Antoine Mountain follows up his previous memoir From Bear Rock Mountain with the book Child of Morning Star: Embers of an Ancient Dawn. The book is a poetic collection of stories that draws on his travels and knowledge as a Dene artist and a lifelong student of history. In it, Mountain weaves stories about people and art and the moments when our world manages to pause just briefly enough that we can see the roots of our communal humanity. Each part of this book corresponds to the four directions of the Medicine Wheel and offers insight into history, social conditions, community, and the spiritual. Child of Morning Star looks towards the future and the promise of tomorrow.
About the authors
Antoine Mountain is from the Radelie Koe/Fort Good Hope area of the Dene Nation in Northwest Territories, Canada. He is a Dene artist, painter, and activist who focuses on depicting the Dene way of life, his love for the land, and the spiritualism of his faith. He has attended the Ontario College of Arts and Design for a Bachelor of Fine Arts, holds a Master’s in Environmental Studies from York University, and is currently doing a PhD in Indigenous Studies at Trent University. Mountain’s appreciation for his art and community is reflected in his continuous exploration of his visual practice and his intention to use his voice and art to ensure that today’s youth do not forget their Dene cultural roots and identity.
Excerpt: Child of Morning Star: Embers of an Ancient Dawn (by (author) Antoine Mountain; foreword by Bonnie Devine)
An Astral Key
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way.
On a quiet day I can hear her breathing.”
“Every one of us is like a man who sees things in a dream
and thinks that he knows them perfectly and then
wakes up to find that he knows nothing.”
Meanwhile, the ceremonial Hogan swirls in dense Nat’oh, smoke . . . An elevated, separate, but yet very real connection is set aside just for these occasions.
Noon on a Navajo Nation Christmas Day passed as ordinarily as any other, at least in the traditional eight-sided building and away from the sounds of merriment just outside.
The Vietnam Vet, turned Hatathlie, Medicine Man/Singer, patiently listened as an elderly woman explained her slowed life, now sitting frail in a comfortable armchair. Her wheelchair waited by the blanket door, on the other side of a daughter, who helped fill in where memory and ear failed.
The matter at hand for the medicine man was to help the old rancher lady carry on her work, even in a truck or 4x4, if necessary.
As I sat by my adopted ‘twin’ Dene brother Lawrence, it gradually dawned that I, too, could ask a favour of the medicine man for the schooling, which I was now on a holiday break from.
At his duties, the former Vietnam soldier imperceptibly switched into the higher, ceremonial form of Navajo Dineh, to better suit this special event. As Elder he also heard, noted my request, and acknowledged assent.
We both wore our hair in braids, fond of cowboy hats. We only differed in one noticeable way – when Lawrence brewed his extra-vital MJB coffee in the morning and the horses took to neighing, with the goats butting heads in consternation!
Secretly, the Navajo cowboy in him even confessed to a past of being noted for his skills in ‘boot-scoot-n-boogie’, over many a sawdust floor!
After his elderly patient was wheeled out to her truck, I was directed to take her spot, on the west side of the building, still under alterations, gyprock sheets leaned against the north wall.
When given the go-ahead, I explained that all was going well with this my second year of PhD studies, with an A- average, all but for the theory-based academic writing part, the academic format being new to my Indigenous mind.
I’d been coming to visit amongst these southern relatives for over a quarter a century now, convinced both of their ceremonial modern-day use and now, how it all might relate to my world of study and research.
As the Singer’s assistant, my brother brought over a small load of coals from the battered homemade stove. A small mound of it now took on a handful of cedar, filling the air with its distinct smudging scent.
After a long, extended pause, Spirit Helper began, each time using the impersonal and traditional ‘they’ to refer to spirit messengers his prayers had called forth. In its way, it always reminded me of how we of the natural world already see our place as simple visitors here on Mother Earth, knowing our place.
“They say you will need her protection. Your part is already done, and they know you as one of their own, with the Spirits. But others want to know what you are doing, so you must be careful with how you use this.”
There was a lot of other talk about the life at my school, which all served to remind me of how all of it was at the command of those called forth through the crystals before the Elder.
In the pause before the big Smoke, brother Lawrence filled in the gaps in essentially what was all foreign to me, even as a Dene relative from the Far North:
“These crystals he uses come from the four sacred mountains, which are like gathering places, communicating and storing the energy and information from the stars.
“The Singer’s prayers, all in Navajo, they have certain words and phrases which awaken Spirit Helpers, for what you are talking about.
“That Nat’oh, tobacco, you will smoke, also comes from them mountains.
“After you go ahead and use it we will add some water, which you will sprinkle on your personal items and sacred paraphernalia, when you get back on home.”
The natural tobacco was acrid to the taste, so powerful it took all I had just to keep what little I did inhale within me. Enveloped as in a cloud of its vapours I could yet make out my sibling’s kind words: “This is all meant to help you along at your school, brother.”
And indeed, it did. After I returned from the break my supervisor let me know that now my efforts were at the very least ‘acceptable’.
Thus, ancient traditions carry on.
I see a special journey that mirrors Antoine’s personal lived experiences. He finds his truth. This journey opens this picture from his earliest engagement with long-time-ago Dene Relatives. He blends this special connection so authentically, along with his story and inserted images which adds poetic color to his picture...a very special view from the top of this Mountain. —Gerald Antoine, Dene National Chief A powerful collection of stories, and life lessons honestly told that all assist in telling a story of renewal of hope. While it is the story of a Dene’s personal journey of self discovery, it’s a very human story that all can identify with. Survival and decolonization of Indian Residential School. PTSD, Dene culture and World View, Art, formal Education, Native American Church and \ internal evolution. Well worth the read. — Georges Erasmus, Indigenous leader and spokesperson With characteristic grace and generosity, Antoine Mountain gifts readers with a text that is part memoir, part art history lesson, and characterized throughout by an unyielding sense of wonder. A celebrated Dene artist, writer, and intellectual, Antoine shares memories from his life growing up on the land in Sahtu, Great Bear Lake Region (a childhood cut short by residential school), as well as his travels to Florence, Mongolia, and to the American Southwest to learn from his Navajo cousins. What emerges is an exquisite canvas of stories, prayers, paintings, and teachings, with words here to help us heal and endure. This is a treat, an opportunity to sit, in gratitude and companionship, with one of the North’s foremost artists and intellectuals, to follow the brushstroke of his life’s journey and ‘honour the mystery’ that is everywhere around. —Maggie Quirt, Professor of Human Rights & Equity Studies, York University This book/work is almost too vast to capture in a comment. But it is also notably specific. It is woven of an artist’s mind: full of poetry, meditation, prayer. And stories! It moves beautifully and with pace and naturally by way of stories. It is also in context(s): The context of the North and the Dene homeland; The context of kinship and cultural relations with the Dinéh people from the South, In the context of big ideas in art and culture and literature; In the context of confident, assured resistance to colonialism as it shows up in residential schools, in war, in academia. This book is a teaching. Many teachings. Like sitting with an Elder. We are fortunate when we sit with an Elder. We are fortunate when we sit with Antoine Mountain’s writing. Like the way an Elder speaks, this book reveals something whole to us in both its words and form. Sitting with it can be disorienting if we might be too dependent on linear Western European conventions. But it is gravitational and engrossing and a gift to the open hearted, open minded learner. — Loren McGinnis Host, The Trailbreaker CBC North Radio One