Monday morning, Sept. 23, 2019, dawned bright and crisp and clear. A wonderful Autumn day awash with the Creator's colorful fall palette. A perfect day and time to start an important Spirit Journey, and so Louis George (Smokey) Bruyere, husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather, mentor, and friend set out on the path that he alone must travel.
From an early age, his honest and steadfast work ethic became engrained by following the examples set by his parents, Lillian (Lums) and Theodore (Biddy), and grandparents, George and Mable Calder, and Minnie and Louis Bruyere.
When he was 12, he started working with his cousins under the tutelage of his aunt, Maude, and uncle, Bob, commercial fishing on Rainy Lake. He set nets in the early morning, hauled them in the afternoon, and then went on to build docks. He was no stranger to hard, honest work.
In the early years of his life, he joined the circus and hitchhiked to B.C. where he topped the tall trees for the lumber companies there, and down to St. Louis.
He would often comment that in those days you could finish one job in the morning and start another one in the afternoon. You could often work for your dinner. Formal schooling was sometimes put on the back burner because he needed to get on with living.
After a varied career, he settled on becoming a lumberjack; log drives, cutting and hauling timbers to the lake, watching the use of horses to haul the large logs of the day.
Working with his father and his uncle, Dempsey, they used their pike poles and cork boots to walk the booms. He drove wannigans that towed the big booms to the mill here in Fort Frances, and although some saw it as a romantic time, it was hard and sometimes very dangerous work.
Ever looking to better himself, at age 20 he went to Thunder Bay (Port Arthur) to become a heavy-duty equipment mechanic, and it was here he met and married the love of his life, Virginia (Ginny) Melnick.
Together they raised four children: Ted (Jen), Cory (Nicole), Merle, and Christa (Brian). Their hearts being four times too large for them, they also took under their wings numerous foster children who also benefited from their sure and steadfast love.
The 1970s were a very interesting time in the area of Indigenous rights, and the repatriation of the Canadian Constitution.
He became an active participant in advocacy for Native Rights to ensure that those who came after had a basis to continue moving forward, and for this work he was awarded the Queen's Jubilee Medal.
When that stint was accomplished, his next goal was to explore the inner workings of the government, and once again through hard work and perseverance, he took the opportunity to learn.
When the European community placed a ban on all furs, as part the negotiating team with the Fur Institute of Canada, they were able to negotiate a deal in which the Canadian trappers were able to continue their livelihood. This earned the Award of Excellence—the highest governmental recognition.
He taught Aboriginal Law and Advocacy, and Community Development, drawing on his vast practical knowledge. When the opportunity came for him to be able to bring all this knowledge and experience back to his home reserve, he looked on it as coming full circle, and that everything he had done up to this point had a clear and definite meaning.
His involvement on the World Council of Indigenous Peoples, The Institute of the Americas, Transitional Halfway Houses, Human Rights Advocacy, and Restorative Justice were special interests of his until the day he started his journey.
Always intensely interested in youth, he continually encouraged them to continue their education and explore traditional values, so they could be the best they could and pass on what they learned to others.
He loved being a part of the Lakers family as goal judge and an avid supporter of the players and their families.
He spoke with great pride of the resurgences of interest in the traditional ceremonies and values, feeling that it was important that those who were lost could find something to hold on to and begin to move forward.
Ricing, drumming, sweat lodges, regalia making, naming ceremonies, traditional medicines, pride of history and seeking solutions rather than just complaining, to him were a source of positive steps forward.
He was fond of all children, knowing they were the future, and loved interacting with them whenever he met them at pow-wows and restaurants.
His grandchildren, Cezanne, Tyler (Madisson), Chace, Matthew, Naomi, James, Ruby, Dorothy, Paige, and Erika, and great-granddaughter, Lilly-Ann, will miss their Papa and Uncle.
His sisters, Wendy (Everett) and Roberta, and brothers, Lawrence (Carol) and Peter (Faye), will be consoled by the wonderful memories built up over the past few years, following the mantra of “If not now, when?" and "Leave nothing left unsaid.”
He gave us the fantastic gift of time and started his journey on his own terms.
A celebration of his amazing life will take place at the Couchiching First Nation Multi-Use Recreation Centre on Saturday, Oct. 5 at 2 p.m.
The family invites all those who wish to celebrate with us to join us at that time.
Because of the vast extent of his family and acquaintances, a second memorial service will be held in Ottawa in the early spring of 2020, close to his birthday in May.
In lieu of flowers, Smokey requests any donations be directed to the local Cancer Care Unit at La Verendrye Hospital for patient comfort, c/o Northridge Funeral Home, Box 89, Emo, ON P0W 1E0