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.
The 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!
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.
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