Halloween was always a big deal for myself, my family and friends back in Attawapiskat when I was growing up. This annual event full of goblins, monsters and funny costumes is still prominent in remote Indigenous communities up the James Bay coast and as a matter of fact across Canada.
My people, the Cree of James Bay, love to laugh. We find humour in just about everything you can imagine. My non Indigenous friends find it strange and a little puzzling at times when we Cree get together and start poking fun at just about anything. We laugh at silly little things that might not seem funny to many non Indigenous people. We often laugh at and joke about serious tragic events and this makes some uneasy. We kid each other all the time and mercilessly.
What is behind celebrating events like Halloween so intensely in remote Indigenous communities probably has to do with seeking a reason to forget all of our troubles, our worries and the difficulties of living in our remote First Nations. Often we are suffering from having to deal with poverty, poor housing, less than perfect health care, addictions and systemic racism. We look for ways to forget it all and find some time to act silly, pretend we are something else and to laugh and rejoice at getting together for fun.
You might see on social media that people up the James Bay coast have been preparing for Halloween for weeks and this is normal for us. Everyone takes great pride in figuring out what costumes they will wear for the coming Halloween and often they work hard and long at developing creative hand made costumes. It is not just about the free candy and sweets available on Halloween but more about being able to become something or someone else for a day and provide a thrill or laugh for others. Of course it really does not make a lot of sense for everyone to be eating so much candy, chocolate and sweets in enormous quantities and in particular when many Indigenous people have problems with diabetes. However, the classic Halloween is as much about sugar as it is about costumes and laughter.
Every year there are events where best costumes are selected during gatherings and people are rewarded with gifts and prizes. I recall so many Halloween events where everyone was thrilled to be taking part and reacting to all of the creative costumes people had put together for this special fun night. For a day our little First Nation became inhabited by ghosts, goblins, pirates, princesses, kings, queens and cartoon characters.
I recall everyone being lost and involved in laughter and excitement. This was a short term antidote to the affects we all endured with colonization, residential schools, discrimination, racism and tragedy for so much of our history. For one day you could be a clown, a cartoon character or even a terrorizing monster. There was and will always be something magical about that. It is in fact theatre.
One image that will always stay in the minds of my family and friends was when my dad Marius dressed up as the pope for Halloween. He looked perfect and could have been taken for a high ranking member of the church if he had walked on to the Vatican grounds. He made the costume come to life with his mischievous ways and a Kataquapit sparkle in his laughing eyes. Amazingly, I noticed on social media that my nephew Adam, the son of my niece Sarah, decided this year to keep up the tradition and is dressing up as a high priest or maybe even the pope. When I saw this image on social media I immediately thought of my late dad Marius and how much he liked to laugh and have fun. It was good to see Adam reminding all of us about the importance of laughter, joy and fun.
So, happy Halloween to everyone and I hope you all manage to take the day and in your own way pay tribute to laughter, fun, pretending and also forgetting momentarily all the troubles surrounding us in the world today. Enjoy the candy and chocolates and if you are out and about on the streets take care of traffic. Make sure to be aware that we are still in the middle of a pandemic with COVID and that means wearing a mask, staying away from close contact with others while moving around town and washing your hands well when you get home.
If you see anyone dressed up like the COVID spike virus make sure to stay away.