THE ROADS OF PEGUIS FIRST NATION, CANADA
It is a grassland two hours north of Winnipeg. He has been driving for a while now, the vibrant life of the city is already a faint memory. There is nothing here besides the sound of the engine, the wind, the broken glass and the big chunks of pavement at the edge of the road. Peguis First Nation. Pretty peaceful for the most part. There is one big highway that goes down through it all and that is the main road you take in and out of the reserve. A few thousand people live in Peguis, but it feels like you see the same couple of hundred over and over again.
The houses are a kilometre apart and people live down the gravel roads that spread out on each side of the highway. There are some ill kept yards and some beautiful kept yards and it is all organised around a mall at the centre of the reserve. There is a pizza restaurant, a Chicken Delight and the big hockey arena where people meet up. Two gas stations and then the ice cream shop where he had his first job. He knows this road. He knows how it runs through Peguis, he knows the stretch of highway between this reserve and the next, he knows the feel of Dallas, a town so small that if you blink, you will miss it. He knows the way the road ends in the lake, he knows the silence at Fisher Bay and he sings about it, about its fishermen and how Jesus could live there in peace as the fisher of men. But today Fisher Bay is not his destination.
He passes The Prince Chapel. The old church where his grandfathers used to preach. Now it is abandoned, the windows are boarded up and it holds his family’s old junk. And then the memories. He remembers the sounds from the chapel, how he used to play guitar with the pastor who also happened to be his dad, and how the sermon would end with music and then continue at their house with more gospel and singing in the kitchen. They would set up a small keyboard, have three or four guitars going, five, six seven people jammed and the kitchen was no bigger than a small trailer.
The highway makes a left turn, and this is when he leaves the paved road and goes straight ahead down a gravel road. It leads to his mom’s house that is tucked away a bit further down. The land is old, but the house has only been here for a few years. This is a new area in the reserve, and he remembers how they plowed a road to get into the bush, how they flattened out the land to make yards for the people. The flies and mosquitos from the bush are still lingering in the air.
Pretty soon he will be sitting on the bench in front of the fire. His family will be there as they have always been, and there will be three pesky dogs at his feet. Once there was another house, a smaller and run-down house without running water. They used to march the water across the fields from the neighbour, back to the house where they always had each other, and that always felt like enough.
He turns off the engine and looks at the open field next to the house, the infinite field, that just goes and goes into the evening setting. He does not live here anymore. The houses are different, the homes have changed. But the highway still leads to the lake at Fisher Bay, and Peguis is the place he comes to heal.
Reliefs in oak wood: Artist Søren Assenholt
Prose and concept: Author Sanne Flyvbjerg