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ZEKE Award: Honorable Mention

I am all of Creation

Erin Clark | Alberta, Canada

On a return trip from Grand Prairie, Russell instructed his youngest son to do a last minute u-turn because he had spotted a moose. Within minutes, Russell had his rifle pulled out from the back of his van, but to no avail. The moose had disappeared. Russell was known in the community as a legendary hunter, but as the cancer progressed, he was unable to leave his home. Much of Russell's day is spent sleeping ever since his cancer returned in February. Russell has yet to seek out westernized treatments and continues to doctor himself with his traditional medicine. At 68-years-old, Russell is a Cree healer and has been doctoring others since his late 20s.

Russell Willier was hard to miss with his bright red jacket emblazoned with a Sucker Creek Cree Elders patch and his tall, muddy, rubber boots. He greeted his community with a smile, his mustache stained yellow from the cigarettes that regularly dangled from his mouth. Russell is known across western Canada and parts of the US as a powerful Cree medicine man, having been taught by elders throughout the provinces. But in recent months, cancer had spread throughout his body. Doctors told the 68-year-old that his chances of surviving were slim, but Russell continued to treat himself with his traditional medicine practices, which he had learned from his great-grandfather. “He’s healed thousands of people,” Russell’s niece said through tears. “He’s a medicine man. But he can’t heal himself.” Russell’s death was a massive loss to the Cree community as not many traditional healers remain. Russell's story is one about a powerful Cree healer epitomized by a man, railing against our common mortality.

Erin Clark





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