle Market!

I would love a little gypsy cart like this for the Fort Qu’Appelle Market!

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more gardens

more gardens

There is a big spout of water coming in and great channels...perfect for playing with trucks and boats, sticks for fences, road building... this little guy was having a ball!

There is a big spout of water coming in and great channels…perfect for playing with trucks and boats, sticks for fences, road building… this little guy was having a ball!

when I saw these little houses I thought they were for fairies and elves - the little people

when I saw these little houses I thought they were for fairies and elves – the little people


I just kept imagining how I would love this as a child (hey - the CHILD in me still does!)

I just kept imagining how I would love this as a child (hey – the CHILD in me still does!)

Close up

Close up

So, they are not fairy houses, they are cobs!

So, they are not fairy houses, they are cobs!


Morning Walk/University of Toronto

this photo is for Jessie... her kind of sneaker even!

this photo is for Jessie… her kind of sneaker even!


from the Bata Show Museum (which I have never visited)...someday I will

from the Bata Show Museum (which I have never visited)…someday I will

IMG_0137 IMG_0138 IMG_0140This past week I have been in Toronto, learning about anti-racism theory and white privilege at the University of Toronto. The photos above make me think of my friend, Sheena Koops, and her blog TreatyWalks where she considers her place as a treaty person on her daily walk. In doing so, she educates and inspires us all. Sheena’s journey has provoked me to think about the shoes or sandals or sneakers or moccasins we all wear and how it is that our feet touch the earth – lightly? with a stomp? with a rhythm? with joy? with respect?

Dancing. Walking. Plodding. Hopping. Limping. Shuffling. Tiptoeing. Leaping.

Each morning this past week, I walked to my class through the verdant University campus…. meditatively, stopping to observe, watching as people practiced tai chi… stopping daily at the Pearson Pond of peace and friendship (I think it has another name). It amazed me that just 5 minutes away, people were walking in a totally different way on Yonge Street…it also delights me that such peace and beauty can be found in the heart of downtown Toronto. One of the great joys of being here is people watching……just watching feet, and footwear and the way people walk is like watching a chaotic and electric, sometimes sad, sometimes joyous human dance. Here are some photos of my daily walk…. the peaceful one!IMG_0142IMG_0188 IMG_0156 IMG_0152 IMG_0153 IMG_0154 IMG_0148 IMG_0144 IMG_0159 IMG_0151

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Good Medicine

*"Poached Egg Woman is Nesting" Photo by Cherie Westmoreland

*”Poached Egg Woman is Nesting” Photo by Cherie Westmoreland

I am an introvert (albeit a noisy one sometimes), so after my art show, I arranged to retreat, to curl up in my nest , breathe deeply, move into a quiet space and just be. Glenn Zimmer of the Qu’Appelle House of Prayer (one of my favourite places to retreat) likes to call this “useless sitting”.

This retreat however, I am headed  to the farm my friend Debra shares with her brother. I first visited Debra’s farm two years ago, during the memorable spring of 2011, when much of Saskatchewan overflowed and gushed with water everywhere. Debra’s farm, situated in the Qu’Appelle Valley, has natural springs coursing down the hill through woods of burr oak and other deciduous trees. I remember how amazing it felt on that first visit to stand on her back step – the back step of an almost 100 year old  prairie farm home and hear gushing, gurgling water!! I could not get over it. Prairie farm, abundant water. Flowing water, prairie farm. I don’t usually put those two things together.

This year, I can still hear the gurgle of the spring flowing by her back door, but it is not as loud. Arriving here two years ago, I felt as if I had somehow come home. Something inside of me lets down a bit, I sigh, and my body begins to relax. This is sacred ground.

I am here as a guinea pig of sorts. Debra is considering opening her home to people like me, people looking for a place of quiet and stillness. Previously I have visited as a friend. I am still here as a friend, of course, but we have had to change the rules somewhat. As I hope to enjoy what is mostly a silent retreat, we agree on when we will be silent, and when we might visit. We agree that Debra will prepare meals and clean up after. We agree on what I might pay her.

The first morning, I rise early and head out for a walk down the road. Or so I think!! The beautiful Qu’Appelle River beckons and the field looks dry enough, so instead I follow its contours singing a song of thankfulness at the top of my lungs! I am carrying my cell phone (my timepiece- I do not wear a watch) and I receive a text from Angela Bishop. One word – LOVE! I am feeling it, girl. The river is moving quickly, slowed down by bushes here and there. Splash… a cow moose sees me and in her gangly way disappears further into the bush. I head up the hill. All around the trees are bursting forth with their fresh tender new green. Even so, here on the north side of the Valley there is still a huge snow bank. I can’t help it. I slip off my runners and run across feeling the tingly snow in between my toes! I sit and let my feet dry in the morning sun. I begin to cross the hills when I see a large healthy coyote busy with something in the hollow beneath me. Something tells me to change course, and I do, but not until I have had a good look at her. She sees me, seems unconcerned. Further down the road, I bend down and pick up a clod of wet prairie clay thinking about the story of Creation I heard a few weeks ago. In this version, it is the humble muskrat who dives deeply enough to get the mud to put in turtle’s back to create Turtle Island. In another version, it is Otter. The mud feels wonderful and I spread it all over my hands remembering the springs when our eldest daughters would take off all their clothes and enjoy a mud bath. The mud eventually dries. Down the road a grader is coming. I do not want him to think I am a crazy person, so I stoop down at a puddle to wash my hands off.

I am also at Debra’s to do a little writing. I set up in her beautiful sun porch, a room full of windows, of light, of pale yellow and crisp white. The windows look out onto her front lawn, with trees and labyrinth, across the road to the fields, to the curve of the slate blue Qu’Appelle, the hills beyond. On the west side of the porch, there is a swinging couch. I grew up with a swinging couch on a screen porch located 2000 miles to the East. I have swinging couches deep in my DNA, I think. If you prop the pillows just so on Debra’s swinging couch, you can see the beautiful view  – that is until your heavy eyelids shut and are transported off to some dreamland. I call it the “Healing Couch”. I can be sitting at the table when I feel almost magnetically propelled to the “healing couch.” Once there, I sink into a deep sleep sometimes for 5 minutes, sometimes for an hour or two.

I wake to Debra bringing in lunch. Occasionally I feel like I should do dishes or something but this is our arrangement. It feels wonderful to receive. The gifts are many.

Wraps are tied with chive stalks and filled with curried egg salad.The food at Debra’s is organic, freshly made, and presented with the love and care for detail that infuses everything she does. The picture here is of a dessert so beautiful it made me cry. Greek yogurt (the only kind, really), with zest of lime, topped by sliced mango and johnny jump ups. It tasted even better than it looks! Eating in silence means I take my time and taste every morsel. Food for the soul.Dessert at Debra's - food to nourish the soul!

While here, I am writing a reflection for a service at the annual meeting of the United Church in Saskatchewan. The subject is the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. I appreciate the opportunity to focus on this one thing, to be freed for a while from the many distractions of daily life with my family. I appreciate that the writing unfolds naturally… I write for a bit, then I do something else. During my walks, thoughts about “right relations” unwind like long skeins of wool. Sitting in the sunporch by my laptop, I write and then gaze out the window watching the birds flit from tree to tree. I write some more. Time for a nap. I head out to the hammock, where I hear the tinkle of the spring, hear the breath of wind in the oaks and have an unfocussed view (glasses off) of the green world around. After supper, we take a silent hike up through the oaks to the flat land above and circle the large slough which is home to many birds and ducks. We watch the sun go down, the moon rise, the white tail of many a doe disappear into the woods.

Our last meal is a surprise – a “blessing meal” Debra calls it. We eat in silence. A blessing meal indeed – bison stew with wild rice and onions, “the three sisters” – squash, beans and corn, fresh bannock and for dessert, three kinds of berries.

Over a fire my last evening we talk. We talk about money. Debra is trying to fix a rate for people who may sometime come here on a retreat. It is difficult to figure out, and yet this income will be a part of Debra’s livelihood, her ability to stay here. How to place a monetary value on what Debra offers here? How to even put it into words? This beautiful place – river, hills, valley, fields, woods, springs, wetlands, sky – and all the creatures who inhabit it. The deep love Debra has for her birth home, the many actions, both big and small,  she takes each day to show this love and care. The immense courage of her living here, of her living her dream. A different view to catch the heart out of each window.  The small arrangements of beauty found around the house. The healing couch. The delicious meals prepared with love, care and great artistry. All of this, everything here, nourishes the soul. To be cared for in this way is a rare and precious experience. I am deeply grateful. The gift that Debra is offering, it seems to me, is GOOD MEDICINE.






Frog Moon Magic

For the past 3 years, I have had the privilege of supporting the work of the Saskatchewan Justice and Right Relations Network – a part of which is assisting some incredible volunteers as they put together 2 provincial gatherings annually. As our purpose is to build bridges between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Saskatchewan, to learn our true history, and to share our stories, the paths we travel are often very difficult and sometimes heartbreaking. The volunteers I support know that we must find time to laugh and celebrate and have fun together as well as to do the difficult work of reconciliation and healing. In fact, the fun part is most definitely healing. For this reason, our gatherings include square dances, Hallowe’en parties, and most recently, a coffeehouse, called the Frog Moon Café.

I loved being a part of the Frog Moon Café and want to share a little bit about how it came to be. First our planning team had the idea for a coffeehouse, and realized that the date was on the full moon. We originally thought, “Hey, we can call it the “Full Moon Coffeehouse””. My daughter Jessie created a beautiful calendar in her Cree class and from this calendar we learned that the fourth moon of the year is the Frog Moon (Ayiki-pisim). In this quiet way, the spirit of frog moved into our plans for the gathering and for the newly named FROG Moon Café. Little did we suspect much magic and fun the frog would bring to our endeavours!

One of my favourite teachings is that everything you need is already right there. You just need the wits and the space and quiet within to notice. I have never in my life put together a coffeehouse, and one of the things I needed was somebody with experience. Enter Laura Stewart, a beautiful singer and songwriter who recently put her “Song for Idle No More” on You Tube, and whose passionate efforts to save what remain of our fragile grassland ecosystems inspire me. When Laura said she would not only perform, but she would offer advice and sound equipment, something lovely fell into place inside of me.

I knew we needed a great MC to create the kind of atmosphere we wanted, and I remembered what an awesome job Howie Thomson of Carry the Kettle did at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings in Fort Qu’Appelle last year. I went out on a limb and phoned Howie, told him “sorry no pay, we will take a silver collection and I can give you a farm chicken and some eggs” and bless his heart, Howie said, “Sure,  I will come.” Howie’s response gave me enough courage to send a message to Errol Kinistino, and Errol almost immediately said, “Sounds like a good thing you guys are doing. Yes, I will go anywhere live music is”. That little thing inside me begin to grow and get warm. A coffeehouse was slowly taking shape. Soon our line-up included the wonderful Sheena Koops. Sheena is a multi-talented teacher, author, singer/songwriter, table tennis player and passionate advocate for all Canadians to learn about our treaties, a subject she explores with flair, grace and humour in her popular blog Treatywalks.

Image 1The next beautiful thing that happened was that my daughter, Jessie Stueck, created the striking poster you see above. We are so used to digital posters. Jessie’s poster is hand drawn, and it caught the spirit of the Frog Moon Café perfectly. The dream of the Frog Moon was taking shape and form! I started hearing from people who wanted to know if they could perform in the Frog Moon Café ! (so many that we could have hosted a two night Café.)

Then a message from artist, poet and blog master Kate Hersberger who planned to attend our “Walking Together” gathering. She wondered if she could share her art… at the Café. She did – in fact she got the evening started with a slide how and poetry reading. Kate also created the Frog Moon Art Gallery , a sacred and beautiful space. The paintings and poems offered by Kate in the Frog Moon Gallery were chosen from her inspiring blog. Kate’s offer seemed like the most incredible gift – I had never imagined a Café and an art gallery!

Frog Moon by Kate Hersberger

Frog Moon by Kate Hersberger

Last year at this time, I was moved to tears by the powerful voice and stirring lyrics of Jorgina Sunn of Saskatoon. Jorgina e-mailed to say she could come. I did a little froggie dance. Scott Fulton offered his wonderful talent and he and Sheena teamed up. David Kim-Cragg offered to share a story. I did a froggie leap! Laura Stewart’s friend Mark, a wonderful musician decided to join Laura. I still wanted a young performer, and was so thrilled when Katara Ironquill learned that her family was not going to Alburquerque and could come to the Frog Moon instead! Froggie cartwheels! Meanwhile my good buddy LeeAnn Bird was distraught that we didn’t have a rapper. Sorry LeeAnn, so many stars, not enough time! Angela Edmunds of Mae Starr Productions, volunteered to capture it all on film. It seems like we were receiving one gift after another, all offered freely and with such heart.

Behind the scenes, the hospitable staff at Calling Lakes Centre were putting up signs, moving furniture, bringing in extra chairs, converting a lounge into a coffeehouse and baking up a storm for the occasion.

Meanwhile, we in Southern Saskatchewan were gripped in the longest winter any of us can remember.The week before the Frog Moon Café, there was a blizzard! (Heck, as I write this, there is another blizzard!) My walk the morning before had me pulling out my long underwear. Hard to imagine frogs singing with snow everywhere.

The day of the Frog Moon Café held some wonderful surprises.

Surprise # 1- Kate Hersberger unveiled her latest painting!(yep, the froggie above)

Surprise #2- Amongst the forty people who attended Walking Together, we had a rap artist – “Detox” or Darwin Geddes shared a song in our circle and agreed to perform that night. LeeAnn and I did Froggie somersaults together.

Surprise # 3- The weather began to change. The pelicans flew over. Deep within us stirred the knowledge that the Frog Moon was bringing a long awaited spring!!!

Surprise #4 – Erroll Kinistino arrived with his partner Josie Linka(drums), his dad, Hubert Desjarlais, and shared some of his time with  Laura Moffatt and Tim Keepness who each shared a few songs. (my daughters are big fans, Tim!)

For myself, the night was pure magic. It was how I want the world to be. It was my sweetest dream. That we could all be together, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, that we could be all ages from babies to kokums, that we could be laughing and singing and celebrating together, so proud of all of the artists who set our hearts on fire and made our spirits sing. The chairs at the back were hard on the backside, but Howie kept us laughing and Laura had all of us singing along to her beautiful “Song for Idle No More”:

The time is now
and you and I are here
No more doubt
no matter what we fear
We will rise up
We know what we’re here for
We will rise up strong and sure
Idle No More

We call everyone
Join the round dance
Feel the heartbeat drum
Reach out and take a hand

At which point, the beautiful kokum beside me grabbed my hand and together we raised our hands high in the air as we sang.

Maggie King put Jessie's Frog Moon cafe together with Kate's painting and voila!

Maggie King put Jessie’s Frog Moon Cafe sign together with Kate’s painting and voila!

Later that night, our guest speaker, Alex Wilson woke to find the full moon streaming in her window. When she looked up, she saw a frog in the moon. Deep in the earth, new life was stirring. Deep within each sleeping body, a dream was infused with hope and possibility.

The next day, we basked in the fun, healing and warm glow the Frog Moon Café gave us all. The Calling Lakes Centre staff cleaned with amazing good cheer (or else faked it really well. Whichever it was, THANK YOU). Outside the spring sun was warming Mother Earth. We headed home, hearts singing. I received a message from Laura Stewart, on her way down south. “Frogs! Frogs! I hear frogs! Oh Sue, we sang and croaked and hopped the frogs out.”

Everything we needed was right here. In fact, way more than what we needed. My original hope was for an MC and a few singers. We had all kinds of singers (even some surprise ones who arrived at the last minute), a storyteller, artists, film makers and the best audience anyone could hope for! We could not have guessed at the array of gifts the spirit of the frog brought to our Café. The powerful  presence of the Frog Moon enlivened our our work and our sharing during the day. It made all the difference. It brought an element of magic, of playfulness, of surprise, of laughter, of shape shifting. It brought us closer to the earth, to the water and to the sky home of that amazing frog moon. Kate Hersberger says it best, in the poem she wrote to go with her painting:

We touched the frog moon
the night the pelicans came

We connected the earth to the sky

We held the frog moon
together in song

Hearts connected across the divide