I had not expected to find myself driving down into the Qu’Appelle Valley that crisp but brilliantly sunny morning last October. As I looked across, I saw the valley and the hills as a palette of people’s lives over generations, their history a small slice relative to the valley’s glacial formation.
Three days earlier, I’d received word that Glen Gordon, Andrew’s grandson, had passed away and that the wake was to be held that Saturday, followed by the funeral Sunday morning at the Carry the Kettle Band Hall. I rarely attend funerals, but I knew before really even giving it any thought that I would not miss Glen’s.
I’d consulted with Glen, initially, a couple of years earlier and he’d provided me with generous amounts of information about his grandfather Andrew that I was able to use when writing The Will. Throughout our discourse through Facebook Messenger and telephone conversations, I came to know Glen as the tremendously kind, gracious and knowledgeable man that he was, even though I never did meet him in person. His information helped me to create Andrew’s character in the novel and represent his grandfather with the integrity essential to honour this great man and the life he led. I am forever grateful to Glen and the time he gave to help me in this regard.
As time passed and I became more focused on completing the manuscript, I lost touch with Glen, until one day I called him and learned that he’d had a bad farming accident, leaving him with serious mobility issues and that his health had taken a turn for the worse. It saddened me to believe that perhaps I was no longer going to be able to work with Glen and see the manuscript through to the end with his guidance. At the same time, I considered it crucial that someone representing the Gordon family review the manuscript for their approval before I could consider the writing finished. It was then that I contacted Glen’s younger brother, Brian.
I’d never met Brian either but he agreed to read the manuscript, calling or texting me with his progress and offering his feedback as he made his way through it. It was heartening to know that he was reviewing the manuscript with such care, but I was also worried about what he might think of my story. I worried about cultural accuracy and offending Brian and his family with a fictional portrayal of his grandfather who I had never known. I worried about cultural appropriation and my adequacy as a white female writer attempting to write from the point of view of an historical Indigenous male. And yes, I worried that any unwanted and subconscious racial prejudices that I might be harbouring but wasn’t aware of may have come through in my writing all the same. But, throughout the entire read, Brian was nothing but very reassuring and supportive as his response indicates in one of his earlier texts: “If it is made for Good, it’s Good.”
There was one point in the story however where Brian sent me a text asking me to remind him to discuss that portion of it with him at a future date.
The question arose after he’d read the segment concerning the details surrounding the death of Andrew’s youngest daughter at the Qu’Appelle Industrial School. That discussion took place a couple of months later and opened my eyes to a point of view entirely new to me in terms of the explanation as to “What happened to the Indian.”
I hadn’t heard from Brian for a few days when I received his FB message that Glen had passed away and the wake and funeral were planned for the coming weekend. As with Glen, I still hadn’t met Brian personally or any other remaining members of the Gordon family. So, as my husband Danny and I swept into the Band Hall for the funeral, ushered in on a cold barrelling wind, we stepped into a room where none of the faces were familiar to me and the Covid masks didn’t help! But as we found places to sit with copies of Glen’s funeral brochure, I was reassured by the fact that many of the people in the room were Andrew’s descendants and that it was his grandson in the coffin placed at the front of the hall.
Throughout the service, I came to know much more about the Gordon family and their deference to the Great Spirit as Creator. Smoke rose from the burning sage at the front of the hall where prayers were sent to be placed in the hands of the Great Spirit for Glen’s protection on his journey Home. As the drummers sang the drum beats pulsed resonating through the hearts of the people in attendance as a collective rhythm.
The ceremony was filled with music and singing, warmth and grace, the room brimming with love and respect for Glen. The people there helped to see Glen safely to the end of his Walk, recounting memories of their time with him while he was still with them on earth and visions of Glen as he travelled to meet up with loved ones in the stars. At the end of the service, I shook hands with the people sitting in the front row, as if reaching down through time to Andrew’s descendants: Brian and his son, Michael. Glen’s son, Andre, and Andre’s daughter, Shaylynn, Glen’s daughter, Pamela Gordon-Wiebe, and her husband.
On our return home, my husband and I passed back through the Qu’Appelle Valley and the town of Fort Qu’Appelle that sat on an isthmus of valley floor. First, we stopped at the cemetery on the hill, and as we stood surveying the Stewart grave plot I looked down into the valley to Echo Lake where Alfie proposed to Addie in the story. Then I turned toward Mission Lake on the right, the row of hills, a rippling wave of soft purpled brown, fluid folds leading to the site of the Qu’Appelle Industrial School which Andrew, and later his children, attended. I knew that Pasqua Lake lay to the left just beyond Echo and that I would find Pasqua First Nation directly above where Andrew farmed, as did his son Walter, and now his grandson Brian.
Brian and I talked about meeting after he finished reading The Will to discuss any additional changes that should be made but we didn’t know exactly what that would look like in terms of when or where. Brian finished trucking his harvested crop to the elevator after the funeral. He then came up to our farm and spent the better part of three days with Danny and I. Much of our time together then was spent at our kitchen table, the kitchen table being the place where my dad and Walter spent much of their time together and Alfie and Andrew before that.
In The Will, Andrew refers to himself as a pagan and, as such, the Catholic church’s belief that atonement was needed to pay for his sins. It was important that I learn more from Brian about Andrew’s own spirituality so that I could represent it accurately in the story, the tragic mistake the Catholic church made in not understanding that Andrew was not without a God, that their God and Andrew’s were one in the same. Brian had given me some titles to read along with some writing of his own to prepare me for our discussions before he came up. Throughout our visit, Brian enlightened me on belief in the divine from Andrew’s standpoint and his. He talked about his and Glen’s time in the lodge that they built, their activity there together and their own consequent enlightenment.
We would meet around our kitchen table again the following spring as we discussed plans for a second book: a joint writing venture concerning three generations of the Gordon family.
After Brian returned home to Pasqua and I drove back to the city, I found myself thinking about the transgenerational trauma that plagued and pervaded generation after generation of residential school survivors. I distinctly remember my dad asking Brian’s father Walter in our kitchen years ago about his experience at the Qu’Appelle residential school. I can still see Walter standing by the stove looking out through the east window, the laugh lines around his eyes in stark contrast to the gravity of his answer. It remains with me to this day, the irony of his words: “We shoveled a lot of shit.”
I did not know then that his characteristic nonchalant response merely skirted the details of his attendance there that went well beyond his responsibilities for cleaning barns, well beyond anything that would have been expected of me at my school, then. Details of his life as a student away from home and family for months at a time lay unrevealed beneath the weight of his reply, facts of a reality of which we were shamefully ignorant at the time.
As I continued driving toward the city, watching for moose along the side of the highway as the light faded into evening, I thought of how it seemed like I’d known Brian for much longer than the few months since we’d first met. I knew that he devoted large chunks of his time to the same issues as his father and grandfather, generations past: defending the sovereignty of his people and the land that they believed was assured to them when Treaty Four was signed well over one hundred years ago. It occurred to me then that the term transgenerational could also be applied to the concept of friendship, such as the friendship existing between Andrew and my grandfather, and then between Walter and my dad. I took comfort in the thought that I was now realizing a continuation of that friendship between Brian and myself.
Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this article, you can find more on the families and inspirations behind The Will here.