“These Hills and Mountains”

  • James Treat


Albert Lightning paused briefly at the front of his tipi, then stepped out into the hazy half-light of dawn. His compact body passed easily through an opening that forced some to stoop; he was not a tall man, but many native people looked up to him as one who understood the meaning and power of tribal traditions. This morning the air was calm and fresh but very cool, a chilling embrace for even the most seasoned spiritual leader, and his joints momentarily ached for a warmer obligation. Surveying the camp through metal-frame eyeglasses, Lightning snugged the collar of his sweater and headed for an open area nearby. He was carrying an old pipe bag almost as weathered as the hand clutching it. Others soon joined the amiable Cree elder and quietly arranged themselves in a circle. He began by lighting a braid of sweetgrass, syrupy smoke curling skyward as it purified the gathering. Then he assembled a hand-carved pipe and packed its bowl with tobacco, speaking a few words in English about how these gifts should be used “on behalf of the people.” Running his thumb along the pipestem in an absentminded gesture, he explained the importance of faith and asked everyone there to pray for the past, present, and future of native communities. He removed his glasses; a few curious birds looked on from the treetops. Finally, and with a prayerful confidence, Lightning brought flame to the ceremonial herb.1


Native People Residential School Canadian Government Spiritual Leader Land Claim 
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© James Treat 2003

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  • James Treat

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