Personal Reflections

Hawk Hill

IN 1959, THE ELWOODS SOLD THEIR LAND TO ADRIAN AND PATRICIA (PAT) PATON and for the next 50 or more years I farmed this land. This hill intrigued me in many ways and over the years I began to develop a relationship with the land and nature. One constant that made an impression on me was that whenever I worked near it, there was at least one pair of hawks that patrolled a large area. They could see any small rodent that moved and most became a meal for the clutch of young hawks in a nest that was situated in a neighbouring clump of trees.

One evening, at dusk, as I was about to leave the field a light-coloured hawk landed on the top of the hill. I remember thinking that he may be an albino. When I returned next morning, I found the hawk dead on the hill. On close examination, I concluded that he was very old as he had almost no meat on his bones and his light colour I think was due to age. I buried him on the top of the hill. I hope his soul soars aloft and that his descendants continue to patrol the skies above the hill into eternity.

In the 1980s I decided that I would try to do something for the land as it was being damaged by wind erosion. With the help of conservation agencies, botanist Nora Stewart and others, I began seeding native vegetation on the hill. I seeded over 80 species and many have survived and flourished. I then decided to erect a stone cairn, somewhat similar to stone monuments erected on hilltops by early civilizations all over the world and to date it is over ten feet high.

My book, An Honest, Genial and Kindly Poeple, is an extension of the work I have done on the land; I leave all of this as a tribute to the land and its people. I hope future generations will treat both with the love and respect that they deserve.

If you are ever to visit Hawk Hill, I invite you to add a stone to the pile.

If you are ever to visit Hawk Hill, I invite you to add a stone to the pile.

The Tale of Old Wives Lake

AS A YOUTH, I WAS ALWAYS INTERESTED IN FIRST NATIONS STORIES AND LIFESTYLES. The very first Aboriginal legend that I heard was the tale of Old Wives Lake, however this story is very different than the one that Father Royer told. Within E. T. Russell’s book What’s in a Name he also tells the legend of Old Wives Lake and his account is very similar to the one that was told to me by my teacher in a one-room country schoolhouse in the early 1940s.

“Over 100 years ago a great fire swept across the Regina Plains, Qu’Appelle Valley and district. The buffalo having no pasture trekked west to the unburned grasslands. The Cree Indians of the Qu’Appelle followed the disappearing buffalo westward. By going west they were reaching Blackfoot country, the land of their enemies. However the Cree were desperate and they followed the buffalo. They found great herds by a large lake, made camp and the hunting began. They soon secured all the meat they could hope to carry back to Qu’Appelle. Then the long straggling line of hunters, women, and children wound about the lake-side. Suddenly someone saw men on horseback, silhouetted against the sky. “Blackfoot!” The fearful truth was whispered along the straggling and slow-moving line of Crees.

The long cavalcade tried to hurry and close in for defense for they knew the Blackfoot were near. A party of Blackfoot horseman appeared. They circled, galloped, shouted and shot arrows at the huddled Crees. The Crees fought back. Then suddenly the Blackfoot disappeared into the hills.

The Crees held council, one Cree had been killed and several wounded. The Crees knew the Blackfoot would return with reinforcements. How could the Crees, loaded with meat and encumbered with women and children hope to outride the Blackfoot? An old Cree woman went to the chief and said, “We old women have consulted and made a plan. We are no longer of any use. This is our plan. Draw up the camp for defense. Do it in sight before the sun goes down. The Blackfoot will attack at dawn. We old women will keep the fires burning all night. Take the young women and children and by morning you will be far away.”

The plan was carried out and all night long the old women heaped the campfires with buffalo chips and the glow of the fires told the Blackfoot scouts, that the camp was inhabited. When the Blackfoot charged in the morning at dawn, they found a few old women wrapped in blankets tending the fires. They were so angry at being tricked that they massacred the brave old mothers. The rest of the Cree hunting party got safely back to Qu’Appelle.”

Exploring the Wood River, north of Gravelbourg

SOME OF MY EARLY MEMORIES OF MY YOUTH are exploring the Wood River, north of Gravelbourg, that ran through my grandparents’ farm. Its heavily wooded shore line, steep coulees, high cut-banks and clear water made a lasting impression on me. As I camped and hiked in the area there was always at least one hawk patrolling the skies. I am sure its resonate call was to alert everything in the area that there was an intruder. To assure them that I was not a threat, I would imitate their call; it wasn’t perfect but close enough that they would answer me. “Keeeee-Keeeee-Kaaaa- kaa Ka- Awayieeee.”

Later in my life, when I would go to work on my farm in Arcola I would often be greeted with that same call in the early morning. My love of nature and the land grew as the hawks answered my call and I came to associate a hill west of my farm as “Hawk Hill”. All this I considered to be under the realm of “Mysticism” – the spiritual apprehension of the truths which cannot be understood. When I researched First Nations history in this area I found that there was a family named Kakakaway, and that their name came from the same source, the call of a hawk in flight.