By Susan Harris
Monday brings two holidays in the US: Columbus Day, commemorating the explorer’s arrival in the Americas, and Indigenous Peoples’ Day, in recognition of what he found there. For a different tale of a Native American community welcoming a visitor, we’re turning to the archives and Michel Noël’s beautiful portrait of Canadian Inuits, In Search of the End of the World. In the depths of a winter of harsh deprivation, an unexpected visitor arrives in a struggling community. Despite their desperate condition, they welcome him, and he drums, sings, and instructs them—in “words full of love”—in the full appreciation of the natural world and their place within it.
“I will always be here for anyone who would like to talk with me. I will live in the hearts of those who welcome me in. Go to sleep. Tomorrow you will cry over me all day. At sunset, you will make a casket from the bark of my canoe, you will lay my body in it, and you will carry me to the top of the mountain. You will give me food and drink so that I may journey in peace.”
His most devoted acolyte, the orphaned teen narrator Wapush, notes, “Through him I hear all the music of the universe. His great round drum changes the world.” With Mishta Napeo’s guidance and counsel, the village survives the famine. One night several seasons later Mishta Napeo announces his departure and imminent death, assuring the people: “My spirit will always be here in the wind, the water, the trees, the plants, the sunbeams, and everywhere my drum has sounded.” Then he passes his drum to Wapush. “It’s your turn to make it sing,” he tells him. “You must do so with love, always.”
Published Oct 7, 2016 Copyright 2016 Susan Harris