In the heartland of Turtle Island, a small group of Indigenous designers join in laughter, combine resources and support each other through a shared purpose. Celebrating three years running, this unique designer co-operative helps ensure their voices and cultures are heard and experienced throughout the world.
In June, we had the great pleasure of being hosted by members of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band on Treaty 10 territory for The Backroad Diaries project.
While visiting the area, Sisan had the opportunity to catch walleye on the great Missinipi, visit the Nation’s impressive Amachewespemawin Co-operative store and eat at the famous Chester’s Chicken.
A quiet, welcoming and proud group of Woodland Cree manages this amazingly beautiful area. Without question, this is their land and we are very obviously out of our depths here. To illustrate, Sisan asks what tackle is and John, our guide, has his young nephew teach Sisan how to attach jig to lead.
Thankfully we’re after walleye, so there’s a reduced risk of making the wall of fame in La Ronge hospital where newcomers end up after having a hook removed from one’s fleshier parts. More importantly perhaps, thanks to this young man’s skill and the uncanny awareness of John for spots with fish, Sisan manages to catch us lunch.
While we sit on the edge of the Missinipi, water, rocks, trees and the unsettled winds of an oncoming cold front mingle in an amazingly bright aroma. Next to us, the gentle murmuring of ‘níhithawak’ is punctuated by the distant almost ethereal call of a loon and, in the distance, the decidedly ancient grace of a pelican gliding impossibly close to the deep blue waters of Nistowiak Lake. This is a place as beautiful as it is dangerous and worthy of respect.
We wander up to Nistowiak Falls, the tallest falls in Saskatchewan. While resting just above Nistowiak, Sisan does his best to teach me how to skip stones. Before I get the camera on him, he manages to do pretty well. But check out what happens when the camera’s on him.
After re-hydrating at Jim’s Camp below the falls, we head out for a shore lunch. John knows the Missinipi the way you know your own hand. It’s a part of him and he recognizes every current, hidden rock and underwater pool where fish collect. He picks a spot where he offhandedly mentions we won’t be smashed against the rocks.
We “park” on a large rock with a few pine trees and a fire pit to light a fire and enjoy walleye with fried potatoes. The rock juts out of the middle of this astonishingly large and humbling river, but is protected from the wind in a way that allows John to expertly dock the boat on the rock without puncturing the vessel’s tin bottom.
As we look for dry kindling, clouds build up above us and John weights the value of lunch against the building storm, and wisely decides to navigate the rapids back up the river – before we make lunch.
As we make our way back, bouncing over rough waters at an almost alarmingly high speed, Sisan and I witness the majestic sight of two storm systems join forces. The two systems form a deep, dark monster reaching far into the atmosphere with bright light tentacles reaching towards earth every few seconds.
Later, once we’ve slowed the spine jarring race away from this threat, John quietly suggests we would have been “sitting ducks” if we stayed, and so Sisan and I are more than happy to opt for Chester Chicken over the shore lunch.
Hiy hiy to John, Lena and everyone at Amachewespemawin for the hospitality and for keeping us above water. A special thank you to the budding young níhithawak community leader who showed Sisan how to create his own lead and attach a jig.
This summer, we’re gathering camera and curiosity and hitting the highway to capture the unique story of 8 rural and Indigenous communities across western Canada. Each of these communities has a co-op at the centre of it, and we’ll be sharing the story of how these co-ops have played a role in the community and local economy.
To help us do this, we’ve hired Sisan Fregene, a budding young YouTube personality and all around great person. Sisan comes to us from Edmonton, thanks in part to the Canada Summer Jobs program, and is in the middle of studying to become a x-ray tech. (So, he’s practical too!)