It felt good driving on the flat, trafficless
roads north to Selkirk, legs now warm in the summer air and Canadian music on
the radio. Sky as big as he had ever seen, crosswinds perfumed, forests dotting
the roadside the farther north he went. Murders of crows flew en masse among
the treetops, swampy bogs pungent as he passed, not a soul in sight.
Thomas found the Sundance by the river just out of town
past a small limestone church, old pick-up trucks parked along a line of trees
beside an open field. So on that June
summer day wearing his kilt, he saw Josh clad only in a golden skirt sundancing
and waving eagle feathers in front of the great Tree of Life that was
covered with different coloured prayer ties. Having missed the few two days,
his skin was already burned into a vermillion red and his technique was smooth.
It was the afternoon when Josh and three other sundancers walked to the huge
poplar tree and had hooks of bone pushed through the skin on his chest. Each of
the two hooks were attached to long sinew attached to the Tree of Life, each
other the four sundancers representing each of the four directions. Josh had
the West position around the tree.
was a sacred clown called a Wendigokaan that danced around backwards
trying the do everything against convention, embodying his contrary nature. The
clown ran around at will wearing a leather mask and leggings entertaining the
crowd until each of the four sundancers were given a command to walk backwards
facing the poplar. The sinew stretched and ripped the skin from Joshua's chest,
blood dripping from below the other three scars he had from the previous three
summers. But it was a few hours later when he witnessed Josh drag buffalo
skulls around the Tree of Life that he realized how serious and
gruelling this honoured ritual was. His twin was calm when they hooked bones
with string through the skin just behind his shoulders attached to four buffalo
skulls behind him. Stomach cringing, Thomas watched him pull the cluster of skulls that
skidded along the grass, horns crashing all over the place in summersaults and
flips, chucking up chunks of grass. The skin pulled but didn't break - not
until Josh had completed a full run around the Tree of Life. When the
bones snapped free, ripping the skin from his shoulders, the Sundancers roared
with hoots and shouts, celebrating that he had just purified the sins of his
family through his own suffering. Blood streaked down his back gleaming sweat
mixing with dripping blood.
Thomas sat transfixed; he couldn't believe it was his identical twin
After the Sundance ended and Josh was
changing and drinking water, not a drop of which he had been allowed for four
days, some of Joshua's Métis Indian friends invited Thomas to sit at their
campfire near tents pitched near the Sundancing field. It took them a while to
get over their initial shock that he was Joshua's twin brother, and were in the
phase of realizing that they are different people, a time when strangers said
strange things as if to distinguish them from each other. Not a comment about his
"Joshua stayed in that small
cabin of his all winter without any heat," said Andre. "Can you believe that?
The managers of the RV Park kept coming out to make sure he was still alive.
They even left soup for him at his door." Instead of paying rent for an
apartment, Josh had purchased a small cabin for a thousand dollars beside the
Brokenhead River in a town called Beausejour. He owned the cabin but paid a
small monthly fee for the land and electricity. With only an electric heater he
squeaked through the notoriously cold Manitoba winter with some nights getting
as low as minus fifty. It was, as his friends told Thomas, dangerous. It was
his indifference to extremism that they wanted to convey to Thomas, something
he was aware of, and by inference that he was the ‘soft' twin, the one who
worked in an office and lived a ‘normal' life.
many things, the Sundance was an event that had to be seen to be believed. Josh
had spoken about it before but the images Thomas had were nothing like the real
thing. Completing the four years of Sundances was one of the things that he had
tasked himself with in an effort to become a fully accepted Métis Indian in the
Red Man's world because it was considered one of the highest honours to
graduate as a Sundancer.
Thomas then noticed a
movement that he recognized intuitively, a sauntering with grace and a slight
posture issue that had always belonged both of them. To their friends, it was
their most distinct trait. With the sun setting and the
horizontal rays highlighting his long hair, the only thing Thomas saw was his
over-sized teeth. Without a word they both started laughing, and at the
same time pointed at each other, laughter the same cadence increasing in
A bear hug locked them together for a moment.
Thomas stood back to look at him a tingling sensation crept up his spine that
reached his temples. After years apart it stunned him to see another person as
unique as himself, especially the sight of his beard, which was identical to
missed you Tommy," he said.
been too long Josh."
what's with the dressing technique?"
party for Jamieson last night-"
flew in that kit across international borders just to come here to watch me
graduate?" Nodded. "That's says something, doesn't it?" He put his hand on
Thomas's shoulder. "It's been a long two years." He felt a familiar pang of
guilt at the sight of the bags under his eyes and the wrinkles on his face. It
hammered home how long he'd been out of his life.