He was, perhaps the most handsome man I had ever met. Closing in on sixty. Straight, direct brown eyes. Long braid. Aboriginal. He reminded me of a younger version of Chief Dan George of movie fame. The lines in his tanned face spoke of character; the eyes, of years of gentle assessment of his fellow men.
I was a young lawyer on duty counsel at Provincial Criminal Court giving people "off-the-hip" advice on their first court appearance. This gentleman was accompanied by his grand-daughter who had had an unfortunate encounter with the Wallaceburg police. He had arranged her bail. A Saturday night of drinking had led to public disturbance and abusive language to the attending constables.
I learned that the young woman had been roughly handled in custody, cuffed and made to fall down a flight of stairs en route to the lock-up. Now she just hung her head in embarrassment while grandfather told the story.
He paused and looked directly at me with incredulous, pained eyes as if to say, "Is this the Law? I cannot excuse the child's behaviour. It only goes to add fuel to the sad stereotype. But do decent folk do this in response?"
I cannot remember how the short hearing went thereafter. I can only remember the handsome, questioning face.
Months later a young enterprising aboriginal farmer from Walpole Island named Bruce came into my office with a problem. His grandmother had died. He could not find a funeral parlour to arrange the final tribute. He and his father presented me with particulars of a lucrative wetlands maize operation in the hope that I could help make the pitch to a mortician. My phone calls and a visit left me with the impression that Wallaceburg business folk were totally disinclined to engage with "those people from the Island". "After all, I must have known what they were like".
Well, I didn't...It was probably the following summer that Hilary and little Lauren and I went to a small white clapboard church on the Island (formerly Anglican) where revival was underway. A husband and wife evangelistic team were there from Detroit with a couple of spirited musicians. There in a small gathering of red, white and black we experienced one of the richest times of worship and ministry which we can remember, with the peeper frogs joining in from the marsh out back.
New friends were made. The Body was edified. Jesus was honoured. Tribes and tongues were represented in unity. The only place where multi-culturalism will ever work. Around His throne. (Revelation 5)