The sun carefully herds the storm clouds away from the little bowl of earth where Toronto is celebrating National Aboriginal Day 2007 on June 21.
We're trying to keep track of our kids, but they flow through our fingers like water, running through the sheltered freedom of the pit in Trinity Bellwoods.
Mine come to rest on a blanket of leaves piled on a gravel bank. They make families of corn-husk dolls until bowls of free strawberry shortcake being carried around remind them that they have stomachs. In search of free dessert, they discover the rest of the event: the Aztec dancers, the Metis fiddlers, the crafters.
While we wait for Yaqui dancer Norma Araiza to perform, we're entertained by local actor Ron Cook.
He tells a story from his Cree nation about some silly and careless black bears who have seriously pissed off the much mightier grizzly bears.
The black bears can't outrun the grizzlies, so they decide to disguise themselves. They slip off their beautiful black fur and hide it, then casually stand around all naked and pink on their hind legs. The grizzlies sniff around these curious two-legged beings, then resume their search for the black bears who made them mad.
"And that," says Cook, "is how the two-leggeds, the human beings, came into being."
Two eight-year-olds are looking at Cook with great intensity. One raises her finger.
"Is that a true story?"
Cook hesitates, looking at the deeply serious little girl. I see him struggle. How to explain the millennia-long search for truth that legends pass down through the generations?
The other girl politely challenges Cook. "I thought we evolved from monkeys."
The adults are visibly impressed. Inspiration seizes Cook.
"These stories are both true," he tells them. "What do they both tell us? They tell us that all beings are closely related. That there is so little difference between the two-legged and the four-legged beings, even the fish."
Two weeks earlier, on the first warm Friday night of a looming summer, we've dragged our little TV out onto the balcony to celebrate a victory that cost the family of slain native protestor Dudley George a son and a decade of effort. The Ipperwash Report has just been released, and CTV is showing One Dead Indian, the docudrama about the 1995 police shooting death of the Stony Point Chippewa during an OPP invasion of Ipperwash Provincial Park.
Against a dusky city skyline webbed with construction cranes, the little TV frames the Stony Pointers as they argue, laugh, flirt and cook burgers.
Then a commercial, paid for by the government of Canada, informs survivors of Indian residential schools that they can apply for compensation for their time in those schools created to destroy their families, nations and cultures.
An eagle feather floats in the blackness of the television screen and comes to rest above the words "The Healing Continues." Who do they think they're kidding?
Indian residential school survivors struggled for nearly two decades for recognition, and only received it when class actions scared Canada into paying up. Canada, through Indian Affairs Minister Jim Prentice, still refuses to apologize. Some healing.
Dudley George's people peacefully waited 50 years, and they're still waiting, for the promised return of their home.
Down the 401 in Caledonia, it took the province and feds no time to react when white locals began rioting over a longer commute to the donut shop after a native blockade of ancestral land got in the way.
The god of profit will wince, but he's been running rampant over native land for too long. It's time someone took a stand and stopped him from desecrating rivers and destroying woods and farmland. First Nations people shouldn't have to fight all the battles.
From the lakeshore, great beams of white light rake the sky as Toronto parties. On television, George is bleeding to death.
Back at Trinity Bellwoods, dancer Norma Araiza stalks up in her deer dance. She wears a deer's head like a turban, and her little feet seem to have become hooves. Her movements show the unity between the hunter and the hunted, the two-legged and the four-legged. She falls at the end, showing the sacrifice the deer makes for the life of the tribe, in a way that also warns of humans' inborn tendency to folly.