Mountain reflects on life as a Dene artist and storyteller
By Jenn Watt
Antoine Mountain’s earliest years were spent in the company of his maternal grandmother, living along the Duhogah River. Born about 30 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle in 1949, along with his sister Judy he was raised by his grandparents Elizabeth and Michel.
“Granny always began her life lessons by talking about the Dene concept of gohsheneh: to do things carefully, lovingly, and right the first time,” he writes in his memoir, From Bear Rock Mountain: The Life and Times of a Dene Residential School Survivor.
His grandmother didn’t speak English – except for the words “lie” and “talk,” he writes – but was the kind of person with great wisdom, who was sought after for advice. Along with his sister, Judy, Mountain was raised in the early days by their grandparents.
“The lessons that I learned from my grandparents is these were people that came from a time before there was any kind of things we know and take for granted today,”
Mountain explained during a recent visit to Haliburton. “They didn’t have any matches, or tea, sugar, flour, … canvas, bullets, guns, anything like that…. We had a front-row seat to what it was like in the very old Indian days.”
Mountain went on to become a writer, newspaper columnist, poet, artist and academic. He is currently working on his PhD in Indigenous studies at Trent University.
Speaking with Larry O’Connor at the Canoe FM Radio Hall on Oct. 3, Mountain talked about diverse aspects of his life and perspectives on the world, from his thoughts on protest and activism to troubles in his home life, from the power of art to the devastating effects of residential schools.
He draws connections to the Holocaust, the purposeful extermination of Jewish people, and residential schools and the cultural genocide perpetrated within their walls.
Throughout his talk, spurred by questions by O’Connor who hosts an Indigenous show Tales from the Big Canoe on Canoe FM, Mountain emphasized that humans can’t be easily pigeonholed.
“We all share in the guilt. We all share in the glory of the human experience,” he said. “... [The] main part is try to stay away from that situation of saying we are the good people, they are the bad people. There is no division.”
Reconciliation means that two parties have to meet each other halfway, he said, and be willing to have a conversation based on mutual respect and curiosity.
From Bear Rock Mountain is available at the Haliburton County Public Library and can be purchased at Master’s Book Store in Haliburton.