Maggie Blackbird

Romancing Canada's Indigenous People

Excerpt

Nothing sat right tonight, kind of like too-tight pants or a shirt buttoned up crooked. Normally, the deacon and Mrs. M retired at ten, but they remained awake, glancing at the phone for the inevitable ring when Jude called from the community center where voting for chief and band council was taking place.

Raven had already cast her ballot. Ignoring her brother’s name and putting an X beside Darryl’s had left a lump of fuck! in her stomach, and the chunk still resided there.

During dinner, she’d forced down the meal, because pushing food around on her plate was an insult to the person who’d cooked. Not eating what Creator offered was also disrespectful to the plants and animals that gave their lives to nourish the two-legged people.

Raven threaded the leather sinew through the deer hide. The fire in the woodstove burned low, not hot enough to produce a sweat, but cozy like a trusted blanket, a toasty blanket she needed right now to quiet her tense muscles.

The deacon’s eyes kept opening and closing. He held his prayer book, something he referred to as his Office of Hours he was obliged to recite every day.

Mrs. M had set aside her string of praying beads and kept stealing peeks at the clock. She’d already recited what she called the Rosary prayer. Neither had minded when Raven had smudged. The cedar she’d burned in the abalone bowl a half hour ago continued to scent the small house.

Darryl and Emery were at Jude’s, babysitting Noah and Rebekah.

“Do you think he’ll text or stop over?” Mrs. M sat in the rocking chair. She kept repeating the same stitch on the doily.

“Text. He’ll go straight for the house to tell Darryl and Emery first,” the deacon replied in his low, authoritative tone Jude had inherited.

Raven glanced at the clock. Eleven-thirty. Late. She had to be up at quarter to six to open the diner.

The phone rang. Deacon Matawapit retrieved the cordless sitting on the small round table beside his leather recliner. “Hello.”

Fingers twitching, Mrs. M set aside her work. So did Raven. She rested the deer hide on her lap but kept the needle, which she rolled around between her thumb and index finger.

“He did? That’s excellent.” The deacon beamed. “One sec…” He covered the mouthpiece. “Darryl’s our new chief.”

A mixture of disappointment and elation tugged and pushed at Raven’s insides. Clayton would be hurting. This was her fault for resigning as his campaign manager and leaving big sister Fawn no choice but to take up the reins. Tonight was a celebration for the Matawapits but a day of defeat for Raven’s family—once more.

“He did?” The deacon’s grin stretched across his face. He pressed the phone against his ear again. “Emery’s in. My youngest made it on his first try. Roy and Jenny also got in.”

A ball seemed to stretch and press on Raven’s rib cage. Three die-hard Catholics at the leadership table.

The deacon pursed his lips. “I see.” He cleared his throat and gazed at Raven. “Clayton made band council.”

Another term on band council wasn’t what Clayton had desired, but band council held the most power, he’d always told Raven. Councilors voted on decisions made at the table. The chief’s job was to chair and only cast a deciding ballot if the vote was split, since their system, under the pathetic Indian Act forced on them by the government, operated under majority instead of consensus, as was tradition.

But Darryl wanted to change the electoral system to the model their ancestors had used. He’d worked on the self-governance project after moving back to Ottertail Lake from Winnipeg.

“I see.” He wrote on a piece of paper. “Melvin, Kathy, and Jackie.”

Raven strangled the deer hide on her lap. Those three had supported Clayton for chief. Her family had four seats at the leadership table. While Darryl had three.

“Jackie got in because Darryl had to withdraw his name on band council since he won chief.” Deacon Matawapit continued speaking to Jude but also stared at Raven and Mrs. M.

“Well…” He heaved a heavy breath. “This’ll be interesting, err…” He stared at Raven. “…since, err…Clayton has the majority.”

****

Jude hung up. Not even the cozy woodstove at his house, a cup of black tea in his hand, or his kids sleeping soundly in their beds could produce a smile. Yes, there was cause to celebrate because his brother-in-law and brother had gotten seats at the leadership table, but four who supported the Kabatays would thwart every suggestion that came from Emery, Roy, and Jenny’s mouths.

Clayton’s threat from February hovered in Jude’s mind. The bastard had said if he got in, this time he’d demand the education portfolio instead of recreation. And the jerk would go after Jude’s job, as promised.

“How ugly will it get?” He fingered his lower lip.

“I never sat at the council table before. Will it get out of hand?” Concern loomed in Emery’s green eyes.

“Very ugly.” Darryl’s dark brows hunched. He cast his grim gaze at Jude. “And yeah, it’ll get outta hand.”

“Great.” Jude flopped in the leather recliner. He’d moved here in February to begin anew, but he’d be back in Thunder Bay if Clayton got his coyote paws on the education portfolio.

“What’s done is done.” Darryl sat forward on the leather sofa, furniture Jude had moved from his once-magnificent house in the city to the reserve. “Roy told me Willie had to work with a split council before. If he can do it, so can I. So can we.” He patted Emery’s hand. “We both got busy days tomorrow. We should head out.”

“Clayton’s portfolio is recreation. When the council changes over, is it still gonna be recreation?” Jude angled his leg and rested his foot on his knee.

“Don’t get ahead of yourself. We’re not sworn in until May fifteenth.” Darryl stood.

Yeah, a measly month away before Jude’s life came crashing down like a house of cards and he might be regulated to The Joker.