Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Plastics

I've never been an Elder's Helper.

Two Elders, Sally Webster and Thomas Louttit, made opening statements and prayers at the opening of a new annual lectureship, featuring the amazing Inuk leader Mary Simon, at the university where I work. I happily accepted the (last minute) request to be an Elder's Helper for Sally at this event.

I'd brought a bottle of water for each of the Elders - just in case. Sally arrived with a young Inuk communications officer named Melissa, and both of them were parched. I admit, I felt pleased with myself that I'd made this call - so far, I was receiving a passing grade as an Elder's Helper.

Not too long afterward, Thomas Louttit arrived with his Elder's Helper (a university student). After a couple of minutes had passed and Thomas seemed to garner that I was at the event in some sort of official capacity, he asked if we had any water. I immediately became flustered - I'd just given the only two bottles away! Luckily (or so I thought), my office was only a floor below and I ran down to grab a bottle of water from the case I had leftover from our pow wow a couple of weeks earlier.

I approached Thomas with the bottle. He took it, looked at it, and asked, "What do you think of these?" Before I could respond - and maybe this was where my luck played a part, because I had no idea how to reply - the event organizer approached with glass of water. "Ah, I'll take this," he said with a smile, putting the unopened water bottle down on table behind him. He was quickly engaged in another conversation, so I returned to Sally. (Elder's Helper fail.)

"Are you the official organization photographer?" I ask Melissa, the communications officer who arrived with Sally, in my usual semi-awkward way.

"Photographer-in-training," she answers with 'smeyes' (yes, I just quoted Tyra Banks). "This was my first assignment," she says and shows me a photo of a plastic spoon on the tiny digital camera screen.

She then proceeded to tell me this beautiful story, which I will do my best to re-tell:

An Inuk storyteller tells about his first encounter with southerners. When he was a young boy, he and his friend spotted some white men who had set up a camp. They were too shy to approach them, so day after day they watched them from afar. When the men had finally packed up and left, the two boys went to their camp to see what they could find. There were empty tin cans and other stuff laying around. The boy picked up a plastic spoon and brought it home. When his mother saw it, she made him clean it and take care of it well. Finally, one day it broke and his mother got so mad! Now, whenever he travels he always packs a plastic spoon in his suitcase.

The three of us laughed at the story and proceeded to wonder what it could mean. Melissa thought the spoon would remind him of his mother. I thought it was interesting how he took such good care of his spoon, yet today in the 'south' plastic utensils are made for one time use.

After the lecture I headed over to the opening of "Haida: Life. Spirit. Art." at the Museum of Civilization.

The exhibit was great - no plastic, but wood, bent box, mountain goat horn, stone and other natural materials. Many of them date back to the 17th century. What made this evening truly amazing was the chance to hear from and be in the presence of Haida power couple Robert Davidson (living legend artist and carver) and Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson (lawyer on the Haida title case). I hit up the gift shop afterward and in my own attempt to be less wasteful, I bought this awesome hummingbird mug:

Thomas Louttit's question, the story Sally shared, and the Haida experience together worked to remind me, as much as I love pop culture, not to turn into... (and this pains me a little to say because I love Tina Fey so)... The Plastics!

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