‘THE QUEEN’S GONNA pass over Charlie and hand over the Crown to William,’ Chickee said to Buzz. ‘Poor Old Chuck, always on the bench, never in the game.’
Buzz paused to compose himself. They were on a ‘nutrition break’ during a trauma-informed workshop at the healing centre on the rez. Buzz had been happily chowing down on chocolate-dipped strawberries and chugging cucumber water when his cuzzie Chickee, as was her MO, skipped a stone across the placid calm of his day.
‘Where’d you hear that?’ Buzz asked, in the most half-hearted way he could muster. He tried to sound disinterested and polite. It was his only hope of getting through the conversation unscathed.
‘I made it up. Because that bridesmaid-never-a-bride thing is so 1900s.’ Some people on the rez called Chickee a feminist. Some of the old folks called her a women’s libber. She rolled her eyes and shook her head when they did and started talking about the history of feminism, using words like patriarchy, privilege, intersectionality and nationalism.
‘I agree. But no, I meant about Prince Charles getting benched.’
‘I read it. She’s like a hundred years old and her husband-cousin has already retired.’
‘She’s ninety-one!’ Buzz snapped. ‘I think.’
‘Trust you to know,’ Chickee said.
He snuck a glance. Did she suspect? It was freaky how she could pick up on the very things he hoped she wouldn’t. Please don’t let her suspect how my pounding heart is hiding secret joy. Not here. Not surrounded by the trauma informed.
‘Well, however old she is,’ Chickee continued, ‘she’s ready to give it up and retire but she doesn’t want Chuckles to be King.’
‘How do you know?’ How could she possibly know when he didn’t?
Chickee winked, ‘Word on the cobblestone street, my neechee.’
Buzz’s head was aflutter. Twitterpated even. Just the thought of it. Could it be true? Princess Di’s beautiful son would become King instead of her big-eared philandering ex-husband? Kate would be Queen? Buzz turned from Chickee and pretended to cough so he could pump his arms like a footballer who’d just scored a goal.
Chickee immediately handed him a piece of weekahn for his cough and stared at him in a way that made Buzz automatically check his fly and run his tongue over his teeth in search of stray strawberry seeds. Stay cool, man, he told himself. Stay cool.
‘Well,’ Buzz said, ‘that’s good, isn’t it? I mean, he seems a lot nicer than his dad and that woman.’
‘Nice?’ Chickee stared at Buzz. ‘Relatively speaking, I guess.’ She checked for Buzz’s reaction. ‘See what I did there? Relatively speaking.’ No one found Chickee quite so funny as Chickee.
‘He’s more normal than Charles at least.’
‘Sure, if living in castles surrounded by the plundered wealth of Indigenous people the world over and being next in line to rule the “Commonwealth” can be considered “normal”, then yeah, he’s a peach.’
Buzz’s ears turned almost the same colour as the strawberry juice dripping onto his ribbon shirt.
Fortunately, Chickee didn’t notice because someone had brought out some bite-sized ancient-grain bannock and homemade duck confit, and she’d made a beeline over to the food table just as one of their other cousins strolled over.
‘Did you know that I’m 1/128th British royalty?’
Buzz rolled his eyes with such force, he nearly fell backwards. ‘Memegawansi, you are not British royalty.’
‘Uh, yes, I am.’ They looked at Buzz the way teens used to look at parents who couldn’t program the VCR or the way teens now look at parents who know what the hell a VCR is. ‘Gawd.’
Meme was nineteen and already walked to their own drum song. They read Indigenous poetry, followed an ‘ancestral diet’, chose their own pronouns before they were old enough to understand either ‘gender’ or ‘neutrality’, shared a house with seven rescue cats, had a red line tattooed down the middle of their chin, could sing any ’70s glam-rock song Buzz could name, and was the youngest head councillor in the community’s history of colonial-government-imposed Band Council elections.
Buzz weighed his options. He could say, ‘No, you’re not’, and risk an extended back and forth with his young cousin or he could get into a lengthy discussion of family history. Neither was appealing at that particular millisecond in time or place. He decided to try a distraction.
‘Hey, are you going to the Colour Explosion Glow Dance Party and Jackpot BINGO at the Community Centre next week?’
‘Cha! Who isn’t?’
Buzz was just about to wax lyrical about the funkiness of glow-in-the-dark BINGO dabbers when Meme added, ‘Just ’cause I’m in line to inherit a castle and jewels and shit doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy some camaraderie with you commoners here on the rez.’
Sometimes Meme was like a cross between Winona LaDuke and Steven Wright.
It was right about then that Buzz choked on his own saliva, sending him into a fit of coughing and hacking so extreme that Meme seriously expected to see old Buzz’s lung make an appearance.
‘Hey, Buzzie,’ they said, ‘you remind me of that dad in The Road.’
Even though Buzz was sure he felt Mishipizheu’s icy grip pulling him into the underworld, he heard Meme’s comment and, in an ill-considered attempt to clapback, flailed his arms around clumsily, somehow dislodging the offending phlegm, spewing it across Meme’s face and into their open maw.
Never before in the history of humankind has a sentient being gagged, spit and cussed like Meme did in the minutes and weeks following that precipitous event. Sure, Regan came close in The Exorcist but that lasted mere moments. Meme never did stop spitting and spewing. Forever after they’d have flashbacks and begin spitting uncontrollably, sometimes yelling ‘Out! Out, damned spit!’ They always did like Shakespeare.
‘Order! Order!’ Chickee threw down the proverbial hammer and the real and/or imagined gavel two more times, because she liked the sound and besides, four is her favourite number. ‘Relevance?’
The Omniscient Narrator rose. ‘Goes to character, Your Honour.’
Chickee pondered for a moment. Not about whether or not Meme’s apparent digression belonged in the story but about why she, Chickee, the activist, the one who had round danced and marched in every Idle No More and Black Lives Matter protest in the territory as well as several surrounding reserves, suddenly was involved in a scene that seemed to be replicating the White Man’s judicial system. British common law, no less.
‘I’ll allow it,’ she finally bellowed. ‘But don’t forget to spiral back. And remember, you’ve only got so many words left before you reach your word count. Now somebody get me out of this gown and back into a restorative justice process. Geez!’
Despite all of the commotion, Meme was not one to let things go. So, after raiding the health-centre supplies, gargling with a full bottle of mouthwash, brushing their teeth and tongue sixteen times, making an emergency call to their therapist, rubbing their tongue and the insides of their cheeks with a washcloth, and inventing a whole lexicon of new swearwords that included transliterations, portmanteaus and a blend of languages ranging from Anishinaabemowin to Latin to Maori to Quebecois French to Aramaic to Yolngu to the Queen’s English, Meme turned to Buzz and shielded their mouth with their hand, parted their lips slightly to speak.
Buzz, however, ready and in full sneak-up attack mode, said, ‘I guess since you’ve got some of my DNA mixed in there, you’re only about 1/129th British royalty now, eh?’
BACK IN THE workshop, Buzz was perplexed. Maybe even flummoxed. The workshop had brought so much to his attention about the impacts of colonialism and genocide, and how it was impacting Indigenous people. But what was bugging him most was wondering what it was inside of him, what was it about his life, that made him so damned interested in British royalty? It certainly wasn’t their good looks. Until Lady Di came along with that shy tilting of her head, those big blue eyes and her less-compromised genetic material, they were (dare he say it?) rather homely. Sure, Randy Andy had his moments but, like Charles, he and Edward were terminally boring. Princess Diana was visiting hospices and walking through minefields while her husband was blathering on about saving old buildings. Despite this, from the time he was a kid, Buzz’d been fascinated by the idea of kings and queens, castles, knights, courts, the Tower of London, the whole nine yards. Sure the royals had married their cousins for generations and were mostly dimwits and sociopaths, but their family history was all pomp and pageantry, betrayals and beheadings, intrigue, dirty tricks, affairs, scandals, conspiracies, executions and assassinations. Even Princess Anne had almost been kidnapped at gunpoint and, despite her drab image, had argued with the gunman. After reading about that Buzz was actually kind of surprised that she hadn’t offed her brothers and claimed the throne. But to be fair, since the Queen was still alive, it was possible she was just waiting for the right moment. He almost hoped she would.
Still, even though the history of the monarchy made a hell of a good, extremely long, story, Buzz was embarrassed at just how fascinated he was and, even more, just how much he had grown emotionally invested in the British royals, especially the two young princes. And not just in a complicated, symbolic, treaty-based way either. Also in a fan-crush, royal-watcher, royalty-trinket-and-bauble-collector kind of way. It was absurd! Impossible. It was Buzz’s deepest, darkest secret.
Once, when they were in high school, Chickee had caught him reading The Lady in the Tower in the woods behind the old gym.
‘Whatcha got there?’
Buzz was so engrossed in the book, he hadn’t heard her approaching and when she’d spoken he’d jumped and nearly fallen off the rock he was perched on. His reflex was to throw the book down.
‘The book,’ Chickee said, giving him a side-eye.
‘Oh, that. I think some girl must’ve left it here,’ he said, adding, ‘or something’, so that, technically, he wouldn’t be lying.
‘What’s it about?’
‘I don’t know!’ he blurted, adding ‘exactly’, so that, technically, he wouldn’t be lying.
‘Sheesh, settle down. You were reading it, weren’t you?’
‘Well, yeah, I mean, I kinda glanced at it,’ he said, adding ‘you might say’, so that, technically, he wouldn’t be lying. After all, truth and honesty are two of the Seven Grandfather Teachings.
‘Pretty intense “glancing” cousin,’ Chickee said. ‘You must’ve read something.’ And with that she bent forward to pick up the book. Buzz immediately stooped to intercept it thus bashing his bulbous noggin into hers.
‘Owwww!’ she howled. ‘Dang it, Buzz, I think you broke my crown!’
Buzz went tumbling down after her. They both landed on their backs on the ground, knees bent, and if they’d been cartoon characters, a ring of stars would have circled their respective heads. Still, despite nearly knocking himself senseless, Buzz had managed to land on top of the book. Out of sight, out of mind, right? He was pretty darn proud of himself. Subterfuge wasn’t just for the House of Windsor.
‘Get off that book!’ Chickee said nanoseconds later. ‘Why’re you being so secretive about it anyways?’
‘What is it? Fifty Shades of Princesses or what?'
Wait. Wait. Wait. Hold it right there. Buzz was incensed.
What? The Omniscient Narrator asked.
Not you. The Writer.
That Fifty Shades book wasn’t even written when Chickee found me behind the school reading.
Oh, do we have to start with that whole linear plot thing again? Chickee interrupted in her usual fashion. Remember that whole talk about time and kalpaks and circularity?
No, because we haven’t had that talk yet.
Well, we will. Remember?
How can I remember something that hasn’t happened yet?
Chickee slapped her palm against her forehead.
It’s just sloppy, Buzz protested. And not even culturally informed.
I don’t have time for this, the Writer wrote. I’ve got deadlines.
And with that she wrote:
‘What is it? Tales from the Smokehouse Princess?’ Chickee asked and snorted.
A bit clumsy, Buzz said, but okay.
I like it, said Chickee. Love the reference. Those paintings by Odjig… Identity-forming. Just wow!
Can we move on?
Buzz was pouting.
AFTER THE FLYING phlegm incident and Buzz’s 1/129th zinger, Meme had gathered all of the dignity they could muster and turned to face their older cousin again.
‘I am,’ Meme stated in a rather Descartian manner. ‘My great-great-great-grandmother had a one nighter with Bert who, it turns out, was not just some oversexed farm boy visiting Niagara Falls like we assumed, but the oversexed Prince of Wales, Albert Edward, also known as Bertie.’
‘No way!’ said Chickee, who barged back into the conversation, as she tended to do. ‘Anyways,’ Chick continued, ‘an Anishinaabe woman wouldn’t have gotten anywhere near that prince, no matter how ragey his hormones were. First of all, we needed passes from the Indian Agent to leave the rez.’
‘When was it?’ Buzz asked, confident he could trip up Meme with his superior knowledge of the British monarchy.
‘Near as I can figure, about 1860.’
Damn! Bertie had toured North America in 1860 when he was about sixteen years old. And he had spent time in Niagara Falls. No… It couldn’t be. Could it?
‘Wait,’ said Meme, ‘we needed passes?’ Meme flicked their green streaked hair from their eyes and looked earnestly at Chickee.
‘Yep, but I don’t think we needed ’em pre-Confederation…’
‘Yeah, it wasn’t until after the North-West Rebellion, which was in the 1880s,’ Buzz said. Never let it be known that he did not also know Indigenous history and herstory. He was hoping Chickee was noticing. ‘1885, I believe.’
‘Ever sick!’ Meme said. ‘That’s like apartheid.’
‘Well, this is where they got the idea,’ Buzz said.
‘Colonisers,’ Chickee said, shaking her head. ‘Always appropriating. Always stealing – even from each other.’
‘Anyway, it wasn’t an Anishinaabe great-great-great-grandmother. It was one on my dad’s side.’
‘How do you know?’
‘Because we did the family tree,’ Meme said. Then they rolled their eyes and Buzz was sure he heard those eyeballs making a weird noise which he swore sounded just like duh.
‘No. I mean how do you know it was him: Bertie, the prince?’
‘Oh, I pieced it all together. Besides, look at me. I look royal.’
‘Oh, you’re royal all right,’ Chickee giggled. ‘A royal pain in the…’
‘Asking because even though you wouldn’t be in the line of succession, maybe you’d be able to inherit,’ Buzz interjected with impeccable timing.
‘Like a castle or something, right? I think I’d pick Buckingham Palace.’
Chickee slapped Meme on the back and laughed. ‘What sass! Of course Buckingham Palace. Dream big, eh?’
‘But the Queen doesn’t own the palace, technically speaking,’ Buzz wasn’t sure how much to say. If someone asked, how could he explain how he knew this?
‘Damn rights! It’s all stolen,’ Chickee said. ‘Nothing but a bunch of thieves and liars, those royals. Royal Proclamation! Hah! Bloodthirsty too, killing each other’s kids and moms.’
‘Who owns it?’ Meme asked.
‘We do!’ Chickee said. ‘All the Indigenous people whose resources were stolen for the benefit of the Queen or King. Treaties not fulfilled while they stole our land and everything else.’
‘Well, actually…’ Buzz said. But since no one was listening, he thought better of it and stopped talking. Like any good Anishinaabek, royal-watcher or not, he knew when to keep quiet.
‘It should all be given back…’
‘Remediation, restitution and redress before reconciliation!’
Chickee and Meme were getting more and more excited. Their eyes were sparkling and crinkling up and they started tripping over their words. Buzz patted his hair and flicked his braid.
‘Then let’s take it back!’
Meme and Chickee stared. Their lower jaws flopped open. Their pupils dilated.
‘Buckingham Palace,’ said Buzz. ‘Let’s go.’
THEY SPENT THE next three weeks planning it out. How they’d make speeches at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park, hand out copies of the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and a list of demands, charge up to Buckingham Palace in full regalia, plant an Anishinaabe flag, send out media releases, call out the Queen, insist she speak with them, disrupt any appearances by the Royal Family and probably get arrested.
It was a pretty good plan too, except for that getting arrested bit. The thing about their plan was it was really difficult to schedule. Meme was busy with Band Council business. The quarries issue was going off the rails, the seniors’ housing new build was behind schedule, Indian/Aboriginal/ Indigenous Affairs was making its usual unnecessary reporting demands for program funding, and the local fishery was being threatened by environmental degradation and invasive species. In other words, same shit, different day. Chickee had signed up for ash-basketry classes, Anishinaabe language classes and a Sixties Scoop settlement information session, and she was booked to speak at four different universities, facilitate a workshop on healing intergenerational residential-school trauma and organise a night of storytelling at the seniors centre.
As for Buzz, he had his bags packed and a hotel booked.
When the plane landed, Buzz could hardly wait to initiate Operation Pauguk. Well, that’s what he called it. The three of them had argued right until he boarded the plane. Meme kept texting him to argue their case for Operation The Rent is Due while Chickee nearly got taken out by airport security because she followed him around insisting he call it Operation Indigenous Governance. He listened patiently and then, because he was the only one carrying out the operation, he called it what he’d wanted to all along.
‘It’s perfect,’ he told them. ‘Pauguk, the flying skeleton – I’ll be flying. The story’s about betrayal, stealing, revenge.’
‘Yeah, but he becomes a flying skeleton after killing his brother and stealing his wife,’ Chickee said. ‘He’s the baddie who gets punished. You know that. You’re the one who collects stories.’
But it sounds cool, Buzz wanted to say. Instead, he nodded solemnly.
WHEN FUTURE GENERATIONS told the story of his trip, they told three different stories. In the Operation Pauguk story Buzz goes to England, uses his powers to convince Princess Anne to kill her brothers and imprison princes Harry and William in the Tower of London so she can claim the throne. Her plan backfires though when Princess Charlotte uses social media to organise a revolution and free her father and uncle. Of course, Princess Anne, having no idea how to use social media, is none the wiser and easily defeated despite her ‘Not bloody likely’ rallying cry. During this time of chaos, Buzz pillages and plunders the Palace, museum, Tower of London and royal gift shop, charters a plane, and escapes back to Turtle Island where he redistributes the wealth and forges a new relationship with the palace envoy, Princess Charlotte.
Operation The Rent is Due told of how Buzz, a warrior highly trained in traditional guerilla war techniques by Meme and Chickee, breaks into the Tower of London and single-handedly steals the crown jewels and a few so-called ‘artefacts’ in what came to be known as the Counting Coup Renaissance that replaced ‘consultation’ and ‘negotiation’ as the new method for securing repatriation of Indigenous treasures and sacred objects.
The Operation Indigenous Governance story tells of Chickee using Buzz’s trip as a distraction while she, Meme, and a band of social-justice peacekeepers from across Turtle Island occupy Parliament Hill, take over the Indigenous Affairs building in Gatineau, and create a groundswell of support leading to the repeal of the Indian Act and new government-to-government relationships between Indigenous peoples and the settler government. Their efforts were said to be aided by the new legislation legalising marijuana and the youthful sunny-ways prime minister of the day whose strategy was to engage Indigenous youth in projects to construct canoe storage. His plan results in new Indigenous governance buildings that house traditional councils and warrior societies from coast to coast to coast.
WHEN BUZZ ARRIVED at the Toronto airport, jet-lagged and full of stories and bangers and chips, Chickee was there, ready to drive him home.
‘Hey cousin, how’d it go?’
‘Pretty good. I almost got arrested.’
‘Really? For storming the castle gates?’
‘For what then?’
‘Causing a disturbance.’
‘Hey, way to go! Where was that?’
‘It doesn’t matter. The good news is, I got away.’
‘No, really, where? Balmoral?’
After a three-hour car ride, two and a half of which were spent listening to Chickee ask ‘Where?’, Buzz finally caved.
‘Near Buckingham Palace, okay?’
Chickee nodded, ‘Ooookay.’ Finally, he could relax. ‘Where?’
‘I handed out about a thousand flyers, planted a dozen flags, gave a speech in Hyde Park every day and did a bunch of interviews.’
‘I even saw Princess Anne’s motorcade and I gave her that file.’
‘The plot to claim the Crown?’
‘Yep. I don’t know why but she rolled down the window and waved at me so I handed it to her. She smiled. I thought for sure I’d be arrested. I slept in a hostel after that.’
‘I know, right?’
‘So, is that where you almost got arrested?’ By this time Chickee was helping Buzz carry his luggage into his house.
Buzz sighed. It was pointless to resist. ‘Near the Palace, okay?’
‘Oh,’ said Chickee. ‘I see.’
‘I was in a royal shop, you know, learning about the enemy.’
‘And I knocked over a display of chinaware.’
‘They wanted £300!’
‘Did you pay it?’
‘They were going to arrest me.’
Chickee stared long and hard at her cousin. They’d grown up together. Were best friends. Looked out for each other. Sure he was always two steps behind, worried too much, was a people pleaser, had a tendency to compartmentalise and was the only Anishinaabek she’d ever heard of who was deathly afraid of fish. But he was kind, helpful, generous and one of the best-known story keepers in the territory. Some of her friends swooned over him.
Buzz offered her some tea, and she accepted. He made it strong and served it black in a Trauma-Informed Workshop commemorative mug. He was glad to be home. He’d missed it. London was too busy, crazy expensive and the pub food was bland and mushy. He even missed Chickee. She was constantly challenging him, interrupted most of his stories, borrowed his tools and never returned them, pretended she was younger than him even though everyone knew they went to day care together and was a real smartypants. But she was also funny, passionate about protecting the lands, water and people, worked really hard to overcome cultural losses caused by residential school and Children’s Aid scoops and subsequent intergenerational trauma, and had a degree in theoretical astrophysics that balanced nicely with her traditional knowledge about the stars and creation.
Buzz sipped his tea. Now that was a good cuppa. All it needed was a nice bickie. He took one of his treasured packets from his backpack, opened it, put a few on a china plate his Nokomis had given him and set it on the table between them. It was a perfect moment, sitting there at his kitchen table with his favourite cousin.
‘So,’ Chickee said as she chomped on his beloved Buckingham Palace Strawberry and Clotted Cream Biscuits, ‘how many Royal Family souvenirs did you bring home for the collection you keep in that locked closet in your room?’
That’s a wrap!