Blair 1“I'm proud of being called a savage. A savage is a man from the earth; that's what it means and I'm proud of being called a man from the earth because I like to be out in the woods. I look at everything. I see a wild rose bud, and I see something nice in everything. I think positive about the land...”

[This transcription is of a series of discussions with Blair Léger, a Métis elder and medicine man from Barachois, New Brunswick. The interview was conducted September 26th, 2009 on a piece of land with special significance to the Métis community in Pugwash, Nova Scotia. Mount Allison students Adrienne Kasdan and Alyson Kelly from Dr. Marilyn Walker's Arctic Ethnography class conducted the interview. Blair shares his knowledge about the site and about being Métis. The interview was conducted and transcribed in both French and English in order to highlight Blair's bilingualism and mixed identity.]

Part I – Introduction to the Pugwash Site by Blair Léger

Blair: I've been on this property a few times. You see me carrying a talking stick. I'll just talk about the talking stick to start with. This is a talking stick that Émile made from a sycamore tree. The sycamore tree is a very rare tree that grows in the centre of Amherst. It was used for ceremony, maybe a hundred and twenty-five years back. And a branch broke and Émile made me a talking stick. What I carry on a talking stick: I carry some sweet grass, I carry the eagle feather, and a pouch of tobacco. Anywhere where I go, this to me represents peace. The peace pipe used to be carried around by the Métis and Indians, they were especially Mi'kmaqs around the salt water seas (the Maliseet in the fresh water seas in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia). And the peace pipe came up to be quite an attraction because when they would meet they would always carry their own tobacco. Tobacco is a broad name for a lot of things, we won't get in details with it but tobacco was always used and they would mix their tobaccos and they would smoke the pipe; that's where the name peace pipe came. They made peace with the pipe. When there were two Indians, or when an Indian and white people met they would use the tobacco before they did anything. They sat down and they smoked the pipe which we called the peace pipe.

Now on the other hand, as a medicine man I've been in the woods many years. Where I got interested, I was an ambulance attendant for eight years and after you've been in ambulances and seen all kinds of things, you want to stay in medicine, then you go to see where the medicine comes from. So I've been in the woods ever since I was four, five years old and I got interested in herbs, medicine and I bought a little book, a French book, “Es-tu bardré de tes vives?” They have it in Sackville. And I went through that book and everything that was in that book I knew a wee bit about. And that got me interested and I was in the woods, in the woods coming back home with one, two, three, four different kinds of herbs. Then I needed some help so I started buying some books and it was only five/six years later that I went in the woods one Sunday morning, I got to Mom's place and I had taken her a bouquet of wild flowers. Mom looked at it, she said “That's joe-pye weed, that's pearly everlasting, that's this and that.” I said, “Mom, how come you know all about this?” She said, “I'm an ex-teacher, when we went to Fredericton it was a must to know our medicinal herbs.” And then Mom's been a great inspiration for me. So I'm always in the woods and I'm still learning because there's plenty to learn in the woods. I don't know everything, by far. I know very little out in the woods. Émile knows much more about plants and animals, but medicinal herbs, it's a part that I love.

Part II – Questions in the Woods: Sweat Lodge

Aly: We were wondering if you could describe the sweat lodge.

Blair: Sweat lodge. We went out, we took a walk out in the woods this last spring, early this spring. We gathered up all the alders. As you noticed, they're all about twelve feet long. We made a circle. First of all we dug up a hole in there, in the center. We tied them all up and we used some haywires, we call them haywires, we tied them all up. This to Émile's standard is a fairly small sweat lodge. We cover it all up completely with tarps or skins or whatever and then we leave the main entrance [ pointing ] here, and then the group (this is a sweat lodge for about five or six persons, whether male or female) they sit all around there. And then we start taking in rocks and we put them in the lodge. And then they take water, whether it's salt water or fresh water doesn't make any difference, and we warm it up, the water itself, or it can be cold. But not to crack the rock we warm it up same as the rocks and we put it in there. And the people in there are chanting all the time inside the sweat lodge. They chant as we, the observers, go around with our drums and we drum. They stay in there for about an hour and we drum all the time.

We go in circles to support what they're doing in there and they pour a wee bit of hot water on the hot rocks, it makes a steam and they get in a sweat. Once they're in there they don't want to walk out unless the steam is way too warm, but they control the heat, the steam in there with the amount of water they pour on the rocks and the way they do it. They say we can stand seven rocks, eight rocks, it's the amount of rocks that they put in there, that they put water on, that is the count because in Indian time or Mi'kmaq time there's no such thing as hours. There's an old saying, “if we're working here by Indian time” which means hours don't count. If you're doing a ceremony on Indian time, it means you have no hours to start, you have no time to stop, you do it on your own time. And that's what they do, they put in rocks. The last ladies that were here, they did what is unbelievable, they did fourteen rocks! That's all we had ready, and they did all the fourteen rocks. Then we took all the tarps or skins and everything out, we washed them out, and then the men came in. For one thing, you don't mix the sweat of women with the sweat of men. You don't put groups of men and women together in a sweat lodge. Women sweat differently than men and the sweat of men is much stronger; the sweat of women could arouse men too. Oh yeah, because men and women are not the same, but a sweat lodge is very particular that you don't mix men and women in a sweat lodge.

Adrienne: So what is the spiritual meaning of the sweat lodge?

Blair
: You're cleansing your body. You're cleansing your body and at the same time you're cleansing your mind. You're in there in your own bubble.

Aly: And you've experienced the sweat lodge? Multiple times?

Blair: No, don't think many times, just once in this sweat lodge. It's been years that I've been around sweat lodges and stuff like that but I've only experienced one sweat lodge.

Aly
: Could you describe the experience?

Blair
: It's a question of endurance. Women have the least possible linen on while men are topless. And then they go into a sweat and they stay in there and it's a question of endurance. It cleanses your body, sweat comes out. You can lose three, four, five pounds of water in half an hour/forty-five minutes in a sweat lodge. When you walk out of there you shiver, you're weak. I've seen people walking out of here walking on four legs from how tough it is to go, it's a tough experience to go through, the sweat lodge. But everyone comes out purified and different. When you cleanse your mind with sweat it's unbelievable, there's so much water in your head and it comes out all over your body. It's an experience that's very hard to explain what happens to you when you walk out. I've seen women here crawling out, barely walking, and throwing themselves in cold water from the sweat lodge. And there's a lady here, she went in and walked herself all the way to the bay. From here to there, it was high tide at the time and then went “swoosh”, right in. They went from here from an extreme hot tub to cold water and they swam in there until their temperature went down.

Aly: And this is performed in the summer time?

Blair: Yes, it's performed year round.

Adrienne
: How often should someone do it?

Blair: A sweat lodge is not a question of time or how long. It's when you need it spiritually. To change your mind when you're doing something, say hard labour to semi-retired, you're changing in life. If you want to mentally change you go into a sweat lodge and experience it to go in there and sweat it out. Tire yourself out until you walk on four legs. You walk out and you're a different person. Very hard to explain what goes on in there. It's mental. All individuals who walk out there, they walk out different. They walk in there happy and everything, when they walk out of there they shiver, it's a nice experience. I should say anybody in their right mind once in life should go to a sweat lodge.

There's one thing; once there's a group in there – five or six or four - you can't walk in or out. Outsiders can't walk in. You can assist them by drumming or chanting, and they go in there with clapping sticks. We outside, we use drums, inside they use clapping sticks. And when they slow down we tell them to put more water on the rocks. And so they do and we go around, circle them and bring the beat up so they won't fall asleep or don't go numb but we try to keep their spirits up. And once they're out I've asked the question, “How was our drumming outside helping you?” They said, “We wouldn't have been able to do it that whole time if you hadn't helped us.” Mentally it did help them just by the sound of the drum from the outside. They knew we were there, they knew we were supporting them, they knew we were with them all the time. We never quit walking all around and when we walk around in circle we always walk clockwise. And when you do a circle when you're interviewing people, when you're getting people to talk in a circle, a sacred circle, you always go clockwise. The sun goes clockwise, when you do a circle of life, y ou always go clockwise.

Part III – Private Interview

Blair
: Mon nom est Blair M. Léger

Aly: M?
 
Blair: Mon nom est Merville.

Aly: Est-ce que c'est le nom de ton père ou grand-père.

Blair
: Oui, mon père. C'est un nom composé. Mais ils m'appellent Junior.

Aly: Est-ce que tu es le plus jeune?

Blair
: Non, mon père s'appelait Blair.

Aly: Est-ce que tu as des frères ou des sœurs?

Blair
: J'avais cinq sœurs et trois frères. C'est une grande famille. La plus vielle de mes sœurs est morte et le plus jeune de mes frères est mort il y'a trois ans le 1er Novembre. Morts du cancer tout les deux. Mon père est mort à l'âge de 82 ans du cancer aussi, il avait 45 ou 50, une crise cardiaque, mais il est mort du cancer. J'étais ambulancier et je l'ai amené à l'hôpital plusieurs fois. Toujours conscient mais toujours proche à coma.

Aly: Est-ce que ta famille a utilisé les médecines traditionnelles?

Blair
: Dans ma famille immédiate, non. Mon grand-père Léger ramassait beaucoup de plantes comme la tansy. Ensuite les plantes surtout il ramassait beaucoup de field mushrooms. Je me rappelle quand on restait chez grand-père Léger quand on allait au parc on ramassait des field mushrooms.

Aly
: Mais toi tu ne ramasses pas les champignons?

Blair
: Mais oui, oh oui. Même à quatre ans, cinq ans, mon grand-père m'a montré qu'est-ce qu'était un bon mushroom, oh oui.

Adrienne
: Alors lui, il savait. Comment a-t-il apprit?

Blair
: Ma grand-mère était sage femme. Elle a aidé les docteurs à mettre au monde approximativement quatre mille enfants. Elle était sage femme pendant cinquante, soixante ans. Les docteurs l'appelaient, on restait à six miles de la ville de Shediac et si que les docteurs ne pouvaient pas s'y rendre ma grand-mère allait aider les femmes à accoucher.

Aly: À Shediac ?

Blair
: Non, non, à Barachois, Grand Barachois, Cap-Pelé, elle était reconnue comme sage femme, la sage femme du village, ma grand-mère Françoise.

Adrienne
: Alors est-ce que c'est sur le côté de ton père, ceci?

Blair
: Oh c'est sur les deux bords. Mon grand-père Frank Gaudet était un voyageur et connaissait beaucoup de plantes médicinales. Les deux bords. Ma mère était maitresse d'école puis, je vous ai compté ça tout à l'heure, je l'ai arrivé avec un bouquet de fleurs sauvages et ma mère m'a tout identifié les fleurs sauvages; le jo-pye weed…en tout cas, elle les a tout identifiées. C'est là que j'ai dit “Mam, comment ça fait que vous saviez ça? » J'ai toujours appelé ma mère “vous”, j'ai jamais tutoyé ma mère. Elle est encore vivante à 93 ans. Elle est encore très connaissante en géologie, en plantes médicinales, en fleures, elle fait beaucoup de crochets en macramés, elle est licensée en haute couture à l'âge de 63 ans. Très, très fier de ma mère.

Adrienne: Est-ce que je peux demander une question en anglais?

Blair
: Go ahead, it doesn't make any difference.

Adrienne: So, how do you see yourself in terms of your identity?

Blair:
I identify myself as a Métis. And it's not always a pleasure; people still resent being called Métis, would you believe it in 2009? Yeah, people that know me I have no problem but some people are still nasty about it, having Indian blood. Like my wife is only a seventh generation Mi'kmaq and I'm a ninth, eight or ninth, and she still resents being called a “sauvage”. Sometimes she'll tell me “go with your savages”. I'm proud of being called a savage. A savage is a man from the earth. That's what it means and I'm proud of being called a man from the earth because I like to be out in the woods. I look at everything, I see a wild rose bud, and I see something nice in everything. I think positive of the land because where I was raised from the age of four there was an Indian reserve just about a half a mile from home called F-X Indian reserve, Francois-Xavier reserve. I still remember the old lady, the last lady that lived on that reserve. Right now, it's all white people that live there, along the edges of the Aboudjagane River. It's halfway between Shediac and Cap-Pelé. I taught carpentry in Big Cove which is the biggest Indian reserve in New Brunswick and when I was out there I was glad to identify myself as a Mi'kmaq or Indian or “sauvage”. But in recent years I have learned that the real name for Métis, Acadian/Métis/Mi'kmaq, the word is called Souriquois. That means Mi'kmaq from salt water. Because there are Indians from fresh water and there are Indians from salt water, but the word Souriquois is a group of Mi'kmaq/Métis from Yarmouth county.

Adrienne: Most of the Métis, the Souriquois, would they be Acadian and First Nations?

Blair
: Right, French speaking Acadian mixed with Mi'kmaq blood.

Aly: So you would identify yourself both as Métis and Acadian?

Blair
: Euh, yes. With Mi'kmaq blood. It's not Maliseet, it's not Iroquois, it's Mi'kmaq. Definitely Mi'kmaq. Because I think, you must know about the history of Acadians in Port Royal and everything, we were the forty families. White people came from France and the Légers were one of the groups. Légers, Jacques Léger was the first Acadian married to a Madeleine, we're the third biggest family of Acadians.

Aly: Can you trace your family back that far?

Blair
: Of course, Blair Ambroise à Sylvain Ambroise, à Moise, à Gabriel, à Jacques, à Jacques, à Jacques. Mom goes down the roots like this, she has a briefcase and you ask a question to mom, she'll say, “Yeah this is it” and opens it up. She doesn't look at the papers, she says, “There it is, it is”, she knows it all. Mom's been doing genealogy on Acadians for at least 70 years, at least.

Adrienne: Your family history is something that your family thought was important, and they passed it down to you?

Blair
: Definitely. Mom is a Gaudet and she's proud of being an Acadian and Grandma Léger is a Cormier and from Cap-Pelé. The Cormiers, there's two big Cormier families, one is called Moise-Cormier, and the other ones are called Bedache, and Bedache-Cormiers it's a Mi'kmaq name for a group of Cormiers. I always knew from the Cormier side and Moise that I had Indian blood. I knew all the time, and when they traced my ancestry they traced it to Jean Gaudet who was married to a Gallant and Gallant-Hacheys are definitely Métis. But we might be closer than that, we always identified ourselves with Indian blood because Grandma Léger, the sage femme, the, how do you call it in English? A midwife. Grandma, they always identified Grandma as an Indian. She had to trace herself off a Mi'kmaq; small deep wrinkles and dark skin and the way she spoke, the way she worked with medicines and she did her own medicines, and the way she worked. She would go out and gather what you call sea plantain.

Adrienne
: So did you learn a lot about what you know about traditional medicines and traditional uses of plants from your grandmother? Or is it something that you've taught yourself?

Blair 2Blair
: I'm a self-educated man. It was always around me all the time, but when I left the ambulance service I needed a hobby and I had been working with and playing with it all the time. Mom did her own medicine, Grandpa Léger did his own medicine, Grandpa Gaudet did his own medicine, Grandma Léger did, and it was always around. But I was always wondering in my mind and after I was done with the ambulance I started out with a little book that was written at the University of Moncton, Es-tu bardré de tes vives?

That little book had all the remedies and what they used and I borrowed it from the library in Shediac. As soon as I got a hold of it I went and bought copies at the University of Moncton, I bought all the last copies they had. I gave them as souvenirs, and I knew everything there was in that book. Like you would use salt herring for a boil, you would use the salt herring to make a poultice and you would cure a boil. Believe it or not, they would use cow manure as a remedy and if the cow was black it was even better as a cure. It's all in that book. It's unbelievable.

Aly: Do you remember what the cow manure was used for, to remedy what?

Blair
: Yup, for boils again or for sore throats. They would wrap it in cotton right around their neck, I don't believe it was used that much but it was used. Cows in the mid summer were fed in the low-land areas and bogs, and salt water bogs contain about 80% of the medicinal herbs there are. Like arrow-heads grow in bogs, sea plantain just about all grow in the salt water bogs, yeah. Fresh water bogs have a lot of them but salt water bogs do have most of the medicinal herbs we need, that we use. So as Métis we always live around the salt water, the Indians, the Métis, the white people. When the English people came from England and they start tearing the villages apart, the Mi'kmaqs took us in the woods with them, they protected the white people, white people from France. The men would come down and the Mi'kmaq women, the Indians were giving their daughters to the white people. That's how the Métis came about. Beause there were some women coming from England but mostly it was all men that started out, and those men were like any other men, they needed women, and the chiefs were giving their daughters to the white men. It was a privilege for an Indian chief to give his daughter; they were given away like animals at the time. Yeah, it's in the books, it's in our culture, we have to accept the good and the bad. But we don't shame about it, same as English people shame about trying to destroy the white people, but the Indians were proud, as a Métis we're proud that the Mi'kmaq protected us, they took us in their villages in the forest and that's how we survived because the English people would burn all the villages and everything. They would go from village to village and it's in our past and we're proud that the Mi'kmaqs protected us. That's how we survived.

Adrienne: From what I remember from History, the French Acadians and the Mi'kmaq were very close and they had a lot of respect for one another .

Blair
: Right, like there was a grand chief along the fresh water, a Maliseet along the Saint John River, the Maliseet gave his daughter to the chief of the army. One chief of the army married the daughter of a chief. It's in the Barnaby-Martin family. Yeah, it's all in the books.

Adrienne: So you've read books about it?

Blair
: It's not that I've read as much as I've listened to a lot from mouth to ear. I go out to southwest Nova to my friends like I mentioned-Paul Tufts, Anil Theriault, Aurel Comean, Roland Surette, and those people in there. I just do like you do, pop a question and then I listen for half an hour and that's how I've learned my Acadian history. We Acadians are good talkers but we listen too. There are a lot of good story tellers.

Aly: Now, do you see a relationship between the Acadian and the Aboriginal People's use of plants?

Blair
: Well the Acadians brought some plants from Europe, but the plants were all in here, the Indians were using them all the time. So the Mi'kmaqs showed us how to use them. My first encounter with Mi'kmaqs when I first started out fifteen, twenty years ago, I went directly to Big Cove and I took about a gallon and a half of Labrador tea, which I knew all about already, and I went to see this Norma Augustine, a medicine woman in Big Cove, and I wanted to know how to make a recipe for eczema and psoriasis.

Aly: What was the other plant you were speaking of that helps psoriasis?

Blair
: Alder, and there is the other one that grows, the “vinaigrier” en Français, sumac! Sumac and alders. I went to this lady, Norma she was on dialysis in her house, barely liveable. And I walked in there, I said I had been told she was a medicine woman and this and that, so I walked in, not invited or anything and I said, “I came here to have some information how to make a recipe for psoriasis. My uncle and my brother have psoriasis”. She looked at me straight in the eyes and she said, “You know we Indians don't give our secrets away.” That was the best thing she could've ever said to me. I said “I did not come here to ask for your secret, I came here to share your knowledge with you.” And you should see the way that lady opened up in there. She said “What have you got to share?” I said, “I have Labrador tea.” I went in my van, I took it in there, I had an ice cream container about three quarters full, she looked at it, put her hand in it, smelled it and everything, she said, and I quote you for this, “What do you want to know.” It made me feel that I was part of those Mi'kmaqs, because I had taught carpentry up there for four years. Yeah, I had taught her two brothers and I had made friends with the chief at the time, Albert Levy, and we're still friends. She said to her lady keeper she said, “Get me my weave basket.” She sat in there on the side of her bed and I think I was there for about two hours, and before I walked out of there she said, “Give me a plastic container”. She gave me a sample of all the medicinal herbs she had in there. She gave me blackroot, muskrat root, liquorice root, oh several things. And that liquorice root I still have.

Aly: Now, Blair, if someone came to you asking you a question about some kind of medicinal cure or plant what would you say to them?

Blair
: I'd say come on in, anytime. Anytime, twenty-four hours a day because the knowledge I have, it took me so long to gather it up, I want to share it with people. And I have brought with me maybe fifteen, twenty medicinal herbs today. After the interview is done we're going to go in there and I'm going to have you run over them. But to gather up all the knowledge I have about medicine took me close to twenty years. If a person can sit with me for half an hour or an hour and go over it and it gets them interested in the subject makes, that my day. Because very few people are interested in medicinal herbs and those that are, either they're in or they're not, there's no halfway about it.

Adrienne: I think there's a lot of concern that this kind of traditional knowledge is going to be lost one day.

Blair
: I'm afraid of that.

Adrienne: Do you feel that's why it's very important to share with anyone who's interested?

Blair
: You're 110% right. I'm afraid that I only have a few years left, I'm 68, and I have a granddaughter she's only seven, she seems to be interested in the subject. She's interested in books. Last Christmas I bought her an adult book on birds, Les Oiseaux du Quebec et des Maritimes , and they have some bird feeders, my son, and she goes there, she looks, and if there's a new bird that goes there she goes in the book and looks. She's only seven, she says “Mom, come on over there's a new bird”, whether it's a cross beak or whatever. She says “Mom that bird is different”. She spots it out and she wants Mom to read about the birds. Plus drums, hand drums, when I made my first hand drum, that drum I have there, that drum is only 3 years old. I made that drum and as soon as I made it I went to my son's place and I had my granddaughter, Sophie, she drew pictures on it, on the drum. She drew the earth, green stuff, then she put a big flower, then she drew the sun, the moon, and she wrote her name lengthwise at four years old. Then about a year later, I said well my first drum, you can't keep your first drum, you have to share it with somebody else, imagine who it's going to go to! But at the same time I did an eight inch drum which she still has. About eight inches, and I did a drum and she drums with it, she drums with my big drum.

Aly: So are you active in a Métis community and do you bring her along?

Blair
: No, no my wife is unilingual, and when it's only English in there she can't grasp enough what's going on that she hates it, but she comes. I did an opening ceremony just this last spring with the scouts in Cap-Pelé. They have a weekend, the guy dresses up as an Indian, he does the opening ceremony and I drummed when they opened up the ceremony. We lit up the fire in the weekend and everything, and I was drumming all through it. I drummed him in, he did his ceremony, and I drummed him out to my tipi and oh there were three, four hundred people in there from all around Memramcook, Shediac, Cap-Pelé. Then the next day Émile and I did the presentation and then I showed my herbs again as a Métis, I always do it as a Métis. I never do it as an Acadian, I do it as a Métis, a medicine man, because Émile named me a medicine man three years ago.

Adrienne
: Was that a very proud moment for you?

Blair
: Was it ever. Yeah, the tears I feel! I'm not ashamed in saying, it was in Lake Breeze, Nova Scotia. We had a big tent, a sixteen or eighteen foot tent, we were fourteen Métis in there and we always sit in a circle in a tipi, a tipi is round, and Émile had me sit next to him on his right side. So in the talking circle as we did, I always ended up being the last one to talk ‘cause I was in a circle. After it was done he named me a medicine man and then I had to do my medicine thing and go around with my talking stick and everything and I put the tobacco on the shoulders of every person in there. They would tell me what they suffer from and everything, and that was awesome, very great experience, and now, just this last year, I was made a spiritual leader in Minouti, Nova Scotia, not too far from Parsborough. Just one Sunday afternoon we went in there to do another ceremony. There weren't too many people there, it was a small village not too far from Parsborough, an old French village called Minoutie, and Émile just popped up in there in front of all the people in there and he was making me a spiritual leader which is the three times I share with Émile.

Adrienne
: So, what's the difference between being named a medicine man and just being someone who….

Blair
: People look at you as a resource person. Especially as a medicine man. Like you're doing. I can do this day in and day out, interviews. I'm still proud of it every time I do it because it's not a knowledge that I bought or anything, it's that I acquired it with the time and being out in the woods. Going out in the woods and finding whether it is a little flower like this, I would take it home and go to in my books and ask questions until I found a resource. Now as a resource person I had to do it, it was hard work for me but very compensating at the end.

Adrienne
: When they name you a medicine man is it just a recognition of the knowledge that you've gained?

Blair
: Yes and no. Being a medicine man when people know you're a medicine man they look at you differently, like Norma Moise, the lady from Nova Scotia. She's Norma Moise she makes magic potions. I have it here. It cures shingles. She doesn't want to give me the recipe because it's a secret for a miracle cure but she said anytime I need it she sends it to me free. Plus she gave me bear grease. Being a medicine man people have something, they have something special, they offer it to you. Everything we do is free of charge. I cannot charge one person for a tea like a Labrador tea. I have to pick a lot of Labrador tea because people who have arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis stuff like that and they want to start moving again they have to take it to purify their blood. They need lots of Labrador tea and “sapin trainard” which is ground hemlock. Which I haven't found here and I wish I had and those two things do clean up your blood. It's a very powerful medicine. One of the best known medicines for cancer there is right now is ground hemlock. They buy it by the tonnes, they bring it up to shipping in New Brunswick, they extract the medicine in it- I think it's called taxol. And when you collect medicinal herbs always leave, as a gesture, you always leave something for the plants. Like oat. You spread oat over where you picked the plants. Yeah, but the number seven in Mi'kmaq is very important. You would use anything from four to seven teas, you respect the seven directions, the seven days of the week, and everything comes in seven.

Adrienne
: Just out of curiosity do the Mi'kmaq also traditionally count seven days in the week, independent of Christianity?

Blair
: Yeah, talking about Christianity, I just learned a week ago yesterday that the Jesuits were the first Christians that brought Christianity to Canada with the Mi'kmaqs and they were directed by the Pope to come and they weren't all good.

Aly: We have studied this, it's interesting. The Jesuit letters are the best record of the time.

Blair
: The Jesuits and the King. I had heard about the Jesuits, but I didn't used to think it was that bad. When the Jesuits came here they thought the Indians didn't have any souls. So they would say “Kill all those savages, they have no souls.” Because that was from the Pope and the King at the time. Yep, I had heard about it but it was confirmed to me just last week.

We went to a Métis meeting - well I have to say this in your interview - Jackie Vautour our friend who is Métis , I can't go without mentioning Jackie Vautour, a friend of mine. We were in there and he's taking his case, that case about clam digging, and he's claiming that he's a Métis and he's claiming he has rights. He went through court challenges, he's written to the Queen and to the Pope to have the Mi'kmaq's rights respected. Instead of going to a court challenge in the courts for years and years he already got answers from the Queen three weeks after. Coming in October they're going to meet with Jackie Vautour's lawyer to see what kind of deal they can do with Jackie and have the Métis are recognized at the same level as Mi'kmaqs. They have a word, indigene, we're all indigenous people. We're indigene ; we're recognized Métis and Mi'kmaqs are indigenes, First Peoples. And if we do, we Métis will be recognized at the same level as Mi'kmaqs. Because Mi'kmaqs are only slaves in a pen, in a compound, that's all it is, it's a shame that once they're on their reserve they have no more rights. We have more rights outside the reserve than they do. They walk out of the reserve and they have to follow white man laws. They can't hunt outside the reserve.

Back in 1972 I was teaching carpentry out in Big Cove. On this afternoon, I think it was a Thursday afternoon, not a student showed up in class. Not one. I stood up there until four and drove out. Friday morning I went back to school, they all showed up again, and I said, “What happened yesterday?” “Oh, there was a moose on the reserve we had to go hunting.” I said, “Hunting?” “Yeah, we go hunt the moose on the reserve.” “All of you twelve students?” “Yeah”. Well I said, “I'm sorry but I can't, without the manpower, pay you.” And they said “Why?” Well I said, “You weren't sick” “Oh yes we were sick, we had to go out hunting to get some food.” I said, “Well I need a paper that you were sick.” “Oh that's no problem. We'll go see the federal nurse and she'll write us up a paper.” Monday morning I came back to school they all had an excuse that they were sick on Thursday afternoon and I had to pay them the half-day. That's their mentality. Nothing wrong with it, but it's just as a white man on the reserve at the time, I classify myself as a white man at the time, and then I spoke to my supervisor Mr. Smith. He said “You know they have reasons to it, it's their custom to do it. Go ahead don't write them off. It's in their custom to hunt.” Yeah, I mean that taught me a good lesson. Those are things that I can talk about day in day out, those experiences I have in the last 30 to 40 years when I came back from Montreal.

Aly: I think we'll just ask one more question. You mention that you have a property of your own with lots of medicinal plants. We're wondering how it compares to this one that we just spent the last couple hours exploring?

Blair
: Well on mine I know every square foot of it and I walk in there, like I did with Marilyn two years ago, I can find you some goldthread, I can find you some Labrador tea, I can find you some ginseng, white pine…

Aly: Are these all wild plants? Did you plant any of these?

Blair
: No you don't plant any wild plants. Medicine doesn't grow in the garden, medicine grows in the wild. There's one thing about wild plants; if you come from Quebec you'll pick up the plant, you use it for certain things. If you grow up in New Brunswick, you take that same plant they use it, because those plants in there have so much medicinal properties that all those plants you can use for different things. Although you use it for specific things it can cure one thing, it's almost a cure-all. Like the ginseng, what is ginseng used for? Longevity, to clear your mind, all you students when you have to write exams you should chew ginseng. It's a purifier, and then Labrador tea; rheumatoid arthritis. Good antioxidants, good blood cleanser, and doesn't hurt your mucus inside your stomach. Muskrat root is used the same as sweet fern, the muskrat root, it takes the pain away when women deliver babies. They could be used for cold. Muskrat root was used the same as we use ora-gel for kid's teething. I mean all the medicine have so many properties that some group Indigenous People, les Indiens, would use it for different things, and others would use it and they would cure other things that they had. En français asteure pour finir. Pour résumer en français, quoi-ce qu'est les plantes les plus populaires? Les deux plantes les plus populaires au monde, plantes médicinales?

Moi je vais vous poser des questions. Vous les connaissez tous les deux; le ginseng et l'ail. L'ail est l'un des plantes médicinales le plus fort qu'il y a. Le ginseng puis le muskrat root sont avec. C'est tout les trois les plus forts.

Adrienne: Est-ce que l'ail peut pousser au sauvage, ici?

Blair
: Bien oui. Il pousse ici, je n'ai jamais trouvé ça par example. Émile en a trouvé. C'est la même chose que la muskrat root peut être transplantée, même chose que qu'est-ce qu'on a trouvé en bas là bas; la chocolate mint. Ca pousse à l'état sauvage. Moi j'en ai dans mon fossé à côté de nous. Le ‘petit baumbe' qu'on appelle ça en français. Très beau parfum, pas fort comme le chocolate mint, mais chocolate mint est une des plantes les plus fortes qu'il y'a. Ma mère a un patch dans ses fleurs qu'elle est obligée d'éclaircir ça, c'est très envahissant, le chocolate mint.

Adrienne: Ma grande-mère en avait dans son jardin, sur Caribou island, c'est proche d'ici. Elle avait un grand jardin avec toutes les plantes de la région puis la menthe poussait partout; ça envahit le jardin.

Blair
: Ma sœur, le bébé des filles, quand elle a eu 50 ans elle a dit à toutes ses amies, elle a dit « J'veux un cadeau de toute vous autres. Je veux une plante de chacun de vous autres. » Une plante. Elle a eu 50 plantes et elle n'en a pas eu deux pareilles. Moi, elle m'a demandé pour le sweet fern. J'ai été cherché le sweet fern. Elle a dit « Toi, comme médecine man, pour les plantes médicinales j'veux une sweet fern. » Et ils ont amené toutes les sortes de fleurs, de plantes dans son jardin, et ça a fait une grande couche. Mais pas deux pareilles dans cinquante. C'est comment de variétés de plantes qu'il y'a; des fleurs, des plantes, des bushs, toutes. Ma sœur a un gros jardin à Shediac; des plantes partout, partout, partout. Mon oncle Merville, le vieux garçon, ou ce que c'est que ma mère a été élevée à peu près 80 fleurs, juste sur le bord de la rivière y'a le Détroit de Northumberland, y'a Barachois. Un des plus vielles maisons, dans le centre de la maison y'avait une cheminée qu'a 8 pieds carré, 8 par 8. Ca réchauffait toute la maison. Il y'a des murs qui fait the tour pour isoler pis ça réchauffe. Le centre de la maison est ouvert. Il reste encore dedans. C'est là que les plantes médicinales en arrière; le arrowhead, le plantain, le times de souris, toutes within walking distance de la mer, du marais qu'il y'a là. Le sweetgrass, toute, toute. Le sweetgrass est connu depuis des années, c'est comme un parfum.

Adrienne
: N'ya t'il pas quatre plantes traditionnelles qui sont le tabac, sweetgrass, le sage…

Blair
: Le sage et le cèdre. Oui ça c'est les quatre tabacs qu'on se sert pour les quatre directions. Mais on peut n'en mettre jusqu'à sept pour les sept directions. Quand on fait du tabac on met du cèdre blanc pour cleanser. Beaucoup de personnes avec du sea sage, Artemesia, ça pousse dans le sable ça. C'est spécial, c'est fort. Comme médecine man, je ne sais pas si je devrais mais j'vais vous dire par exemple, comme médecine man je ramasse plus qu'est nécessaire mais je le partage avec tout le monde. Les plantes médicinales, les tabacs, toutes. Si je ramasse du pearly everlasting, du sweet fern, du sweet smoke, le sea sage, le cèdre. Je ne devrais pas le garder juste pour moi-même. Je ramasse juste qu'est ce que j'ai besoin. Mais je prends la responsabilité de ramasser pour les autres, ça fait que je ramasse pour plus que moi-même dans des quantités plus que je devrais avoir. Mais comme médicine man je prends la permission pour ramasser pour les autres personnes. Je feel guilty un peu mais on le share avec d'autres personnes je feel contribuer aux autres.

Adrienne
: Je pense que c'est tout, is there anything you'd like to add or end on?

Blair
: Il y'a une chose. Comme médecine man j'me guéris pas moi même. Je ne prends pas de mes médicines. A medecine man cannot cure himself. He doesn't try to cure himself. It's a tradition that you depend on somebody else to help you cure yourself, you're not a self-healer. C'est une tradition qu'un médecine man peut pas se guérir lui même.