I met Randy Kapashesit at an Indigenous Peoples Conference in 1988. A giant Samoan warrior, Fa’afete Taito, and I were the delegates from Aotearoa/New Zealand. The conference had not gone well for us and we ended up in Frankfurt, Germany. Herb George (Satsan) of the Wetsuweten in British Columbia was also with us. I had no money and no airplane ticket out of Germany, but I did have a ticket from Los Angeles back to Auckland. Randy offered to pay for me to accompany him and Herb back to Toronto.
When we got to Toronto, Randy organised for us to speak to a number of Tangata Whenua (people of the land) groups in that city. We were given donations from each group and this funded our stay in Toronto. We then travelled down to Minneapolis for a big American Indian Movement meeting. I was fortunate to meet Winona LaDuke, her friend Nilok and John Trudell on that visit. I eventually made my way back home via Randy’s network across the country.
I didn’t see him again until 1996 when I visited him at Moose Factory during the Spring hunt. I stayed with him, his father Jimmy and his life partner Donna and several children at their hunting camp. I had always assumed that because we were both Indigenous Peoples we would be able to fit in each other’s worlds easily. The lesson I learnt on that trip was that even though there are fundamental similarities between the Maori and Cree cultures, there are also significant differences. It is important to always act with respect when receiving hospitality, and to quickly adapt to the way things are done when you are a stranger in a new community.
Randy was a kind, tolerant teacher about the Cree way of life. Jimmy was gruff but warm hearted, very much like our own kaumatua (elders) are. I have been many places in my life but that time is forever in my heart.
I was able to bring Herb George to visit with us in Aotearoa/New Zealand and it was a most fruitful trip. I also visited him in Vancouver in 1998. Unfortunately I never saw Randy again. I found myself several times in a position to be able to fund a visit for him and Donna down here for various treaty/land/indigenous development forums but always he would have difficulty disconnecting from his work. My family were blessed last year to be able to host his son Ajuawak for a short time when Winona was on a speaking tour in our country. There is a possibility that he may be coming back here to attend university.
Until I heard the devastating news of his passing, I looked forward to one day being able to return the kindness and hospitality shown to me by my inspirational brother Randy Kapashesit. Unfortunately that will never be now.
Kua hinga te totara nui o te wao nui a Tane
Kua whati te tahuhu o te whare
E tangi, e maringi te hupe me nga roimata
Hoki atu e te rangatira ki te ukaipo
Okioki mai koe i waenganui i ou tupuna
Kua hinga he tetekura, ka ara mai ra he tetekura
Ma matou e mahue ka haere tonu ki runga i te ara
Mo te painga o to tatou iwi e.
The great tree of Tane the God of the forest has fallen
The ridgepole of our meeting house has broken
We cry, mucus and tears intermingle and fall
Return, our chief to the mother’s milk
Rest forever amongst your ancestors
A fern frond is broken, but another springs forth in its place
It is for us who are left to continue travelling on this path
For the welfare and betterment of our people.
Ben Dalton is a member of the Ngapuhi tribe. He has been a part of the movement for Maori self-determination for over 30 years. He has been a front line activist then worked on community development projects in his tribal area in the mid north for two decades. He has been a protagonist in the Treaty Settlement process for the last decade and is now a senior civil servant responsible for increasing Maori Primary Sector productivity through the sustainable use of their resources.