Dateline – June 29, 2009
My take on Spirit Way, Thompson, and my family
By Hilda Fitzner
Tansi (Cree greeting for Hello, how are you): I am Hilda Rose Fitzner. I am a Northern Manitoba Cree Aboriginal, raised in Wabowden, Manitoba, a bay line community 109 kilometres south of Thompson. I wish to share some of my history with you. My Cree name translates to Woman Who Turns AroundI am named after the wind that turns around. I was given this name by a much respected and powerful medicine man from my maternal grandmothers clan. I joined the board of Spirit Way, Inc. and recently was nominated for Vice President, which I graciously accepted.
I come from a family of 18; 16 children, my mother Hilda Mae (nee Tait) and father Frederick Fitzner, World War II Veteran. Sadly, my mother suffered loss of premature twin boysborn too soon and weak to survive in that time of no incubators; also lost one boy to epilepsy. We were raised basically off the land on a diet of fresh fish, rabbits, ducks, geese, spruce hens, moose meat (yummy), caribou, elk, and sometimes smoked muskrat, beaver and lynx; and plenty of bannock, roots and berrieswhatever was in season. I remember my mother and fathers teachings about respecting what Earth gives up for us. We only take from the land what we needed to survive with and we were to do this with much respect. My mother also bought us through many childhood illnesses with medicines from the bush; medicines that she learned of from her Elders. We had no doctors or pharmacies to bring us through these illnesses. She carried much respect for the medicines of the land and would not take medicine without leaving an offer of tobacco in turn. Today, I carry much respect for the ways of our people and the medicines that were given us.
My maternal grandmother is from the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation (NCN) located north of Thompson in Nelson House. Before my mother was born, their home reserve NCN was on what is known as Wuskwatim Lake. Two of my aunts were born on that lake and my mother was born at the mouth of the Grass River in Setting Lake across from Wabowden. My maternal grandmothers family were the bloodline Chiefs from 1700 to 1907 when it was turned over to elections. My grandfather, Joseph Tait, was from Big Trout Lake, Ontario, an Ojibway Aboriginal who come to NCN to find his bride. My grandfather Tait was a very strong, very determined man who worked hard to raise his family off the land and was deeply religious.
My paternal grandmother is from Opaskwayak Cree Nation, located at The Pas, Manitoba. Her mothers family was the bloodline Chiefs of OCN. My father would tell me as a 7 year old child to be proud of whom I was, to hold my head high, because I come from royalty. Sadly, the only royalty I learned of then was Queen Elizabethwe had to sing to her every day in school. Also, at this time of my life, I learned where society placed us Aboriginal people on the social latterat the very bottom. So, in my seven year old mind, I thought we were distantly related to Queen Elizabeth and at least I could feel good about that, I seen how unaccepted Aboriginal people were. At 8 years old, I asked my father how we were related to the Queen, he gently laughed at what he thought was the silliness of an 8 year old child, and told me we werent related to the Queen. I asked him about my royalty; he then explained about his grandmothers brother and father being the Chief and his father before him. I felt crushed and didnt want that; I had to face that I was one of the unacceptable ones. I left that part of me alone until I reached my teenage years; I didnt turn away from my mother and fathers lessons through stories, I just didnt share them with the outside world where I wasnt at all important and I didnt feel I belonged. Then one day, I thought about our Cree ways and life and how my mother and father worked so hard to make sure we always had food and a warm and happy home, and my fierce pride and love for our people surfaced. It never left me, I left it alone for a few years….and it will never leave me nor will I ever leave it alone again. When I think about who I am, why I am, and where I want to go, I feel I carry the pride and courage my strong Grandmothers had before me and I need to set the same path for my future generations. One that will help them, too, to be proud people and respect all that Mother Earth has provided for us.
I have two childrenmy daughter Angeline and my son Brian; my daughter died five years ago from a fatal accident but I say I have two childrenshe will always be my child, death cannot separate that. My son lives in Thompson and works for the City of Thompson; he has a three-year old son Braiden. My daughter has a son Tristan, he was only four when his Mommy was called away. I am raising Tristan and I try to teach him to be kind and helpful, be proud of his accomplishments, to accept his failures with grace, to be humble to our Creator and follow His teachings, make choices to be proud of himself, and to take care of our sacred gift, our Mother Earth and all her creatures.
My Sundays are usually reserved for my grandsons. During the warmer months this is our Sunday together: first we go to the Thompson Zoothe first animal we visit is the wolf…Braiden howls like a wolf, his daddy taught him that when Braiden was a year old and then we carry on to the eagle and then the rest of the zoo. Our next stop is the Aviation Tribute, the Norseman restoration (a definite favourite for little boys)…and always a drive past the Robert Bateman mural and the rock face wolves. Spirit Way has created some totally wonderful places for us to share with our children and always an opportunity to squeeze in a lesson or two about conserving nature, looking after our Mother Earth, and community pride and care. I tell them we have to respect the hard work and dedication community people have devoted to giving us mystical and magical places to visit right in our own community. To see the beautiful, soul searching gaze of this wondrous creature captured by Robert Batemans artistic touch portrayed on the side of a lit-up ten-story building is just that….mystical and magical; and I feel connected!!
Our native wolf and our Cree people in northern Manitoba have had a very special relationship since we Cree settled in northern Manitoba thousands of years ago. The wolf is a symbol of one of our sacred teachings, it holds very strong spirit. I, myself, feel the wolf is one of my spirit guides; he helped me choose to come back to Thompson with my grandson Tristan to build a better life for him.
And the rest of Spirit Ways accomplishments: the 49 wolf statues (see them all in this website) each one individualized by the artists the sponsors selected for its painting; the Aviation tributehow the many hours dedicated to its re-creation shows the determination of this group; the rock face wolvesanother honour to our brother; the wolf enclosure at the zoohow many times my grandsons and I stood there visiting with the wolves and thinking they should have more space to live in, now Spirit Way Inc. is fundraising to enlarge and rebuild the wolf enclosure; and now for their next vision…..the Centre for Aboriginal Art.
All of my life, I have seen many diversified artists in our peoplemy mother was one, she beaded many different creations….mukluks, mitts, hats, jackets, pants, all hand stitched and with much pride, they lasted forever and ended up in many different parts of the world; the artists that picked up a piece of driftwood and seen something in it that just needed the right touch to bring it out, the one that looked at the northern lights and just had to paint them to capture them forever or the spiritual etchings of an eagle, the dancer who naturally took to hoops and awed audiences with his magical way of dancing through all the hoops, the singer and drummer who, with one song, could wake up the call of the drum, the heartbeat of our Mother Earth, in any Aboriginal person even if they didnt grow up in Aboriginal customs, the person who picked up a piece of soapstone and bought it to life portraying an Aboriginal person running a dog sled team, our rock face paintings from thousands of moons ago, etc. etc. Our people have so much to offer and share with the world….this next Spirit Way vision will bring that forward too.
In closing, I would encourage you not to stay away from this website too long. You may miss out on fantastic steps of bringing the next visions forward!! Stay tuned….better yet come and see for yourself what Spirit Way has to offer.
Ekosi maka, Nitotemak!! (Cree for alls good then, my relations)
In 2004, when the Spirit Way Master Plan was presented to City Council, the goal was to create a Manitoba Star Attraction. After 5 years, over $1.3 million raised, and an unbelievable amount of volunteer effort and community support, Minister of Culture, Heritage and Tourism, Eric Robinson, has informed the Board that Spirit Way is officially designated as a Manitoba Star Attraction! That signifies it is one of the top tourist attractions in the province of Manitoba. It is Thompson’s second MSA after the Heritage North Museum.
Travel Manitoba, on their website, www.travelmanitoba.com, now shows Spirit Way as one of the top 20 places to visit in the Province. Considering that Spirit Way did not exist five years ago, that is a tremendous accomplishment. Once the yellow star logo goes on all Travel Manitoba literature and on the highway sign, it has been shown that tourist visits increase. People want to see what’s unique and different about Manitoba.
For rubber tire travellers heading North, the Star Attractions are Pisew Falls, Heritage North Museum, Spirit Way, and then Churchill Polar Bear tours. Spirit Way now has great company! Because Spirit Way is a walkway with various points of interest, it offers a range of interests to the visitor… the only Robert Bateman painting as a mural and the largest lighted mural in the world, the start of Canada’s largest rock sculpture, a stunning Norseman float plane overlooking the seaplane base, a unique tribute to firefighters (coming soon), and 24 beautiful wolf statues along the Way are just some of the art, culture, and heritage tributes the embody Spirit Way. Someone said for any community to undertake one or two such tributes would be special, but to have 16 Points of Interest is remarkable.
For those travelers going to Churchill to see beluga whales or polar bears, stopping a day or two in Thompson will add to their adventure. Monthly guided public walking tours are planned for this summer. Downloadable audio tours will be available on this website later this year. By next year, we expect to have regular guided walking tours of Spirit Way.
Spirit Way is a credit to all the partners, supporters and volunteers who made it happen. Thompson can show itself with pride. The number of people who are constantly taking photos daily of the various sites to take home and show their friends puts Thompson in a new light. Taking photos within the community in this manner seldom happened five years ago.
Spirit Way is not finished. Consultant’s work is progressing on a Canadian Centre for Aboriginal Art – The Spirit Way Arts Centre. More details will become known in late summer. This would be a signature facility in Thompson and unique in Canada. Yet, others are working hard on a strategic plan to position Thompson as Wolf Capital of Canada. Again, more details will be forthcoming later this year. Some people feel there are two more Manitoba Star Attractions in Thompson’s future. Considering that only Winnipeg, Brandon and Stonewall have two or more Star Attractions, Thompson is defining itself in a new way.
Spread the word that Thompson has become a unique and interesting place to visit! And please keep coming back to this website to stay current with new developments.