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Book 1, Chapter 1 – The Flight of the Treaty Eagle

The Air Canada flight was on schedule to land in London early on a March morning in 1982. The pitch of the engines dropped a semitone as their power was reduced for the gradual descent over the North Sea. Most of the passengers were too frazzled to notice the subtle change in the aircraft’s dynamics. It had been early evening when they left Calgary almost nine hours earlier. But the eighty-two year-old Clearvoice was fully alert. The flight had enraptured him from the moment it began.

The Boeing 767 had risen with a roar from Cavalry’s sleek, new airport on the western edge of the prairies where his grandfather, Swift Hunter, used to hunt buffalo a hundred years before. As it turned its tail on the sun that was already beginning to set beyond the Rocky Mountains, it banked north-east above the canyons of the Alberta Badlands where shallow graves exposed the bleached bones of dinosaurs. The twilight was thickening as it crossed the border into Saskatchewan and continued to climb above snow-dusted hills, reaching cruising altitude above the frozen lakes and icy muskeg of Manitoba.

Far to the south of these three Prairie Provinces, and all across Canada from the Pacific to the Atlantic, there was a string of lights representing the towns and cities that hugged the Medicine Line, which is what Swift Hunter used to call the border with the United States of America. To the north of that narrow urban corridor, the Canadian population was sparse. Vast northern territories were as dark at night as they were in prehistoric times. The occasional point of light below suggested to Clearvoice’s imagination the camp fire of an Indian hunter or trapper alone in the wilderness, or the reflection of the moonlight in the upturned eyes of a watching wolf.

As expansive as the prairies were, Clearvoice knew them intimately. For sixty-five years he had criss-crossed them on foot, horseback train and bus in his single-minded mission to remind the Indian tribes of their rights under their international treaties with Britain. Occasionally he travelled even further – to the Iroquois-speaking people on the east coast and the Athabaskan-speaking people beyond the Rockies on the west coast. He had been denounced by his local Catholic Church, which threatened him with excommunication and eternal damnation, harassed by provincial and city police forces, which were extra vigilant when it came to Indians, and closely monitored by the Indian Agents of the federal government, who exercised almost totalitarian powers over Indians. Sometimes, he was also opposed by his own people.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police would routinely arrest him and forcibly return him to his home at Buffalo Creek in Saskatchewan. The charges were usually travelling without a government permit or organizing an assembly – both offences against the regulations of the Indian Act passed by the Canadian Parliament under the auspices of the British Crown. The authorities labelled him a troublemaker. They punished him by deducting the cost of the arrest from his annual payment of five dollars – one of his rights under his treaty with Britain. When his people acclaimed him Chief of their community at the age of twenty, the authorities declared the election invalid according to their Indian Act.

In 1982 they still considered him a troublemaker but, given his advanced age and the growing political emergence of the Indian nations, they were reluctant to get involved.

“May I see your passport?” the Air Canada check-in clerk asked him politely at Calgary.

“Treaty 6,” he answered in the husky accent of a man who was still more comfortable in his native Cree language than English. He spoke as though his declaration was a self-evident passport in itself. The airline clerk thought the federal authorities should decide. The officer at passport control was accompanied by a uniformed officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. He explained that Clearvoice needed a passport to fly to Britain.

“Many times I have visited the Sioux, Dakota and Navaho nations in Montana and Wyoming. I didn’t need a passport, then,” he replied.

“Ah, yes,” the immigration officer replied. “You’re talking about the John Jay Treaty – 1794, I think it was. It allows you native people to cross the USA border freely, both ways.”

“And I have a treaty with Britain.” Clearvoice fumbled in his travelling bag and produced a creased and faded card which identified him by name and number as a descendent of those who had signed Treaty 6 with Queen Victoria in 1876.

The immigration officer sighed. He had his fingers burnt before on this issue. If he prevented Clearvoice from leaving it might spark protest from Indian political organisations. It could get messy. He had no desire to become entangled. “I’ll let you leave. But I cannot guarantee London will let you enter without a Canadian passport. They may send you back on the next plane. You travel at your own risk.”

“At least they didn’t arrest you this time,” his daughter whispered before he boarded. Rain was a Holy Woman in the Cree tradition. Clearvoice still felt the comfort of her traditional Cree blessing hours later when his biological clock was just past midnight but the approaching British horizon was already cheerfully lit by the pastel colours of dawn. He was engrossed by the speed with which a Calgary evening became a sub-Arctic night and then a Scottish morning. It seemed to defy the natural order. But he had seen it before – in his vision quest dream when he was sixteen years of age. In that dream his soul – or ahtca-k, sat between the shoulders of the mikisiw, which was the eagle-form assumed by his spirit guide – his pawakan. Like the Boeing 767, the eagle in his dream had flown eastwards into the night, and the moon and stars had moved along their cosmic paths quicker than they ought, and the sun had risen early, just as now. The next day he described the dream to Little Badger, a shaman, who told him the vision was a prophecy. It was about an important journey he would make beyond the horizon to fulfil the mission his spirit guide had given him to honour the treaty and bring back its stolen children.

As he grew old, images from the dream visited his memory less often. Perhaps he had not properly understood his mission, or had not been faithful to it. Lately, he had become resigned to the possibility that it had failed. But here it was again – a night shortened by an early rising sun – and not a dream this time.


A straight back, square shoulders and deep chest suggested the physical power he used to have. His grey, double-breasted suit hid a gentle paunch. The suit was a gift from one of his sons bought from Eaton’s mail-order catalogue nine years before. The sheen on its lapels betrayed the many pressings with flat iron over brown paper that his wife Louise had given it. In contrast, his dark blue shirt seemed flamboyant, with its printed pattern of pink prairie roses, framed in green leaves on brown brambles. Instead of a tie, he wore a simple, loose loop of rolled rawhide from which hung a small eagle feather that lay against his chest.

If he had followed tradition, he would have let his hair grow long and straight in the style of the very young and the very old among the Cree. He used to be sensitive to suggestions that his short hair was symbolic of concessions he had made to the Whiteman’s ways. The truth was more complicated than that. The Whiteman had cropped his hair against his will in April, 1912 when he was twelve years of age. It was a humiliation he would never forget.

In those days, he used to rise at dawn with his brother, Swimmer, even before their parents. For breakfast, they would eat a crust of bannock bread and chew a strip of dried venison. They might sip some of the bean soup still warm in the pot that sat on the hot embers of yesterday’s fire. Sometimes, they would drink a mug of milk taken from the family’s two cows. Because Swimmer was only ten, Clearvoice was responsible for seeing that he was properly dressed before they opened the door of the cabin to the dry morning air that could be cold enough to make them gasp. If his brother needed help, he would fasten the toggles on his sheepskin jacket and raise its collar to protect his cheeks from the sharp wind. He would adjust his knitted helmet so that the flaps covered his ears while allowing the long braids of his hair to hang freely down his back. After that he would race him to the sheep enclosure to find any lambs born overnight because the first boy to find one had the right to name it.

Extract 2

It was the first time that either boy had been in a Whiteman’s building that was not a general store or mission church. Its size and sounds and smells were intimidating and when they spoke they used hand signs or whispered.

Queen Victoria looked down at them with a frosty stare from a large coloured photograph hanging in a commanding position. Swimmer drew Clearvoice’s attention to the string of pearls around her neck and the large star-shaped garter medallion over her heart. He indicated, by pointing, that they were similar to the rosary beads and crucifixes carried by the nuns in other framed photographs on the wall. This was clear evidence, he whispered, that this was the Queen’s school and she was the head nun.

The nuns arrived in a swirl of gowns and bobbing headdresses. They flocked around the boys patting and stroking them as though they were puppies delivered in a basket and they chattered incessantly among themselves in French and giggled at each other’s remarks and spoke effusive welcomes with their heads bent forward inches from the boys faces as though physical proximity could overcome the barriers of language.

“They’re twittering like birds,” thought Clearvoice. “How could complete strangers be so happy to see us? They must be play-acting!”

His suspicions deepened when, within five minutes of their arrival, two of the nuns ushered them along dark corridors, around corners into a large, cold room with tiled walls, mirrors and sinks. They gestured to them that they were to remove their clothes. When they hesitated in disbelief and embarrassment, the nuns pushed and shoved and tugged until both boys were naked. Their fingers quickly unravelled Swimmer’s braids until his hair was hanging free like Clearvoice’s. Taking one head each, the nuns began to probe and rake looking for lice.

Too shocked to resist Clearvoice did not realise that the intrusive hands of the nun had taken up a pair of scissors until large cuttings of his hair fell on his naked shoulders and thighs. Still chattering excitedly she brought him to the sink. Then she daintily dabbed and doused him all over with a cloth soaked in a strange smelling purple liquid and she gestured to him that he was to wait for a few minutes until the disinfectant did its work. As it dried, she drenched him with jugs of cold water rubbed every part of his body with a bar of coarse soap and scoured his skin with a bristle brush and drenched him again while his limbs shivered and his teeth chattered.

As Clearvoice scrambled to accept the thin towel she offered, he heard a whimper from Swimmer who had been taken to the other end of the room, and when he looked he saw his young brother running towards him clutching his head with both hands. Clearvoice turned quickly to find his own reflection in a mirror. Staring back was the wide-eyed, distraught face of an “ears sticking out schooler” whose hair had been crudely cropped in the “bobbed ears” style of a Whiteman’s boy.

All his life he had worn his thick, black hair long enough to cover his ears and hang to below his shoulder blades even when it was braided in a single central or two side plaits. For special dances he brushed it forward and tied it in an elaborate triple knotted plait standing high above his forehead, pierced by pheasant, crow or eagle feathers. But most of the time it hung straight, covering his shoulders and splaying out in a circle when he moved his head quickly.

The abrupt cropping of his hair without his consent or explanation, followed by the intimate inspection and rough scrubbing by these strange, cackling women was profoundly disturbing. The humiliation was complete when one of nuns handed him a broom and gave Swimmer a dustpan and told them to sweep up their hair and deposit it in a paper bag so that it could be burnt in the furnace.

Extract 3

When Clearvoice conversed in Cree with those waiting he told them that his father would soon be asking for his first permit to sell hay. That being so, they whispered in reply, he should not upset the Indian Agent by talking about the treaty and the Indian laws, because that might give him cause to refuse his father a sales permit.

His wait was to be shorter than the receptionist had anticipated. A tall, thin Whiteman with a very pale face and curly red hair came in from the street. The Indian Agent emerged from his office to greet him. As the two men exchanged pleasantries, the Indian Agent spotted Clearvoice. Speaking aloud in English, as though Clearvoice could not hear, he told the red-haired visitor that there was an example of a school graduate. You could always tell the graduates because they were better groomed, more polite and cooperative than the others. Most of them found their way to his office, sooner or later, he said, because they were looking for a way to get off the reserve and they knew he would try to help them. Then the Indian Agent addressed Clearvoice, asking him what he was doing in the office.

“I want to read the treaty and the Indian laws and I need a permit to travel to Ottawa.” None of the waiting Indians understood his English but the receptionist and two male clerks did. They sniggered at the naivety of his request.

“Your English is very good,” the Indian Agent said with kindly condescension, “and you appear to be strong and healthy. I might be able to get you a job here in town if you could come back next week on Monday. They’re looking for orderlies in the mental hospital. It would give you some cash income and the hospital would provide room and board. You’re old enough to live away from home now. It would be the making of you. Too bad about your hair: please cut it and remove the feathers and beads before Monday.”

“I work with my father at Buffalo Creek and I want to live with my family there. I need a permit to travel. I want to read the treaty and the laws.”

The Indian Agent saw his determination. “That’s out of the question. If you have a question about the treaty or the Indian Act, raise it with your band council and I will do my best to answer when I visit in three months.” With that he turned his back on Clearvoice and guided his guest into his office and shut the door.


“Still here?” the Indian Agent said testily when he emerged an hour later to see his red-haired guest off.

Clearvoice stood again. “I need to see the treaty and the laws before I know what questions to ask the band council.”

“Ah, a troublemaker are we?” said the Indian Agent. He went to the back of his office and returned with the two male clerks and they stood either side of Clearvoice touching his elbows and guiding him out to the street and once there they told him not to come back. As he stood wondering what he should do, the red-haired Whiteman left the building and thrust his hand forward in greeting.

“Liam O’Hara! Pleased to meet you!” He opened his brief case, fished inside and withdrew a booklet. “Here you are!” He turned its cover towards Clearvoice with his thumb indicating its title, The Indian Act 1876. “Please take it – it’s an extra copy. I’m sorry I don’t have a copy of the treaty but if you would care to come to my office you could read it there.”

Within five minutes Clearvoice was sitting in O’Hara’s office with a leather bound book on the desk in front of him open at a chapter headed Treaty No. 6, and a mug of steaming, sweet tea to hand. Why had nobody told him that the Indian laws and the treaty could be found in Battleford?

He read slowly. Many of the words were beyond his comprehension. “Not to worry,” said O’Hara, “they are most peculiar words. Lawyers invent them for other lawyers to read. It helps if you can read Latin.”

Clearvoice was disheartened that even with three years of residential school English he could not read the treaty. O’Hara had thought of everything. He produced a pad of lined paper and a pen.

“Copy it out. It’s a good way of getting to know it.”

Clearvoice ran his eyes over the text of the treaty. It was not too long. At school he had memorised much longer passages as preparation for the inspector came on one of his visits to test reading ability.

He had never seen anyone with eyes as green as O’Hara’s, or with hair, eyelashes and moustache quite as red, or with so many little brown flecks over face and hands, or skin so transparent that all the blue veins showed through. When O’Hara told him he was from the country of Ireland, which was not even half the size as the area covered by Treaty 6, Clearvoice asked him if Ireland was where Queen Victoria got her idea about red children.

“Queen Victoria probably thought we Irish were black, just as the Americans think we are green, but the truth is that we are the palest of brown-freckled Whitemen you could ever hope to find, except when our skin turns pink and our noses purple under the Saskatchewan sun.”

The incongruity of O’Hara’s reply took Clearvoice by surprise and he smiled. He thought Whitemen always expected their words to be taken seriously. O’Hara smiled back, and their smiles turned to laughter. Before he knew it Clearvoice was laughing tears as the tensions of the day were shaken out. After that he and O’Hara always spoke easily to each other.

Extract 4

In simple terms, O’Hara said, the Dominion of Canada was making Indians a proposition. To prosper like the immigrants, it said, give up your special legal status as Indians, and your aboriginal and treaty rights, and become Canadian citizens, like the immigrants. Live together on Indian lands as Indian nations, if you must, but live in poverty. He said it was like the proposition they had made to Big Bear – sign the treaty or starve.


“What is a subject?” Clearvoice was referring to the Queen’s phrase in the treaty “my Indian subjects”.

“The British Empire is ruled by a monarchy – countries ruled by Kings and Queens don’t have citizens they have subjects,” explained O’Hara.

“They talk like they are conquerors,” said Clearvoice, “but they never defeated us in a war. We won most of the battles.”

“I wish the Irish could say the same! But it’s true,” replied O’Hara, “you were never conquered and they never claimed you were.”

“And we never sold them our land.” Clearvoice was thinking aloud.

“As far as I’m aware they don’t claim you did. Nobody has ever produced an agreement of purchase and sale.” O’Hara was watching Clearvoice closely.

“The Queen came to us.”


“Do Kings and Queens ask their subjects for permission?”

“Not that I’m aware of.”

“She asked us for permission to use our land.”

“Then you could not have been her subjects.” O’Hara spoke softly as though not to disturb Clearvoice’s train of thought.

Clearvoice had another idea. “Does a landlord pay the rent?”

“Not at all. He collects rents from tenants.”

“The Crown pays us a rent – five dollars each.”

“Then you cannot be the Crown’s tenant, that’s clear,” said O’Hara, “perhaps you are its landlord? And if you are, perhaps you should consider increasing the rent each year to keep up with the cost of living and the value of the additional resources the Crown uses since you first agreed to rent the land. In Britain they have a term for it, they call it an economic rent.”

“We agreed to share some of our rights with the Queen.”

O’Hara nodded. “You spoke well when you said some, for surely you did not share all your rights, only those that were included in the treaty.”

“Who were we to her?”

“Who do you think?”

“In our language we call ourselves the first peoples.” He was translating from the Cree phrases used frequently by Swift Hunter. “We are the first nations here.”

“Exactly,” said O’Hara, “the Queen of a sovereign nation and the Empress of a grand empire does not make treaty with any old Tom, Dick and Harry. She makes it with the representative of other sovereign nations, which, in this case were the Indian nations.”

Extract 5

During the morning of the fourth day he was in despair – dirty and sore, weak, cold and faint. There was to be no vision. The spirit world had rejected him. He had deluded himself. It was not enough to be an imitation Indian, play-acting at being a traditionalist.

He felt an overwhelming desire to give up the pretence, slide from the tree, bathe in the creek and return home. It was only the memory of his father’s words urging him to stay the four days and nights that kept him there. For most of the morning his mind drifted in and out of troubled reveries.

Late in the afternoon he became aware that his pain and soreness was draining away and his body was becoming light and easy. The branches of the tree had stopped swaying, the birds had stopped singing, the wind had died and all was quiet. The sky was filled with warm colours of rose and peach except at its apex where there was a perfect circle of blue. A dark spot moved slowly around the outer perimeter of the circle as though to keep it clear.

He thought the moving spot might be an eagle circling at the upper limit of its flying range. As he watched, it grew larger. It was moving downward in a spiral. Eventually it was low enough for him to be able to pick out the silhouette of its spreading tail feathers and the upturned tips of its wings. When it was no more than a hundred feet above him it suddenly slid away from the circular path it had been flying, falling in a straight, fast dive as though it had spotted prey in the valley below. As it was about to disappear over the edge of hill, it banked sharply and appeared to hover for a moment with its wing cupped forward in a controlled stall, then it turned back towards him and with a few powerful thrusts of its wings, it came in a fast rush, skimming the ground, and landing with a small run to steady itself on a grassy mound twenty feet from the tree.

It was a mature bald eagle, perhaps a female, given its very large size. Its head did not crane forward as it might if it were hunting and had mistaken his supine, naked body and slow movements as signs of distressed prey. Nor did it show any of the nervousness or preparation for flight that eagles usually display in the presence of humans. It was still and composed.

He noticed, too, how uprightly the eagle held its head. His heart stirred in appreciation of the dark yellow in the iris of its unblinking eyes, the lighter yellow of its curved beak, its wide mouth and the scaly covering on its large claws.

He also admired the way the eagle slowly expanded from about three feet in height to ten feet, and how its breast became a piebald brown-and-white horse, and the ruffle of brilliant white feathers on its head became the headdress of its rider.

The rider was naked save for a breech clout. A small medicine bundle hung from the pommel of his simple saddle. At the front centre of his head was a spray of the hair of a white tail deer, shaped like a ball of exploding light. It gave the effect of a crown set against the dark backdrop of a roach made from the guard-hair of a porcupine. The strands of the roach were dark brown in colour, except for the outer tips, which were gold. They had been teased to stand high in an even circle creating a halo over the rider’s head. The movement of the horse caused the rider’s head to turn enough for Clearvoice to glimpse the two long, brown and white tail feathers of an eagle that hung downwards from the crown of his head following the direction of his long, black hair.


Want to read more?

Go to Chapter 2 – The Birth of a Gryphon

Go to Chapter 3 – Rupert’s Land

Go to Chapter 4 – The Acorn Project

Go to Chapter 5 – The Foxhunt


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