Naomi never explains Saul’s vision to him explicitly, but it’s perfectly clear what it means: Saul has had a vision of the deaths of his ancestors, long ago.
Saul’s visions put him in contact with his ancestors, and give him a sense for the destruction his tribe has endured.
Benjamin and Saul learn how to make braids using tree bark. Braids are important in Saul’s tribe, because each family has its own unique braid. The purpose of the braid is to honor the importance of rice, “a gift of Creator.”
In this chapter, Wagamese will describe the importance of rice in Fish Clan society. The significance of rice to Fish Clan culture is another strong concrete example of the harmonious relationship between the Fish Clan and the natural world.
Naomi and Saul’s mother sometimes argue about how to worship Creator. In school, Mary learned to be “God-fearing,” but Naomi insists that there’s no need for this. Saul doesn’t really understand what his mother and grandmother are arguing about, but he enjoys his life by Gods Lake, which is full of simple chores.
Naomi subscribes to a traditional, Fish Clan form of spirituality while her daughter, who was educated in a state-sponsored, Christian school, subscribes to Christian views of divinity, in which God is something to be feared. The Canadian laws requiring Indigenous children to attend Christian schools, though they were officially designed to facilitate the assimilation of Indigenous people into white Canadian culture, had the effect of sowing discord within Indigenous communities, and gradually eroding Indigenous culture.
The rice moon comes to Gods Lake, meaning that it’s time for the family to prepare for the upcoming harvest. They then journey by canoe to the rice beds. There, Naomi explains, they’ll harvest the wild rice by bending down the big “heads” of rice, and beating them with a stick. Then, Benjamin and Saul will crush the rice into small bits by walking over it “with careful, steady steps.”
Harvesting wild rice is a difficult process, but many Indigenous Canadian communities depend on the grain for subsistence. Wild rice grows on tall, thin plants. The grains can be harvested by bending the plants and giving them a hard shake.
At the rice beds, Saul sees men and women collecting rice, and even filling entire canoes with rice. As he watches, Naomi explains that rice is a sacred part of their society. Creator, she explains, blessed the Fish Clan with a “country of rice,” where the rice is easy to find and collect.
As Saul learns about harvesting rice, Naomi impresses upon him the point that the Fish Clan is lucky to have been blessed with an abundance of rice, further emphasizing the gratitude and respect that the tribe has for the natural world.
For the rest of the day, John uses a long stick to bend down the wild rice plants, and Mary loads the rice into big baskets. Saul and Benjamin follow Naomi’s directions by stepping on the rice to break it up into pieces. In the middle of the day, however, Benjamin begins coughing up blood. The family tries to help Benjamin by giving him water, but by the next morning, Benjamin is dead.
The family’s idyllic time together comes to a shocking and sudden end, reiterating the point that the Indigenous schools policy has some far-reaching, harmful effects. (Saul makes it clear that Benjamin contracted his disease during his time in school.)