Birth of a Nation

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Sit down, children, shut up, and let me tell you a story. It’s a story that will turn into a tale, spin into a legend and finally become a myth and perhaps, far into the future, will be the basis of a new religion.

This story takes place long ago. Long before the internet. Long before smartphones, way before Facebook. It happened long before Instagram. Before iPods. Before Netflix. It happened 25 years ago.

I wasn’t present when the strange notion of a Cree newsmagazine was born. I can only fall back to my imagination. So picture this:

Will Nicholls, Ernest Webb and Catherine Bainbridge are sitting around unemployed and with too much time on their hands. They have one story they feel the Cree masses should know of. What to do with it? There is no money. Desperation ensues. As when desperation appears, crazy ideas are treated as normal.

“We’ll start our own magazine because, you know, the Internet doesn’t really exist yet,” says Will.

“Yeah,” replies Ernie, “Facebook won’t be invented until the next century and we won’t be able to post selfies, poke our 1671 friends and like people’s shit.”

“Iiiii know,” yelps Catherine. “I can’t wait to start answering all my emails on my iPhone!”

“What’s that?” asks Will.

“Wait and see, wait and see…,” she replies.

“Okay. Who do we know? I know this young investigative journalist! Roslin. Also, this brilliant young designer. Katrina.”

“I know this young Cree photographer. Neil Diamond.”

“Neil Diamond?! Sounds like a real freak.”

“YOU’RE a freak,” quips Ernie.

They all chuckle. “I predict that line will become a thing on Facebook one day,” says Ernie.

“I can’t wait for the future,” says Will. “Porn will be freely available online. It will be like paradise and all races will live together in peace and harmony and we’ll all be rich.”

The others look at him, stunned by his audacity.

“Great. That’s all we need to make history. Let’s summon them together.”

It was the autumn of 1993. I’m in my apartment and the phone rings. Yes, it was a landline. Remember those?

It was Ernest Webb on the line. “We’re starting a magazine, man. Do you wanna help out?” I said yes immediately. I asked what they were going to call it. “The Nation.” “What does the other Nation think of that?”

“They’re okay with it – cuz we’re Native” came the reply.

Today, we have several people in our office who were mere infants when the Nation was born. Many Cree were not welcoming to our arrival. We were called a bunch of troublemakers. I can’t say those words hurt. We all knew we were going to cause trouble. There was no free press in Creeland. The radio station, CBC North, was airing stories that were filled with fluff, and everyone was bored.

I remember we all met one evening in Webb’s home to plan our move. We were all young and filled with ideals and dreams of changing the world. We were all expert amateurs with little experience. We were flying headlong into something that had never been done before.

Over the years, many people have come and gone. And many characters have passed through our doors. There was this one who would come by and pitch ideas for weird features. His writings were a strange amalgam of Native spirituality and aliens. And he found dogs evil for some reason.

Eventually, we joined the Quebec Community Newspapers Association (QCNA) and the Canadian Community Newspapers Association (CCNA), which pretty much gave us an excuse to party at their annual get-togethers at some fancy hotel or resort. Even on a small cruise ship on the St. Lawrence River a couple times. No, Will didn’t jump overboard with joy when he was honoured for his fine editorials.

Production nights were always fun and usually ended just before last call at the bar down the street. Even as I write this I hear a beer can being opened. Some things will never change.

I remember our first office on Park Avenue. It was one room. I had no desk. I would just occupy whatever corner was available and use any open computer. To this day, I still don’t have my own desk or computer.

I was just looking through our earliest issues and saw an ad for our launch party. It stated the time and place, but not the date. We were idiots. But somehow the venue was filled with people. We relied on word of mouth back then.

One fine memory I have of Will and I from the early days. We had just come from a wedding and we had to overnight in Val-d’Or. We decided to don our tuxedoes and head to the Chateau Louis. The bar was nearly empty when we walked in but every head craned to see who it was. Over-dressed at the Chateau Louis. Which is sadly long gone.

Working in journalism is sure to make you friends and, more importantly, enemies. We’ve had people on the phone challenging us to fisticuffs. Or questioning our morals and sanity. But what kept us going were the many people who encouraged and cheered us on. It was and still is, at times, controversial, fun and still causing trouble.

I’ll leave it to you to guess how many words have appeared in the Nation these past 25 years. There have been many who have contributed. Some we haven’t heard from in years. Some we’ve forgotten completely. Some we will remember forever. Some we wish we could forget. Some who will appear again in these very pages. One hopes.

So here I sit, an old man with only my stories to tell. My memory fades slowly and I have only walls full of worn copies of old Nations at my disposal. I reach for an issue from my younger days. It reads…

“There are a million stories in the naked bush and we have here for you a mere fraction of them. Yes, they cover a wide spectrum, from the ridiculous to the sublime…”


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