Monday, September 12, 2011

Our Norway House Experience

Once we got on the Nelson the only thing standing in between us and Norway House was the infamous maze of water known as Playgreen Lake. This is where Eric Sevareid and Walter Port missed the direct channel leading to Norway House, forcing them to paddle the long way into town. The journal we had from the Hudson Bay Expedition trip in 2005 also got lost on this lake and took several hours to find the right channel. We camped at an old fishing co-op building in the middle of Playgreen Lake and took off early the next morning to catch the end of York Boat Days that afternoon. We had a rough headwind as a looming death cloud sat over Norway House, mocking our efforts. We decided to wait said death cloud out until the skies cleared and rainbows appeared with leprechauns to escort us to the right channel. One of our mottos was “Good Decisions 2011: Never try too hard." After our morning coffee and a lovely game of ‘name the three people you would want to/never want to be stuck in a room with for 24 hours’ (you were probably mentioned at some point during this discussion…all good things, I’m sure!), we set off with clear skies. Rainbows and Leprechauns did not magically appear to lead us on our way like they will in my upcoming book Hudson Bay Bound: The Search for the Real Robot Unicorn. However, a motorboat appeared from the Northeast shore as a beacon of light streaming from the channel to Norway House. We followed the channel until houses started popping up along the shore. We were on the lookout for Mike Muswagon’s house with the red porch, which happened to be right across from ‘that other house with the red porch’, which no one told us about. After a comical series of downstream/upstream and this house/that house debates, during which a motorboat of tourists took pictures of us paddling in circles, Mike’s daughters eventually flagged us down. So began the Days of York Boat!

York Boat Days were awesome. Mike and Janice Muswagon have wonderful, down to earth kids (older than us) and grandkids (younger than us); the whole family was genuinely fun to hang out with. We sat around with Krystal (who is now pregnant – Congratulations!), watched movies and ate food. It was perfectly relaxing. Then we went to the shore to watch the York Boat races and to satisfy our ever-growing metabolisms with Moose Soup and bannock. That night Ann and I stayed up with Mike and Janice until 1:00am learning about the political and social issues present at Norway House and in many aboriginal communities in Manitoba. I was especially interested in food-access in the community. The local convenience store is called Northern Store and the prices are very high for healthy foods (ex: soda is cheaper than water, and a gallon of milk is $10+). Therefore, people ideally buy the cheaper, more processed foods that can cause diseases such as diabetes. This is just one of the many problems they face. Another hope of the Muswagon family is that the unemployment rate –currently at 85%-- improves within the community. We don’t know a lot about the specifics, only what we took away from conversations, but 85% unemployment is absolutely ridiculous and reflects an obvious injustice. It is our responsibility as educated citizens (which often involves sifting through some lies and stereotypes) to make political decisions out of understanding and not ignorance.

The night before we left, we enjoyed a delicious BBQ dinner with the Muswagon family. They decided that we needed a dog to protect us from the polar bears that had been checking our gps location online every night, anxiously awaiting our arrival to the Hayes River (In the soon-to-be hit novel, Hudson Bay Bound: The Search for the Real Robot Unicorn, these tech-savvy polar bears will aid me in my search and, extremely turned off by my dance moves, agree not to eat me). Anyway, Krystal shows up at the BBQ with a small, sad looking puppy. It was light grey with one blue eye and a limp that says, “I’m cute but useless." The jokes ensued; we had to get a different dog. This dog was given to a grandchild. Nothing I write now will effectively describe how hilarious the search for our dog was, but here is the story anyway.
We hopped in the car with Krystal and two of her friends to go dog shopping. Everyone knows that the best time to shop for stray dogs is late at night while driving slowly through neighborhoods in the reservation, calling for applicants out of the car window. One time while we were rolling along I actually saw a woman in the house we were passing look worriedly out her window then shut the blinds. We looked sketchy, and it was awesome. We cracked jokes at the dogs we saw that ‘weren’t good enough’ and jokes about stealing dogs from houses (all in good fun, nothing serious). After rolling around for a while we decided to check back at the multiplex where there was a high school dance going on. We figured that the smell of sweaty hormones protruding from the building must have attracted the stray dogs lingering in the parking lot. And there we saw her, the silhouette of a good-sized puppy with the sexiest lack-of-a-limp I’ve ever seen. She was licking old ketchup packets off of the parking lot floor like it was her job, and I admired her determination with the task at hand; this was the one. Ann hopped out of the car and chased her down while everyone was yelling as if we were carrying out some sort of military mission. I ran outside, picked her butt-dreaded self up from the concrete and threw her in the back seat of the car. We zoomed off as if we had just done something illegal (which we hadn’t – the puppy may have starved to death during the winter). We named her Myhan, which means wolf in Cree.  Ironically, she kind of looks like a fox. Whatever the name, the broad has character. She sleeps and sleeps and sleeps and “Ann do you think it’s weird that all she does is sleep?” We soon discovered that she was sleeping so much because she was underfed and very tired from the res-dog life. After about 2 days of eating real food (she still had a special place for ketchup packets in her heart) she finally perked up and started acting like a puppy. “mmmmm Chacos are delicious” and “if I eat a little bit of the tent every night then Ann and Natalie will have to sleep outside with meeeee!” But really, she slept in the canoe most of the day and hunted at night. We once found a beaver hand in front of our tent in the morning. Good job, Myhan, you badass.

We paddled away from Mike’s House on an overcast afternoon… stay tuned for the blog about the last section of our trip!

Norway House is a wonderful place with very kind people and we hope to return someday soon to visit the awesome Muswagon family.

This is the Fisherman's CO-OP on Playgreen Lake that we camped next to after exiting Lake Winnipeg

Flour packing at York Boat Days. We should have entered...

Some of the beautiful Muswagons. From left to right Ann Raiho, Wally Muswagon, Janice Muswagon, Mike Muswagon, Krystal Muswagon, Natalie Warren.

Myhan's first five minutes with us

1 comment:

  1. I really loved this post. Especially with Myhan's obsession with Ketch-up packets. Ann, as you know, I love my ketch-up packets. Thanks for sharing.