Carol A. Hand
When I began writing about my experiences and journey as a researcher, I had no intentions of telling my story. Yet as I reread the chapter about Nine-Eleven this morning, it became clear that something crucial was missing – the person behind the words. How else would those who are reading this now understand why, at the turn of the twenty-first century, I needed to start a generator to power a computer? But where do I begin the story? What do others really need to know about who I am and why I’m here? My story, too, illustrates some of the consequences of colonialism and Ojibwe child removal.
I remember the day when I first fell in love with the place in the northwoods where I was living on September 11, 2001. It was a crisp, sunny November afternoon in 1991. The golden glow of the autumn leaves and marsh grasses I viewed from the deck of a simple cabin in the woods convinced me this was where I wanted to live. I didn’t even stop to consider what it meant to live down a winding dirt road, bordered by forests and wetlands, without electricity. But I did learn thanks to the help of a partner who followed me there.
The cottage was built on land ceded by the Ojibwe in the 1800s. It was just outside the boundary of the reservation created by a series of treaties between the Ojibwe and the United States government. It’s the reservation where my mother was born and raised before and after she spent precious formative years in a Catholic Indian boarding school. It’s where I learned what it meant to live without electricity. I had no idea how I would be able to get in and out during the winter, especially with my car, but I did have my unstylish, warm winter boots (and later, snowshoes to attach to them.)
Living in a forest accessible only through a series of country roads, some of which were unpaved, presented both benefits and challenges. I had an opportunity to witness nature up close – the bear, deer, beaver, otters, rabbits and porcupine. I heard the powerful rhythmic pounding of eagles’ wings as they flew just over my head, the hauntingly lovely song of the loon echoing over still waters, and the howls of coyotes in the quiet winter night.
Winter was my favorite time, even though it was often cold and snowy, and even though it meant a mile hike to my car when I had to make the trip to some distant city to go to work, attend class or travel for a speaking engagement or consulting job. The hike was easier in the winter. The path through the snow was easy to follow, even at night, and the mosquitoes, sand flies, deer flies, horse flies and ticks were nowhere to be seen as they bided their time for the spring thaw. Spring – mud season – also meant hiking. But I was younger then and used to the grueling physical labor living in the woods required.
I remember the quiet, starry winter nights, and the sanctuary where my grandson spent many of his childhood days. Those were simpler days of hiking, hauling wood, and clearing the beaver-culled trees from the road.
Now, I live in an urban neighborhood where plumes of toxic exhaust billow from factories, sometimes blocking the sunlight on the few winter days without clouds. I feel the loss of times past. Times before the tragedy of Nine-Eleven. And not just the relatively recent past, but the past of my ancestors also. Strange though it may sound, as deep as the grief of those lost times often is for me to face, it’s what motivates me to do what I can to touch people’s hearts for the sake of this wondrous earth and future generations. It’s why I undertook this research. It’s why I am writing now.
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