• Matt Windsor

Reflections on Kawawachikamach, Part 2

Lake Matemace at the edge of Kawawa

Our visit came during a time of intense mourning for the Naskapi Nation.  Six community members have died in the last six months – two younger adults, two middle aged men and two elders. Two of these deaths occurred about a week before we arrived, and the last one occurred just before we had to leave. We attended the funeral of a young man who took his own life. The next day a Naskapi woman talked about hope at church. Bill explained to us afterwards what her talk was about. She said she thought the addictions faced by the young people are fueled by a lack of hope. She encouraged the community to embrace Jesus as our source of hope, quuoting 1 Peter 1:3:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.”

Jude (left) Bill (right) and Philip with his books.

The Saturday before we left Kawawa, Bill took me to visit an elder, Philip (92 years old), who didn’t speak any English. In Kawawa the way to visit somebody is to simply walk into their house, take off your shoes and announce yourself, so Bill took the lead and we were welcomed in by one of the elder’s sons. Philip, came out to sit at the table with us. After a couple minutes he disappeared and came out with a big bag of books – Bibles, prayer books, hymnals and other booklets in Naskapi, Moose Cree, and even Inuktitut, all of which he could read. I didn’t understand much of the ensuing conversation aside from a couple simple words (misinaahiikinuch means “books”), but we drank tea together, listened to country music on the local radio, and prayed with the man’s son.

At one point a phone call interrupted our conversation and Bill laughed when Philip hung up. Apparently he had said something like “I can’t come right now, I’m being visited by misti manitaw” [the tall stranger]. Although there are tall young Naskapi guys, I definitely stuck out for my lankiness and complexion. Bill says now I can announce myself as “misti manitau” when I walk into people’s houses.

Norma Jean facilitating a teachers workshop (left) and our farewell lunch at the NDC (right).

Weekday afternoons during our visit Bill and Norma Jean were running language teaching workshops for the Naskapi school teachers. The children in Kawawa arrive at the school in grade one speaking Naskapi, and they continue their schooling in Naskapi until grade three when their education begins to transition into English. This system of bilingual education is designed to give them strong foundations in reading in their mother tongue before asking them to learn these skills in a second language. The workshops gave the Naskapi teachers the opportunity to re-evaluate some of their teaching methods and consider what they could do differently or keep the same.

In the past, people used to learn to read in church, where traditional Naskapi-style hymns are sung slow enough that a new reader can follow along in the hymnal (written in the syllabic script). Nowadays literacy is taught in the schools, and teachers need as many resources as possible to read with the kids. They use a lot of the resources the NDC publishes, like the legend series we were working on and the translated scriptures.

Bill and I redid the entryway floor in their house using stick tiles (right).

Overall, this trip helped us picture life in Kawawa with a new child, and it makes all the difference being introduced by Bill and Norma Jean rather than arriving cold in an unfamiliar community to fend for ourselves. One woman kept telling us we needed to come back every time we eeked out a phrase in Naskapi. Before we left she gave us a Naskapi New Testament saying we need to learn it so we would come back.

We’ve peppered Bill and Norma Jean with every question we could think of for two years about what it’s like to work and live with the Naskapi and raise children in a northern community, but we learned way more in ten days living there. I’m very thankful we will be going back to a place where people know us and are looking out for us.

The train ride to Schefferville was about 14 hours, but luckily the seats were comfy:)