“Nah, can’t beat an Edmonton summer,” I said. “At least until the mosquitos show up.” We were sitting in a circle down in ᐄᓃᐤ (ÎNÎW) River Lot 11 park. The one that the city put up a massive Queen Elizabeth Park sign in front of, just to remind all of us whose park it really is at the end of the day. A group of 10 of us or so. All somewhere in the 30s range. Half of us sipping cans of Old Milwaukee, the rest craft beer or ciders. Summer brings hope to a prairie mindset that tends to forget the season that just happened. No one remembers how long and cold and desolate the winter had been.
“So I’ll hang around until then at least. Then back to Van.”
It’s hard to admit that moving away from the territories of your family and ancestors was a bad idea. Like most people, I left chasing a west coast ideal world that doesn’t necessarily exist. Sure, the weather is milder. But that’s about it. The overtly angry politics of Alberta that wear on a person over the years are just replaced with a subtler form of neo-liberal racism. It’s not any better. Vancouver has just done a better job of hiding the way that it truly feels about Indigenous Peoples. Alberta shouts it out.
I left my friends and their conversations about home ownership and walked down from the park to the trails that run along the North Saskatchewan river’s south side. The river ran low and blue. Spring runoff and the silt that it brought are long done. Groups of people floated by on dinghies and canoes and inflatables. Ten years ago, you wouldn’t have seen anyone on the water.
I wanted more than anything to eat saskatoons from the shrubs that crowded the trails west of the High Level. To stain my fingers purple. To sit on the bank of the river with a 4L ice cream pail next to my Granny as she told stories of the old encampments that would set up where the Victoria Golf Course is now. But Granny was gone and the saskatoons didn’t grow this year. Just like the last.
“Nah, just visiting,” I tell the barista. They tell me that I picked a good week for it and I agree. I feel as though I’ve become a composite character of everyone I’ve ever known from Edmonton who’s moved away and then come back where they talk about how amazing the new city is. But everyone knows that sooner than later they’ll be back. Just like I will.
My ancestors left to travel the prairies in great trading parties or bison hunting expeditions. They’d be gone for months, years potentially, but they’d come back. The magnetism of the prairies capturing a spirit.
“I miss the woodpeckers in the hollows of winter and the drunken cedar waxwings in the spring the most,” I tell my friend. She sips an oat milk latte and pretends to hide a smile.
Conor Kerr is a Métis/Ukrainian writer. He is a member of the Métis Nation of Alberta, part of the Edmonton Indigenous community and is descended from the Lac Ste. Anne Métis and the Papaschase Cree Nation. His Ukrainian family settled in Treaty 4 territory in Saskatchewan. He is the author of the novel Avenue of Champions, and the poetry collection An Explosion of Feathers.
This article appears in the June 2022 issue of Edify