I got a ride to Charlie Neyelle’s house from his son, Simon. From my room at the Grey Goose Lodge on the west side of Délıne, NWT, we took the shoreline route east, just up a couple streets from the water. Seven years ago, Simon took the same route back from a poker game at 5 a.m. and saw a glowing orb in the sky. It followed him home and when he stopped at home, the orb stopped too; it stayed there, 40 feet in the air, for about four hours. Some neighbours took a video and posted it on YouTube, and the CBC and local media covered it before the mystery fizzled away, unsolved.
Simon said he had some pictures of the orb at his dad’s place, so we went visiting. While Simon dug around for the photos in the living room, I sat on the couch across from Charlie. At the dining table three women, elders, sat sewing, but they paid us little attention—they were into their work, chatting in North Slavey.
Charlie talked about the UFO—how strange a sight it was—casually rubbing his hands as he talked, and then I switched gears and asked him about Ayah, the prophet of Délıne. I’d heard he knew the story of Ayah, a Dene spiritual leader who made prophecies about the future of the North and the world in the 1930s. Some of them, locals say, have come to pass. Grey hair tufting from his baseball cap, Charlie obliged, occasionally touching a Bible that sat between us.
After nearly an hour of that, Charlie paused, said “Mahsi,” stood up, and I knew it was done. He offered me a cigarette and we went out to the porch.
A few puffs and Charlie started talking again. He’d learned Ayah’s stories from the elders as a young man, upon his return from residential school. “Residential school taught me how to be angry,” he said. “When I came back, the elders taught me to shed my anger.” His medicine was out on the land and in the lake, they told him. There are medicinal plants out there, and good, clean meat, free from industrial tampering. There’s calm for thinking and good water for drinking. He told me about the water he chisels out of the ice, far out east on the lake.
He motioned to a blue packing bin on the kitchen floor filled with water and ice. “You drink [cups of that], they change your blood system. Just like a doctor with a blood donation, except this one’s better.” He offered me some, we stamped out our cigarettes in an ashtray on the washing machine and he popped off the lid of the blue packing bin. Inside, big chunks of lake ice floated in melt-water. Charlie grabbed the two mismatched mugs from a cupboard and handed one to me. He dipped his in and I dipped mine. I felt sick from the cigarettes--I don't smoke often but it can be an occupational hazard when your job relies on conversation. The water was cold and crisp and soothed my nausea.
On my walk home, I tried diagnosing the effects of the water. My body felt well and my mind more still—which could be rehydration and the high of coming off a few hours of philosophical discussion. The water had tasted good. Untreated. I wanted to believe it was living and different from the tap water in my hotel room, and that something extra and intangible was flowing through me. It was mysterious, like Ayah’s story and the UFO.
And like the people who saw the glowing ball that night in 2007, I appreciated the mystery of it and left it at that.