The Love Parts

Though it happens all the time, ethnographers are not supposed to fall in love with their subjects of study. Years ago, when I defended my doctoral dissertation Place Maps The Sociology of Home, my committee made me tone down a chapter I wrote about a sexual romance I had in the field . What follows are my edited notes and audio transcript with the truth of what happened very poorly and awkwardly hidden. Someday I will put all the love parts back.

The names in these notes have been changed except my own.  The name Jude Toulousse is a play on Jules Tonnerre, the romantic hero of Margaret Laurence's The Diviners, the most important novel to ever enter my life.

Scene 1: On the North Shore of Fort Matt, across the road and a half-kilometer away from Fort Matt High School, is the house Jude Toulousse lives in. It's like most of the government built houses on the North Shore, small and square, made out of cedar and stones and resting on a bedrock of stacked cement blocks. The walls are stained a dark reddish-brown and coming out of the roof is a shiny, metal chimney, narrow and round, like a stove pipe, it's small stream of smoke rising up into the air and twisting into the big gusts of steam and sulfur that blow over from the mill site, located right across the river.

From the road, in the daytime, the house looks small on it's lot, the afternoon sun bearing down on it brightly, reflecting off snow left so long un-shoveled, that the driveway is often completely hidden. Almost every time I visited Jude's house I had to park along the edge of the road and then make my way to the side door by stepping in and out of the old boot prints that he had left behind walking to and from his house, many of them permanently left there, frozen solidly into the ground.

Man, someone is stealing from my bloody woodpile again.

Stealing what?

Firewood? What do you think? It's expensive. I need to lock it up. It's getting so I'm going to have to lock my door. There are always kids running around out here, during the day when no one is around, kids running around and dogs pissing all over the place.

Scene 2: The inside of the house seems bigger than it's exterior, the side door opening up into a long and narrow kitchen, and just beyond it, is a large front room with unfinished walls, a poster of Che Guevera tacked right into the padding of the exposed insulation. To the left, is a bathroom and two bedrooms (and in one of them is a sewing machine, stereo and television set, which Jude inherited from his grandmother), and to the right is the room Jude used as a bedroom (the bed covered by many old and flattened-out quilts).

The front room is dominated by a large wood stove which is kept burning most of the time especially at night, since Jude's house didn't have electric heat or lights. And across the wall of the front room stretches a large picture window hung with a sheet for a curtain, that during the winter I spent time there was rarely ever drawn since the snow drifts outside obscured any view coming in or out, except for the passing headlights of cars, which sometimes filled the room fleetingly with light. I started spending time in Jude's house in the winter of 1997, when I was residing in the Manitoba backwoods off Highway 11 where I was gathering stories about forest dependency for the Canadian government.

Living full time in my field site gave me access to many of the private or dangerous parts of this place I had only heard about or seen in passing on my field trips there before, many of them places on Fort Matt, like that house over there on the North Shore, where Alma Toulousse's boy, Jude, back from the States or University or prison or someplace, had finally really lost it and ripped out his hydro box. As Rita Two Heart told me, "I tell you I don't know what happened to that boy. He was such a good boy, smart and handsome too. Got himself a scholarship down there, playing tennis for some University in California or Las Vegas or somewhere. But then he got all mixed up with all this nonsense down there in the States, some political, A.I.M. nonsense, something that they have down there. You know how they all are."

It was with Jude that I saw the Manitoba backwoods in the very early hours of the morning that are really still nighttime, driving all over Fort Matt, always giving lifts to people walking between the North Shore and the South, sometimes driving someone all the way out to Highway 59 to Traveler's Bay or to buy beer from the back room of the Birch Wood, where they'd sell alcohol after hours, mostly to people who walked there from the South Shore of Fort Matt. Sometimes we'd drive down as far as to the Blueberry Native Reserve (for a late night coffee at the restaurant there) or even the North End of Winnipeg to meet Jude's city friends at some bar, but always, we'd return to the privacy of his house, exhausted from the burden of my Whiteness (and femaleness) moving through the many different places where only Natives would go.

Me: Jude, you remind me all the pictures of Natives in my school books "making fires." One of my first badges in Brownies was the "Native Lore" badge. It had an igloo on it and a wigwam, or was it a tee-pee? I always used to get wigwams and tee-pees mixed up. That's who you are Jude. You're the "Native" on my "Native Lore" badge from Brownies -- And here I am in your house in the middle of Manitoba. Only, I don't know, it's not the same somehow. I mean, they never told us that Native's didn't have working bathrooms.

JT: Pipes freeze up in the winter outside of Madison, outside of Toronto. You are so spoiled --

Because I don't like having to pee in a bucket in your kitchen?

So you were a Brownie, eh? What? Like a Guide – Your were a Girl Guide, eh?

I never made it to Girl Guides. I quit before I could "fly up."

"Fly up?"

Wasn't your sister in Brownies?

My niece is, out in Calgary. She's a Brownie.

I loved Brownies. I loved the uniform. It made me feel like I was in the army or something. I don't know, like a Mountie.

Jesus, don't remind me. I've had enough with the goddamn Mounties. I've had enough with the Band Constable. Goddamn Band politics. Those guys are as bad as the cops over in Falls Bridge. I am so tired of those guys. So tired of their bullshit abuse of authority. I need to get to Winnipeg more. I go crazy whenever I come home here. I can't relate to anyone out here. I can't relate to these people.

That Band Constable. He's the one that sells drugs to the kids at Falls Bridge.

Who? Billy? Billy doesn't sell any drugs.

That's not what I heard at the social last week.

That social in Falls Bridge, for that family with the burned down house? All the wrong places get destroyed by fire out here ... One day I'm going to go out there and set fire to that Mill and burn it to the ground.

That's mean.

You remember when the Church caught on fire?

I wasn't here. I remember there was some collection box for it at Tony's (Authentic Italian Restaurant). It's strange being out here without Tony's open.

Tony was a asshole. He was really bad news out here, him and all those guys. I still see Tony over there behind the Birchwood (Hotel). Dealing drugs. Dealing guns. Ripping off Natives. They had that fire over there in Poplar Falls, in the Day Care Center, eh? Last fall. A little girl from the community was killed.

Yeah. I think I heard about that.

Her family lives just down the road from here. My brother knows them really well. He played a lot of hockey with the father. That's pretty much why he took off and left me this house. He just couldn't take it anymore out here. I really can't really blame the guy. He lived in this house his entire life with my grandmother and then she died. And then not a month later his best friend's daughter gets killed. It was just too much for him, eh, seeing someone so old pass and then seeing someone so young. It was hard on him, too many ghosts. That's why people leave here, eh? They can't take all the bad memories.

So this was your grandmother's house?

This was the house where the Mounties came and knocked on the door and took my father away from my grandmother and my uncles and my aunt.

Took them?

To the School across the River?

The Residential School?

Of course.

You know ever time I ask someone where the Residential School was, to draw a map for me, they always put it in a different place. So where was it exactly? Where the (Roman Catholic) Church is?

Just over there. Just across the River. I can show you where it was.

What happened to it?

Well what do you think? They burned it. Nobody wants any memory of that place. People are ashamed of it.

Whose ashamed of it? Natives?

Of course. But no, not Natives so much really. More like the Department of Indian Affairs. You know, it's like now, especially with all of this talk about all of the abuse that went on in those places, like all that sexual abuse, eh? It's just not something people really want to talk about.

Like who? Natives?

Who do you think? Natives. Whites. Noone out here who had to live around it. It's not like at the University where you read Howard Adams and sit around talking about colonial oppression. Shit. I heard more people talking about what happened at residential schools in Manitoba when I was (at the University of California at) Santa Barbara than I ever did out here. You think your Mill managers are going to tell you about what went on out here? They used to take the Native children to the Residential School and my grandmother was only allowed to see them for two hours a year. They lived right across the river and they could only see them for two hours! Behind this house, where you can see right across the River? That's where the School was. That's how close it was to this house. And she wasn't even allowed to visit.

I didn't realize that it was so close.

Of course. It was just across the River.

But families didn't see their children? Why? Because of the distance? Because their were bad roads? What about families on the South Shore?

Jesus, why do you think? Because of the River? The River is the road between the shores here in the winter. Their children were kept from them. That's why they built the School. To separate parents from children. My father never really grew up knowing my grandmother. Not how my brother grew up with her, or even how I grew up with her. My father doesn't think of this house as his home. Not like my brother does, not like I do. Why do you think my father packed up and moved out to Alberta? He has nothing here, no connection here. It was a good opportunity for him to move there and all, I mean there's no real work out here, eh, all the jobs are either with the Band or with the Mill, but that's not why he left. He left because he couldn't take it anymore. Just like my brother -- You know, if you really want to know about what the Residential Schools were like, you should really meet my Aunt Madeline, eh? It's not like she thinks the Residential School system was anything great or anything, eh, but she doesn't exactly think it was a totally bad thing either. She's a teacher now and she's always saying how all the kids out here today are totally undisciplined and totally illiterate. She says at least when the nuns were running the school people learned how to read and write properly -- She lives right next door, eh? Where I always park my truck? I drive her to Church nearly every night, over to the South Shore. She's in love with Father Paraday. You can come with me sometime. Every week she gives me some kind of blast about how I have no respect for the way things were. All we have to do is show up to give her a ride and you can hear all about what the Residential Schools were like without having to ask a single question. Every week I get the same speech. You might as well come along one day and listen in on it -- I've always really envied my Aunt Madeline. She really feels like she's a part of this place, like she belongs to it, eh?

Why do you stay here Jude? There is no one here for you to really talk to. You know, not like your activist friends and your friends from University, from Winnipeg.

I'm here to be with my River.

Oh come on.

It's true. This is my home, eh? It's harder to be out there, having to deal with all the racism and harassment for being Native. Here I don't have to deal with all that. There's racism out here of course, but at least there's a familiarity to the racism, so at least you know where it's all coming from… The racism out here it goes deep, eh, and it's personal. It gets passed on from family to family. It's not like in the city where you don't know every face you see. Where you don't know what to expect. At least out here you know where the racism is coming from. You hear stories about it, you know about, you expect it, you're prepared for it -- It's like those little girls waiting tables in Park's (Corner) who take their time to serve me and treat me with such hostility. All of them look like they grew up in Poplar Falls, in some house where their daddies bring home the big pay checks from the Mill, and their boyfriends are out there living it up on what they make doing shift work, part-time -- To them I'm just some Native from the Fort, some drunk, always on the make, spending welfare checks on lunch. But it doesn't matter so much how they treat me. As long as I know how it all works. As long as I know who I'm dealing with. As long as I know when to get pissed off and know when to just let it go, to just let it pass because everything is going along as usual, as is expected. Everyone lets racism pass out here. Not because they don't see it or because they don't think it's wrong, but because it's just the way life works out here -- It's a way of life really, and you know, it's not like you change everything about the way you get treated just for looking like some Native, just for looking like you're from the Fort. But at least here you know you can stop off at Park's (Corner), you know that there's places to come in from the cold, borrow a buck from someone, catch a ride -- My older brother Adolph was shot last month. He lived in Vancouver and it took three weeks before anyone came around to calling us, my mother, anyone. That would never happen out here. Out here everyone would know it if you got shot.

Shot? Your brother was shot?

Of course.

And no one contacted the family?

What do you think? Why do you look so surprised? Of course that happens. It happens all the time. What do you think? He didn't count. No Mountie cares whether he was alive or dead or accounted for. We are a disposable people. We're just Natives. They used to just pile up the dead Natives outside the Mill. The story was that the women would cross the river to meet their husbands when they got off work from the Mill, but the first stop was to check if their husband was piled up outside that back door. Killed off by the chemicals.

So Natives did have jobs in the Mill. You always say Natives never worked there.

Of course Natives worked there. That was part of the deal they made with the Chiefs, eh? When Mitag (Fort Matt) leased the Manitoba Paper Company a piece of Fort Alex to build that Mill, the Paper Company promised there would be jobs for Native people there… And sure there were jobs, but they were the most menial jobs, in the most toxic rooms. People usually quit because there was never any room for advancement and even if you did get any advancement none of the other (White) workers would listen to you.

I've never heard that story.

Of course you haven't. Why the hell would you of heard of it? "I never heard that story." All of this, all of our lives out here, it's just a game to you, isn't it? Asking all of these questions. Asking me these questions, for your book, for your story. You are just like them. You're exactly like them over there, all of your buddies over there in Poplar Falls, in the Legion. You're exactly like that Mill.

It's not a game to me. Asking about what happened out here doesn't mean I'm not connected to it. I'm just as connected to the history of what happened out here as you are. I'm as much a part of your father being taken away to (Residential) School as anyone who lives here. It's a part of me because don't know about it. I learned about history from the same textbooks you did. That's why I have to ask questions. Just like you ask questions and know all the stories about what went on here, even when no one out here ever talks about it, or if you learned about it from some book by Howard Adams. You've hardly lived out here. You've spent more time in the States and Toronto and Qu├ębec. Sitting in some trees in Vancouver with television stars who belong to Greenpeace. Every weekend you're off to Winnipeg or some, some gathering. I know more about what goes on around here than you ever will, so don't tell me that it's just a game to me.

Jesus. You walk around with a fucking tape recorder. You call that normal? Driving around all night in some place you don't fucking belong with a tape recorder? The first thing you said to me when you came back this time, "Oh Jude, look you have to see my tape recorder, now we can really get those guys at the Mill." And you use that same tape recorder to tape what happens on the Reserve, what happens in Park's (Corner). You never turn off that fucking tape recorder.

I turn it off.

You can turn it off all you want. What happens out here, in this place here, it's history, it will never be your story. You had all that childhood you told me about, all those Queen Mary School and Brownie Troop stories and trips to Curve Lake (Ojibway Reserve in Ontario). "They had little suede wallets with your name spelled out in beads." That's what you told me. You made soap sculptures of Eskimos and walruses. That's what you're always telling me about. All of your Native Days in school. "We never said Eskimo," you say. "We said 'Inuit.'" You told me all this. And just like all those childhood lessons that you learned about Natives in school, you come here like you think this is going to be some Neepewa (i.e., the town in Manitoba Margaret Laurence grew up in and based The Diviners on) that you can just walk into for a while to see what it's like. You're just like every girl I ever met at University (in Santa Barbara) who wanted to fuck me for some cheap thrill -- so they could tell all their girlfriends -- so they could feel like they were dangerous – that they were cool. You're just like those girls -- You're just a nobody out here – you're just a tourist – here for fun – to see the Natives walk along the road in the winter -- to patronize some woman in a bar and ask her to talk into your tape recorder about what she thinks it's all about, asking her questions about some politics, some economy, some history she knows nothing about – asking her questions just to fuck her over – like you say you're going to fuck those Mill guys over -- And do you know why she doesn't know about it? Do you know why she isn't as hip to all the lies about the world like you? -- Because she didn't get through Grade Eight at Queen Mary School in Peterborough -- She was here going to some shitty school in Falls Bridge with some shitty teacher who was too busy flying paper airplanes to teach her anything --

You're telling me about how I treat women? You're telling me I fuck people over? I've seen how you talk to women, Native women, and even worse White women. Women who look just like me. I've seen how you talk down to them and hit on them and harass them. I've seen you harass waitresses at Park's Corner, refusing to pay the tax on your bill, ripping them off, not leaving them any tip, not leaving them a dime, even after you sit there taking up one of their tables for three hours, drinking an eighty cent cup of coffee.

I leave tips.

I've never seen you leave a tip for anyone not anyone. Half the time you don't even pay the bill. I've seen you walk out of Park's (Corner) and not pay the bill a lot of times.

Who the hell are you telling me how to act? Everyone has their own struggles. Everyone has their own battles, their own beliefs in what's right and wrong. Leaving some fucking White ass waitress a tip isn't important to me. What happens to the Band, to the Reserve (Fort Matt), to my community, that's what is important to me? What happens to "the People."

So the waitress isn't a person? That waitress this afternoon. You called her a cunt the minute she took your order.

So you take care of the waitress. Leave me out of it. I don't give a shit about some girl from Poplar Falls, from Falls Bridge, I don't care about some waitress and the tips she makes.

She's not "one of the people."

No, she's not. She's not one of my people.

So, who are "your people?" First you say the guys at the Band Office aren't "your people," and then you say the people at University or in the States aren't "your people." The Mill isn't "your people." Your family isn't "your people." You tell me I'm not one of your people. So what about me? Why do you talk to me night after night, spend so much time with me when I'm not one of "your people?"

No, you're not, you're not one of my "people." But I like you.

Some Notes: Ethnographic fieldwork is an activity that requires people to interact in ways that are profoundly contrived, while at the same time deeply intimate, often creating a relationship between the sociologist and sociological subject that is as passionate as it is hollow. At no time during my field research did I ever experience this contradiction more intensely than I did that winter in Jude's house, where we would talk at length about the circumstances of our spending time together, driving up and down the icy highways of Fort Matt, a part of his home place, a part of my field site, the mundane facts of our respective social locations sometimes fueling, and other times extinguishing the stereotypes of our social difference, long learned before we ever met.

Trying to figure out whether our interactions and conversations were more superficial than they were "real" is to miss the sociological value of our relationship. Perhaps what is the one undisputable fact of our experiences together is that I would never have met or known Jude Toulousse, in the context of his life on Fort Matt, Manitoba, had I not myself been living there pursuing sociological field research.

Living in a field site not only grants a sociologist access to the physical and figurative place sites of a specific location in the world, but access to the borderlands of it's day, and the chance to move within and between the hours between daytime and night, the weekends and the workweeks, months of winter and months of spring. Having access to the shifting time of a place is the only way for a sociologist to move through and engage with all of the mundane circumstances of peoples' everyday lives there, which are often obscured by the practical sociological tropes these details create, especially to anyone who is unfamiliar with them, knowing about them only peripherally or in passing, from a newspaper, research grant proposal, or even, the side of the road. It wasn't so much that living in the field allowed me to see and experience social things that I would otherwise never known about or could have imagined would happen: Much of what I was able to record while living in the field I had heard about or caught glimpses of during my many field trips to the Manitoba backwoods before.

However, it was only during the more dangerous or private hours of the nighttime, early morning or late afternoon that I became familiar to the people who lived there, not necessarily befriended, or trusted, or embraced, but just simply more familiar, moving though their home place in the hours of the nighttime and the day, when the only light visible was that of the roadside stops that open early and close late or from the glow inside peoples' houses. This new familiarity not only affected my activities in the industrial forest during this field season, but everything that I had ever seen or heard while pursuing fieldwork there before. In fact, every memory of every field experience I had ever had there, even when I had the chance to revisit them, would always remain slightly unfamiliar to me, especially since once residing in the industrial forest I would regularly encounter people and place sites I had previously met.

Knowing the details of a place changes the ways a person sees, understands and names it, however, to know these details one also has to be "in place," and it is never possible to be in more than one place at any one time, even during the real live utopian fantasy of pursuing ethnographic fieldwork. No matter how well I knew Jude Toulousse or the details of Fort Matt, even in the dark, I still was a sociologist, temporarily living in the Manitoba backwoods at the Browne Hotel (a boarding house and new hotel under construction) built on Highway 11, surrounded by the outer reaches of the Poplar Falls Paper Company, as well as it's Mill and town site, a place that Jude would rarely visit, let alone live, since unlike me in my tours of Fort Matt, he never would have any reason to.