Sunday, December 24, 2006

Alert Bay

by Jacquelinne White

Jacquelinne with dog
Jacquelinne enjoys animals.

I had one of the greatest compliments I ever had the summer I visited Alert Bay, British Columbia.

I had been teaching art to kids in Comox where my aged mother lived in an old folks' home. I loved working with the responsive children; they did superlative work and I could visit my mother every day. Besides that a group of young people in their early twenties, adventurous small town kids, visited me while I was working. They invited me to their "hippy" parties where they danced and smoked pot and sang. One of the girls made me a lovely red cloak with a green satin lining. It was a very nice summer. Rich.

My daughter and her two small children were spending the summer with close friends at Alert Bay which was further north and on an island off the east Coast of Vancouver Island. I had a phone call about the time my classes were over telling me I was needed at Alert Bay because my daughter had suddenly been taken very ill. I took a bus to Powell River where, as I remember, I had to take a boat to a Finnish fishing village where I would catch a small plane to Alert Bay. While I was sitting reading and waiting for my boat a small boy suddenly appeared right in front of me.

"Are you going to Alert Bay?" he asked. I told him I was. "Take me ?" he asked, and added "I am little but I am old. I am fifteen. My name is Danny."

He told me his family lived at Alert Bay and he needed to get home. I decided to take him. Shortly the boat came in and Danny and I found places to sit on long plank seats. I asked him where he had been away from home. He told me he had been in a detention center for delinquent children.

"Good Heavens, Danny," I said, "What on earth did you do that you were sent to the detention center?"

"B and E," he smilingly answered.

"What is B and E?" I asked.

And he answered, "Breaking and Entering."

"Good Heavens," I answered," Was it worth it?"

"Oh, yes," he eagerly replied. "They taught me how to fix cars. If I get to go back I am going to learn about planes."

At the Finnish fishing village, the name of which I cannot remember, Danny and I waited for the plane. When it came in, a bright yellow little job, a handful of passengers started to board. The cocky and friendly pilot came over to me and asked. "Where did you get the kid." I told him what I knew of Danny. The pilot said he would split Danny's fare with me.

It was on the short ride in the littel yellow airplane that I was given the great compliment.

"Who are you?" Danny asked me, and he went one more, "You are not white that is for sure. But who are you? And then his bright little face lit up, "Oh, I know, I know," he chuckled." You are Haida. Wait until I tell my mother a Haida lady brought me home."

totem pole drawing

Me, Haida? The Haida Indians live on their own set of Islands off Vancouver Island and they are the people who make the most wonderful of the totem poles. And they make huge ceremonial bowls and carved boats. They make what we have learned to accept as the best of all Indian carving and ornamentation. Their totem poles are world famous. I have never been on their islands and that is the one thing I want to do more than anything before I die. I shall do it.

I need to, don't you think? After all I was taken for a Haida woman by a wonderful Indian boy — Danny. Little but old. Canny. Able to survive. Someone who spoke as poets speak. When I had asked him when he had gone to the detention center he told me he did not actually know the date but it was oyster picking time.

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