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After lunch, it was time to start back. Along the way to Lillooet we stopped twice, the first time to gather yarrow, which is used by the Elders for making medicines, and then to gather willow for use in the sweat lodge. On both occasions the Brothers left tobacco as an offering. The willows would be used to construct an altar in the sweat lodge, where Dennis Bigsky himself would be undergoing a four-day fast.

In Lillooet we stopped briefly to get a punctured tire repaired. As we waited outside the shop in the intense heat, John Ironchild squatted down on his haunches and responded in kind to a dog barking about a hundred yards away. The interchange caused Cory Bitternose to reflect that since going to prison two years ago he had not seen or heard a dog. The comment brought into sharp relief how disconnected prisoners are from the world and how different this day was from yesterday and would be from tomorrow.

By the time the tire was fixed, we were all tired, greyed with road dust, and ready for a swim. We pulled off at a campsite next to Cayoosh Creek; a fast-flowing stream that enters the Fraser River just below Lillooet. It was not deep enough for swimming, but that did not discourage Ken, who waded into the water in his runners and socks, only to have his feet knocked out from under him by the current. We all laughed at the absurdity of this macho correctional supervisor sitting fully clothed in Cayoosh Creek being watched by four Matsqui prisoners, one woman liaison officer, and a law professor. However, we were not to remain observers for long. John quickly stripped down to a pair of swimming shorts and soon he too was sitting in the water. Caught up in the spirit of things, both Cory and I stripped down to our underwear and joined the other two in the water. As I tentatively stepped across the slippery rocks, Ken and John splashed me from head to foot. Jill and Cheam maintained the dignity of the group by limiting their disrobing to their feet.

Thus refreshed, we returned to the road. Outside Lytton we stopped at a field of sagebrush and all gathered armfuls. The sun had dipped to the other side of the mountain, and its refracted rays cast a blue glow over the alpine forest that contrasted with the pale green of the sagebrush. The Brothers moved quietly amongst the waist-high brush, gathering what would be needed in the weeks ahead -- and, I suspected, stocking up on the feel and smell of freedom that would be theirs for only a few more hours.

During the drive through the Fraser Canyon to Boston Bar, I reviewed for Cory and Cheam the history of the struggle for recognition of Aboriginal spirituality in federal institutions, a history new to them. The discussion traced the rise of the American Indian Movement, the events at Wounded Knee (which took place when Cory was still an infant), and the relationship between Aboriginal political struggles outside of prison and those inside.

We stopped for dinner and then again for dessert at a Dairy Queen, where Jill bought everyone an ice-cream cone. From there, the two vehicles moved down Highway 1 back to Abbotsford and "the Squi." We got to the gates at about 10:50 p.m. The original plan was that Ken would drive the dump truck into the institution and that together we would unload the lava rock. However, everyone was so tired that, instead, the dump truck was left outside the gates overnight, the unloading to await the morrow. Ken told the men he would go inside with them and try to make arrangements for them to have a shower before they went back to their cells. I shook hands with everybody and and as the four Brothers headed back into prison, headed down freedom's highway to my home in Vancouver.

Cory Bitternose, in a letter he later wrote to Warden Brock, explained what the day had meant to him.

I would like to thank you for giving me the chance to go out and collect the spiritual supplies needed for the sweat lodge area.

It was almost two years since I walked outside the wall without handcuffs and shackles. The experience was really overwhelming. I looked at the world in such a different way. Before, because of the drugs and alcohol and my troublesome upbringing, I never looked at the world that way. The two men, Mike and Ken, treated us like human beings, with respect and also with sensitivity towards our spiritual needs and towards our spiritual healing. The sweat lodge has become an important part of my life. It's not easy mind you. I am young and I make mistakes but I keep pushing myself.

The one thing that I am most assured of is my sobriety. I have been sober and drug-free for almost two years. When I first sobered up it was inside prison. I went through the DTs for about six weeks and then it really hit me, the things I had done. I hurt a lot of people in my life and took so much. Now while following the direction of the elders, spiritual advisors, pipe carriers, I have found a way of life which has been there all along. I have replaced and changed that irresponsible hurt young man that I used to be, to be a responsible hard-working, eager, giving, loving, young man that I am now. I can never undo the things that I've done. I wish I could but I can't. I look at it in a more positive attitude though, I now know where it (drugs, alcohol, violence, selfishness, gambling) all leads to because I lived through it. I'm only 23 years old, my peers laugh at me because I act and sound like an old man, but I call it growing up, I call it doing something about my life.

All these things went through my mind on that day of the temporary absence, especially on that mountain. There is a lot more but my letter has kinda got long. There is another person I would like to acknowledge, and that is Jill I never met a lady like that before, so willing to help. I don't know if she knows it but it's that sensitivity that helps us grow and it's that sensitivity which reflects to all your staff, a lot of the Brothers look at them as human beings.

Again, I would like to thank you. (Letter from Cory Bitternose to Warden Roger Brock, Matsqui Institution, August 30, 1993).

This remarkable day achieved even more significance when, two months later, in October 1993, I participated in the Second International Symposium on the Future of Corrections, held in Popowa, Poland. The Symposium was jointly sponsored by the Correctional Service of Canada and the Polish Ministry of Justice, and it was a follow-up to a 1991 conference held in Ottawa. The purpose of the second conference was to develop a strategic framework for correctional policy and practice, and the delegates included representatives from many of the former Soviet Republics, Poland, the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic, and Hungary, together with representatives from the Scandinavian countries, Western Europe, England and Scotland, South Africa, Australia, the United States, and Canada. Although I was 7,000 miles from Matsqui, my presence at the Popowa conference was very much informed by the work I had been doing there. I had been asked to prepare a paper for the opening session designed to look at prison systems from different perspectives. My presentation was entitled "The Experience and Perspectives of Canada's Indigenous Peoples," and its centre was a description of the Red Road -- a term which had a very different resonance in an Eastern Europe emerging from the grip of Communism. Through the use of slides that depicted my journey with the four Brothers gathering lava rock and the remarkable wall paintings in the Brotherhood's meeting room at Matsqui, I endeavoured to explain the healing journey of indigenous prisoners, which formed the foundation of an individual and collective strategic framework of their own making. In a way I could never have predicted, the images, voices, and experiences of indigenous prisoners from Matsqui were shared with delegates from around the world in a common search for correctional initiatives that support the development of a just, peaceful, and safe society.

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Cooling off