Post-Pop Idol, Vulvana, reflects on “Manitou Island”

Shortly after the burial ceremonies, Vulvana interviewed with Entertain Me Magazine: Our technological society offers nothing but self-denial and self-annihilation. Under the leadership of Gerbi Norberg, his mother Norma Butler-Norberg, the medicine man Asawasanay and the village elder Pamequonaishcung, these people have decided to forge their own course. They are returning to the essence of life, the earth itself. They are redefining human progress. They’re throwing away technology, building a society where the family and community are not just political promises.This is a land to which the forgotten people can go, you know, what Victor Hugo called the miserable of the earth, the dispossessed. This is their land. This is where they belong.

“Manitou Island”: Individual Response Tests

My parents enrolled me in a private grade school, The Venture, where the regular curriculum of maths, sciences and languages was mixed with Individual Response Test Situations (IRTS). A typical IRTS involved being left alone in a room full of toys, while the psychologists watched from a one-way window. I don’t remember doing anything much except staring off dumbly.I was accident prone. By the time I was 12 years old, I already had stitches in my knee (bicycle), chin (pool), shin (bicycle), lip (hockey stick), elbow (bicycle), thumb (car door) and knee again (bicycle again). A week before summer vacation in Grade 12, I broke my leg in a car accident. So instead of starting a summer job at the bank, I went to Cedar Lake and stayed with my grandparents. The highlight had to be catching a six-pound bass. I was so excited that I pulled the motor’s cord with the motor in gear and was thrown out the back. I tread water, my cast dissolving in the water, and watched the boat circle around me. I ruined my shoulder trying to grab it once. Finally the boat worked its way to shore and ran up on the rocks. And so I lost the fish, wrecked the boat and had my leg in the cast for another two months.

The Inspiration of “Manitou Island”

The Robinson Treaty made in the Year 1850 with the Ojibewa Indians of Lake Huron, conveying certain lands to the crown of Canada is a stark reminder of a history to regret.It’s very officious, legal and permanent-sounding: “…the sum of two thousand pounds of good and lawful money of Upper Canada…to convey unto Her Majesty, her heirs and successors for ever, all their right, title and interest to, and in the whole of…eastern and northern shores of Lake Huron, northern shores of Lake Superior, together with the islands…” The fact that our history is centered on stories like this – stealing tens of millions of acres of land to bleed it dry – inspired me to write a book some years ago, now being transformed into an illustrated novella: Manitou Island.

“Asawasanay.” Norma poured him a glass of water. “That’s a beautiful name.”     

“I was named after one of my forefathers. His name is on the Robinson Treaty, the treaty that signed away all of these lands.”

“I don’t understand,” Gerbi replied. “I mean, isn’t there some kind of custom to what you’re doing here? Don’t you have rituals or anything like that?”

“What would you have me do? Appear on a white stallion? Or perhaps you envisioned a birch-bark canoe.”  

“How did you get here?”   

“I hitchhiked.”

“You hitchhiked,” Gerbi repeated dully. 

Young Adult Lit: “Manitou island”

I’m developing a screenplay into a piece of fiction for young adults. It’s a story of native legends and magic realism, set in Northern Ontario on Manitou Island.

It was bright and hot; it almost felt like summer. I arrived at the island in the outboard and saw my mother sitting on the dock with a dark thin man, an Ojibwa.        

“We have a visitor, Gerbi.” Norma tied the bow of the boat. “This is Asawaswanay.”           

“Mr. Norberg.” He bent down and shook my hand. 

“Asawaswanay has come to us about the good spirits,” my mother said.      

“I am the Midewewin of my people,” he said. “What you might call a priest or a shaman.”        

“I didn’t realize there were any shaman left.”          

“The Midewewin was forbidden to practice the traditional ways some 80 years ago. We were forced to hide our ceremonies. Many of my people came to reject these ceremonies. The Manitou were forgotten.”  


“The Manitou are the spirits of the land. They inhabit the world, the forests, the waters, the sky, everywhere. The Midewewin communicates with the Manitou. They have spoken to me of this lake and this island.”

“Are you making a claim on our land?” I asked.      

He smiled and then said, “We have no interest in the gold.”

As I have mentioned in previous blogs, research can be one of the greatest aspects of the work. I spent a few afternoons in the Ontario Archives and was lucky enough to acquire a copy of The Robinson Treaty. IMAG2685This became a virtual gold mine for both historical information and Ojibwa names, two of which I used for characters: Asawaswanay and Pamequonaishcung. IMAG2687The question is whether to shorten them or not. I think not.