A proud prairie girl: Miriam Müller, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Text: Bernadette Calonego
Photos: Miriam Müller (unless indicated otherwise)
Enlarge image (© Miriam Müller) German women, be aware: There are Canadian men traveling in Germany and trying to seduce you with their laid-back charm! This happened to Miriam Müller when she was just 21 years old. She met Kevin, the Canadian, at the catholic World Youth Day in Cologne and Dusseldorf. Both were volunteers.
Nine years later, Miriam is married to Kevin, she lives in Saskatoon in the province of Saskatchewan, and works as the administrative assistant of Chief Darcy Bear of the Whitecap Dakota First Nations.
Enlarge image This is Miriam celebrating the 850th anniversary of a German town called Spittelstein. In Germany, these towns seem to live forever! (© Miriam Müller) This is a long way from being a student from the town of Rödental in Oberfranken (Upper Franconia). Also a long way from Schloss Rosenau (Rosenau Palace) in her town – which was the childhood home of Prince Albert who became Queen Victoria`s husband in 1840. There are no princes in Canada, of course, but this is something Miriam can live without.
Before she and Kevin got married five years ago, Miriam (29) went back and forth between Canada and Germany after getting her high school diploma. Later, she became a Permanent Resident of Canada.
When Germans dream of Canada, they likely think Rocky Mountains or Yukon or Nova Scotia. But hardly Saskatchewan. Miriam loved this province instantly: “The vastness of it, the completely flat landscape, it is an entirely different feeling”, she says, “and the sky is huge and the sunsets and sunrises are spectacular!”
Enlarge image Here we have the Holy Trinity of Saskatchewan: the SKY, the PRAIRIES and the HORIZON. If you like, you can add the MOSQUITOS. (© Katja Bücher) She loves the Saskatchewan River and the parks along the water. And how close the wilderness is: “In two hours, I can sit completely alone on the shore of a lake in the boreal forest.” In the winter, she longs so much for the summer, that she forgets about the onslaught of mosquitoes. “Every year, they take me by surprise!” she says.
Last October, Miriam completed her BA in Aboriginal Public Administration at the University of Saskatchewan. That is an interesting choice, don`t you agree? But she was just very interested in the history of her new home province. And in the history of the Whitecap Dakota, of course. They had come back to their northern territories in Canada in 1862 from what is now Minnesota.
Twenty years later, Chief Whitecap was so generous to help the white settler John Lake to find a good location for the future town of Saskatoon.
Enlarge image The signature 15th hole at the Dakota Dunes Golf Links. Do the people who let the golf balls fly into the dunes have to go and search for them? No, of course not. On this first class golf course, nobody lets golf balls fly into the dunes. (© Kevin Hogarth) The Whitecap Dakota have always believed in mutually beneficial relationships. Chief Darcy Bear and the council have found a way out of poverty and economic misery. They own and manage a first class golf course and are in the process of building a luxury hotel.
When I asked Chief Bear why, of all people, he gave a woman from Germany the job as his administrative assistant, he said: “Simply because she was the best person for the job. She has the required training and experience.”
It is time to ask Miriam Müller some CCQ (Curious and Crucial Questions):
Miriam, what is the oddest thing that somebody in Germany asked you about working on a First Nations reserve?
I was asked if my indigenous co-workers wear their feather headdresses in the office. In my eyes, this is a stereotype idea of how “the Indian” is supposed to look like. Many people in Germany cannot imagine modern indigenous people, because of this picture of “the Indian” on the horse with the headdress.
Have you ever read – like so many German kids – the books written by adventure author Karl May (1842 - 1912) whose books have sold more than a hundred million copies?
Enlarge image Maybe this does not fit the image that many Germans have of the indigenous people in Canada, but this golf course belongs to the businesses of the Whitecap Dakota First Nations. (© Kevin Hogarth) No, but I can remember the “Winnetou and Old Shatterhand” movies. I am glad you are bringing this up, because I know that the picture that many Germans have of First Nation people is heavily influenced by Karl May. I also read about powwows that are becoming more and more popular in Germany. Personally, I did not come across one of those “Indian” clubs in Germany where they dress up and role-play in Indian clothing but they do exist.
What is the picture many Germans have of First Nations?
It is the stereotype image of the “noble savage” riding a horse, wearing full regalia, fighting for the good and for survival. This idea of the “noble savage” usually goes hand in hand with the idea of “the Indians” losing against the cowboys.
And there is something else that bothers me.
What is it?
When people use the term “the Indians”, it shows that they usually do not make the distinction between indigenous people. I mean, people do not refer to me as “Eurasian” either. I am German and I have worked and studied with Dakota, Cree, and Dene people which are all different indigenous peoples.
In this context, I find it difficult to explain to Germans the complex situation of First Nation people in Canada today.
What did you learn about First Nations while living and working in Saskatchewan?
Enlarge image The city of Saskatoon in the fall. Miriam loves the river and the parks along the water. But she has to wait a long time until Saska-toon will be 850 years old. (© Miriam Müller) I learned a lot about relationships between the white settlers and the indigenous people and how they changed over the years.
You need to know that Canadian policies such as the Residential School system and the Indian Act have done terrible damage to Indigenous people in Canada and that a great deal of effort is needed to reconcile.
I also studied the history and culture of different indigenous peoples in Canada and I learned about the struggles of Indigenous communities in Canada today.
How is it to know up and close a community like the Whitecap Dakota?
The Whitecap Dakota First Nation that I work for have a well-managed community negotiating self-government. I am impressed how chief and council interact with different levels of governments to work together.
Have you at least been in a sweat lodge?
No, I have to disappoint you on that one. Sweat lodges are not just saunas you know. I would participate in ceremonies if community members invited me and if they explained how I can participate respectfully.
Speaking of saunas: Considering that the winter is long and cold in Saskatchewan, I have to say that am surprised that saunas are not popular here in Saskatoon.
How do you live with the cold in Saskatoon?
Enlarge image This is how Miriam gets around in the winter when she wants to have fun. I am really glad for her that the terrain is so flat! (© Miriam Müller) I had to buy some proper clothes and equipment first. But whenever the weather is good, I go cross country skiing, even sometimes during my lunch break. It can be really cold when it is windy. And driving can be a challenge in winter, too.
You drive to work?
Yes, and I had to get used to that. But the Whitecap Dakota reserve is about 30 kilometres from Saskatoon. I remember that when I first arrived in Saskatchewan, I saw all these cars hooked up to the power outlets. I thought that these were electric cars! I soon found out how wrong I was.
What other misunderstandings did you encounter in Canada?
Somebody called me a “soup nazi”, a term taken from the hugely popular American sitcom “Seinfeld”. I was not familiar with it at all. So I was incredulous and shocked and said: Excuse me? But then I learned that in the sitcom, a deli store owner was called “soup nazi” because he was so meticulous and expected everybody to bow to his rules.
But are you so meticulous in some Canadian eyes?
Probably, but I think being detail-oriented is a good thing. When I left Germany to live in Canada, I realised how German I am. If you can generalise it, I would say that my work ethic is German. Or at least it reflects what people seem to associate with Germany, namely that somebody is fast, efficient and punctual.
More culture shock?
When I went back to Germany for a visit, I experienced a retroactive culture shock. I was not used to address people anymore with the more formal “Sie” and “Frau” and “Herr”, because in Canada, you call most people by their first name.
How is it to be married to a Canadian man?
I have no complaints! (It is good!) We usually speak English or French but he knows enough German to have a basic conversation in German as well.
In what way is he different from German men?
I won`t tell you!
Have a look at the website of the Dakota Dunes golf course: http://www.dakotadunes.ca