It’s the middle of June, and the forecast is calling for a hot and windy day, so I get off to an early start. Sparrows are chirping, and I hear children playing in a park. On Elphinstone Street, a dead squirrel, dessicated and stiff, lies in the middle of the sidewalk. At the corner of 13th Avenue, the crosswalk light is broken. Mosaic Stadium looms at the end of a side street. Two robins seem to be responding to each others’ songs. Are they arguing? Is it a competition of some kind? Or is it a duet?
I’m not walking all that quickly, even though I’m not feeling particularly inspired this morning, and I think back to the day before last, and how quickly Christine was walking and how I had to work hard to keep up. It seems that this spring, because I’m walking slowly and taking notes and photographs, I’m not getting as fit as I might have done in previous years. Perhaps, like the writer Will Self, I’m not walking for fitness—that would be tedious, Self says—or for leisure, which would be “merely frivolous”; perhaps, then, like Self, I am walking “as a means of dissolving the mechanized matrix which compresses the space-time continuum, and decouples human from physical geography.”
An astroturf lawn I’ve walked past before looks even rougher now, with dandelions forcing their way up all around the edges. Plastic grass: a bad idea. I press the begging button at Lewvan Drive and wait to cross. To the south, a digital billboard near the airport glows bright red, then orange. I cross the Lewvan and turn north. A circular saw whines. I follow the footpath under the Canadian Pacific tracks, past sweet-smelling poplars and gophers whistling in the dry grass. Across the highway, I can see the convention centre where the Saskatchewan Health Authority is preparing a field hospital for the anticipated second wave of Covid-19.
Summer weeds—Canada thistle and goat’s beard—are growing everywhere beside the sidewalk. Outside a pink house with plum-coloured trim, I smell cigarette smoke. Dead cedar trees line a path to another house’s door. I walk past Luther College. A rabbit sprints across the road. A kid, sitting beside the sidewalk, nods hello. I start west, the long straight plod down Dewdney Avenue. It’s hot and humid, despite the wind, and I feel myself starting to sweat even though I’m walking in the shade of a row of half-dead Manchurian elms. A crow flies into traffic and somehow emerges unscathed. I notice a painting mounted on a bus shelter where an advertisement would normally go. At Wascana Creek, a red-winged blackbird clings to his perch in a tree despite the strong wind. Two geese and a clutch of goslings are swimming against the current.
The sidewalk ends at the RCMP training facility. I think about the recent case where Mounties struck an Inuk man with their truck as part of an arrest, and wonder what on earth recruits are taught inside. I step on a realtor’s business card. To the south, a train on the CP main line sounds its horn. A row of streetlights clicks and groans in the wind. I hear a meadowlark singing in the vacant field that seems to be part of the RCMP grounds. A rubber glove is lying in the grass—an artefact of an earlier phase of the pandemic—and a magpie perched on a stump cries or laughs, ignoring the “No Trespassing” signs. Red caution tape tied to the fence blows in the wind.
At Courtney Street, a cricket match is in progress in Sharp Park. Torn banners announcing homes for sale snap in the wind. The gusts are a lot stronger than the forecast I read this morning suggested; they threaten to tear my hat off my head, despite the strap fastened around my chin, and I take it off and stuff it into my bag. I duck behind the Westerra site office to take a pee. I’m hidden from the road, but then I realize I’m fully visible to everyone in a line of houses behind a wooden privacy fence. I hear another circular saw and catch the burnt wood smell that comes from using a dull blade. Tumbleweeds skitter across the road. Further west, the city’s bunker is silent for once. A baby crow, or perhaps a grackle, lies dead on the shoulder.
My friend Glenn passes and honks. I turn on Pinkie Road. Real estate signs advertising apartments in Westerra have blown up against a chain-link fence. The pile of grain I saw a few weeks back has disappeared; maybe it blew away. Passing vehicles raise clouds of stinging dust. Finally I arrive at my destination: the RIIS burial ground. A week ago, I drove here early in the morning, before the wind came up, to record the sounds of birds and traffic for another project, but I didn’t bring any tobacco and I didn’t pay my respects. I haven’t felt good about that. It was extractive, even though I was only taking away a digital sound file, and Settlers need to learn to stop taking without giving back. That’s the reason I walked here today, despite the wind, to make amends for that extractive behaviour.
The sign asking visitors to think about the children has fallen over and I set it back up. A rabbit leaps out of the ditch and scurries across the gravel road, and red-winged blackbirds fly towards me. I kneel on the ground and fish a pouch of tobacco out of my bag. I put some on the ground and am surprised that the wind doesn’t carry it away. I think about the children buried here, then I sit leaning against a fence post and drink some water. Across the road, a gas flare at the LNG terminal is blowing horizontal. The wind whistles in the power lines, but even so, it feels quiet and peaceful here. Maybe because I’m sitting instead of walking.
I stand up and turn for home. Now I’m walking into the wind, and it’s neither easy nor pleasant. I’ve been finding the constant wind this spring scrapes at my nerves. I think about other seasonal winds—the Santa Ana in California, or the mistral in France and the sirocco in Italy—and how they are reputed to cause emotional distress. Maybe the wind that has been blowing almost every day this spring is affecting me the same way. I surprise a flock of grackles, which fly up out of the ditch into the air. At the corner of Dewdney Avenue, a man walks past—he’s been collecting bottles and cans for the deposit, it seems—and we wave at each other. Wind gusts threaten to blow me off the shoulder into traffic. I decide to take shelter from the wind at the Tim Horton’s at the Saulteaux Crossing gas station. I order a sandwich—maybe I’m getting cranky because I’m hungry, not because of the wind—and sit at a table. Am I going to keep walking, despite the wind? I decide to call home for a ride, but there’s no answer. I can’t sit at this table all afternoon, I think, and I decide to keep walking.
The rest of the story of this walk threatens to become only about the wind. I stop taking pictures and notes and concentrate on holding my head so that the wind won’t tear my glasses away from my face. I walk past the industrial waste disposal facility and smell a chemical odour. What am I inhaling? I wonder. I turn onto 13th Avenue. Red-winged blackbirds flying above a slough are being blown backwards by the powerful wind. A train passes, heading east, hauling a line of double-stacked containers on flatcars that must be a kilometre long. A truck stops; the driver asks if I need a lift. I’m tempted, but I think about the pandemic and decide to walk instead of getting into a car with a stranger. “I’m okay,” I tell him. “But thanks for stopping.” I’m leaning into the wind as I walk, or stumble, up the gravel. My phone rings. Christine is offering to give me a lift. I tell her where I am and she says she’ll leave right away. I’m almost at the airport fence when she arrives. I realize I’m not that tired from the walk, or the wind, but that it’s just become too unpleasant to be out here. Without an alternative, I could keep walking, but it’s a lot easier to ride home in comfort.
I look out of the passenger window and think about the land I’ve been walking on over the past few weeks. The Global Transportation Hub, the Regina Bypass, the Regina Indian Industrial School—they’re all about the land: who owns it, who controls it, who profits from it. That’s easy to see when we think about the GTH and the Bypass, but because the Industrial School was supposed to help eliminate Indigenous cultures and languages, it was also supposed to erase Indigenous people from this place, to void their claims to the land so that Settlers could occupy it without worrying about those competing claims. After all, once Indigenous peoples could no longer claim to be Indigenous, then their claims to the land would be forfeited. They would be just like Settlers, with no claim to the land that would potentially take precedence over the claims Settlers make with property deeds and land titles. That’s the argument Patrick Wolfe makes in an influential article on the genocide of Indigenous peoples in the Americas. “The question of genocide is never far from discussions of settler colonialism,” Wolfe writes. “Land is life—or, at least, land is necessary for life. Thus contests for land can be—indeed, often are—contests for life” (387). Rather than genocide, though, Wolfe prefers the term “logic of elimination,” because genocide can happen outside of settler colonial states (387). The “primary motive for elimination” of Indigenous peoples, for Wolfe, is simply “access to territory. Territoriality is settler colonialism’s specific, irreducible element” (388). “The logic of elimination not only refers to the summary liquidation of Indigenous people, though it includes that,” Wolfe continues; that logic “is an organizing principal of settler-colonial society rather than a one-off (and superseded) occurrence,” and that elimination can include activities familiar to Canadians: “child abduction, religious conversion, [and] resocialization in total institutions such as missions or boarding schools” (388). “Settler colonialism,” Wolfe argues, “destroys to replace”: it destroys Indigenous cultures and social structures and languages in order to replace them with its own versions (388).
So the Indigenous presence on the land here, right here, was replaced—mostly—with farms and highways, with factories and an industrial waste disposal facility and a half-empty warehouse park. The Regina Indian Industrial School attempted to eliminate that presence in another way—by eliminating the Indigenous people themselves, by eradicating their languages and cultures, their spirituality and their connection to the land. It didn’t work, of course; the Saulteaux Crossing gas station, the Indigenous-owned Tim Horton’s where I ate lunch, the sign at the corner of Pinkie Road and Dewdney Avenue announcing that the land belongs to the Zakimē Anishinabek First Nation are all signs that the logic of elimination is imperfect and incomplete. But that logic is still in operation. Wolfe describes that logic, but he doesn’t explain how those of us who live in Settler states can break with that way of thinking, that ideology, and begin to make amends for our past behaviour. That’s the task ahead of us, though, if we’re going to live here in an ethical way.
Self, Will. Psychogeography, Bloomsbury, 2007.