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Jordan Nicurity/Island Breeze
2 of 2
Jordan Nicurity/Island Breeze
Bison Return To Peepeekisis Reserve
It was in the early hours of December 14, 2014, when the bison were finally loaded into the two livestock trailers. The plan was to move them at night, so they would be calmer, more manageable. Instead, the animals were restless and the trailers swayed as they jostled and banged. The bison seemed to know that something momentous was happening and that they would not be returning to Ron and Karen Steckly’s snowy ranch near Carstairs, Alberta.
After the slow-paced 900-kilometre journey, the trucks and their precious cargo rumbled onto the Peepeekisis First Nation reserve, 20 kilometres east of Balcarres in the File Hills. A crowd of Peepeekisis band members, young and old, TV crews and Indigenous people from neighbouring reserves had gathered at the gates of the newly fenced quarter section, waiting to welcome the huge creatures. For weeks, offerings and prayers to the Creator had been made, calling for the bison spirit to come home. The young singers of the Red Eagle group were joined at the drum by elders and the old File Hills bison songs filled the December air. By all accounts, the moment the bison thundered out of the trailers was filled with significance and emotion. Everyone present would remember this day as a good one, a great day.
Standing with the people of Peepeekisis as they proudly watched the bison—their bison—travel the fence line on their land, was Lima Nanai, a man whose own cultural journey and ideas about what it means to be proudly Indigenous inspired him to help bring the bison back to the people of Peepeekisis.
Nearly 10,000 kilometres to the southwest of Peepeekisis lies the island nation of Samoa, several small green jewels in the azure Pacific. Upolu, one of Samoa’s two main islands, would fit neatly into Saskatchewan 580 times. It is in this confined space where “everyone knows everyone or is related” that Lima grew up, helping his family tend the taro roots and banana trees that grew on their patch of land. He found a sense of strength in the dances, ceremonies, and customs of his people, and began learning them at a young age. However, the lack of opportunity for young people that seems to be universal in isolated communities created a malaise that Lima was finding tough to escape. As a teenager, he quit school and was “getting involved in stuff [he] shouldn’t be.”
When his brother offered him a chance to go to Canada and work on First Nation reserves as a Polynesian cultural ambassador working with Island Breeze, a ministry of the inter-denominational Christian group Youth With a Mission, Lima knew that he had found a chance to leave his troubles behind and build a positive new life.
Arriving in 1997, Lima found Canada to be nearly as distant to Samoa in custom as it was geographically. Lima was surprised at how much the First Nations people differed from his expectations.
“The image that I knew as a boy was that these people are warriors, and then you enter the reserve for the first time and you don’t see those things that you read about or had seen on TV,” said Lima. “There is a big variety of people and lots who have lost who they are. That was shocking to me.”
As the Island Breeze group travelled around Canada, Lima found that the people on the First Nations were curious and welcoming, even if their knowledge of Pacific Islanders was based mostly on Disney’s Lilo and Stitch cartoon movie.
“It is almost a culture exchange. As we present our culture, Native people recognize us as the Indigenous of the south and it opens doors for us to come in and help out where we can. It builds that trust so that we can walk alongside First Nations on their journey.”