Miigwetch Rex

I lived and died with the lake that Mino Bee told the world he came from.


lived and died with the lake that Mino Bee told the world he came from. I never understood what made the shirk go full tadpole, as if he ever hung his jacket there or knew somebody with a hook. Hard to know why he did that when not him nor his dad nor his dad’s daddio ever dipped a rickety pigeon toe into Crop Lake. And what locals from the bird’s throat quit trying to figure out long ago is who Mino was, or whether the ancestral hereditary title in his artist statements and ever-changing bios and interview quotes belonged to this dried-up gulp or the next, and if it even matters since it now all lays below kilos of mummied trash that I piled on each week until I died and joined the grandfathers myself.

When the coats first showed up at the lake, they brought with them garbage. Not just wickedness or gaslit, dour teachings about our wickedness, or the shame that afflicts those who mess around with guilt trips and scripture, but stinking garbage. The concept of it. Sometimes after I cleaned up the kitchen table, my pops would tell me to sit back down and listen up. And then he’d tell me stories of when the ancestors first saw the coats and tunics piling scrap deemed valueless at the bottom of a dug hole, along with any cloth-wrapped tchotchkes or Euro trash they brought with them and tossed after one measly use. What the coats did after Hudson’s pulled up with fleets of mayflowers is dig even bigger holes, what we now call landfills, and in them would go stringy intestines and unwanted meat pieces, their constipations, discarded bits, ripped woollens, blackwood, partridge bones, ashes and any other immediate sweepings at the elbows of hunting trails and near the sites they buried their young and then ours. Generations afore passed down stories of those great steaming heaps. Of course, there was more than one heap, roughly a heap per fleet. Those stories were not about the garbage so much as how dumb it was for them to shit where they fish. No wonder they got sick and then we did, too. Sometimes they’d just pile their rubbish at the edge of the lake if they felt lazy, and when the ancestors demonstrated circular knowledge and how to re-purpose the items in question, whatever coat who led the troupe would command the next to polish more shine onto the donned copper because it wasn’t bright enough, clearly.

As an artist, Mino Bee built his “practice” on the country’s waste. He called his six-decade career “Mino Bee’s Ways of Throwing.” The country loved the whole series, not a poorly-received work in the catalogue, especially when considering how feedback loops and unsustainable power systems could entropy cities and towns overnight, undo the experiment, and that aki quit putting up with the comforts and abuses of humans altogether. Made the people feel good about themselves while they could, at least enough to keep filling those big, ugly coloured bins.

As an artist, Mino Bee built his 'practice' on the country’s waste. He called his six-decade career 'Mino Bee’s Ways of Throwing.'

No matter how unpredictable the predictable, Mino kept popping off. Keep in mind that Little Miss Dominion’s prime minister at the time hit a sixth consecutive term, and about a month into it, he struck counter-signed addendums for each treaty and pledged support from every assembly of heretical worm-tongues in political office and on tribal council. The addendums offered a fated clause that made the ministry liable to enact all 94 calls to action for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission over the following three decades, a desperately massive component of their tented campaign platform. It won over most constituents and helped secure the NDN vote. Little Miss promised many empties, namely that we’d get our children back, our regional dialects taught in the cloud at both the elementary and secondary level. They promised to ship hydrolyte after E. coli mutated and ruined the great and regular lakes (Crop included) and what little freshwater that aki had left got mad pricey, replace the dainty national anthem with a banger remix by The Halluci Nation and we’d even get cell service from Dominion Mobile on the rez. All these well-meaning gestures under one stinking condition: a generational bond to Little Miss D’s "Sposal" program.

Underneath the public eye, Little Miss Dominion’s "Sposal" program was just some tech mogul’s scheme for more digital coins. But at our level, the program involved fielding and then dumping shipped garbage from urban centres into new landfills on each and every rez under treaty. We picked up everywhere settlers lived, from surveilled metropolises for heat migrants and gated cloud towns for the lucky few thousands that lived there. The minister’s cabinet framed it publicly as a sort of reverse paternalism, like nates would become the rightful stewards of the land once again and permitted us the by-line for any new prospects considering natural goods and resource development on the mainland, which was fine for them since big oil fracked the good and badlands altogether and moved on to the untapped Arctic. They delivered to every community a management (rather than treatment) system unique to their territory and ordained each with enough jurisdiction for any waste-making policies that involved it. But with that sovereignty and agency came the stinking reality that hundreds of trucks loaded with the rest of the country’s garbage would roll up and dump, come hump day. And leave it to Mino Bee to apply for and secure decades of council grants, a few settler badges, plus all the coverage and industry connection “Ways of Throwing” would ever need to keep going based on our struggle. And those ways of his rested on a central figure named Miigwetch Rex.

Miigwetch Rex is a Bojack-slacked Jurassic big head. Little Miss Dominion’s national mascot. Anthropomorphic tyrannosaurus, he rocks a beaded hoodie, Timberland moccasins, medicine wheel pins, a vintage STRONG/RESILIENT/INDIGENOUS dad hat lazily-painted tangerine, and a pair of camo slacks. The lore behind Miigwetch is that he’s one of the waste depot drivers. But there’s only one piece from “Ways of Throwing” that finds him behind the wheel, hand straddling the gear, the stick made long enough to accommodate those HR-ready forelimbs. Never mind that paleontologists never dug up any dinosaurs around Crop Lake. But it doesn’t matter anyways, since most pieces find Miigwetch off duty and away from the bird’s throat, enjoying impossible vacations: surfing the northern lights, snorkeling in the acidic Georgian Bay, plunked beside a campfire at the top of Mount Assiniboine, tripping on LSD at a holographic Arkells concert. He’s always framed in realist composites, removed from this world like a Monkman piece, or maybe one of those Ralph Lauren sweater teddies. Most people liked it. Unless they drove a truck.

But again: nobody knew who Mino was. Perhaps it had to do with him going full Banksy from the start, had no photos in the cloud-verse, no public appearances or Youtube interviews, and any recordings of him speaking that surfaced were vocoded and droned like Jigsaw or Anonymous. All the country had was a clipped avatar of Miigwetch looking back at the voyeur, blinking and occasionally yawning. Underneath, Mino put “Crop Lake First Nation” as his pinned location. Not even his talent agent or publicist knew what he looked like, admittedly, and there were threads online and theories made to find out who was behind it and why. Although I don’t know who, I do know why: Mino brought Rex into this world to animate the country’s fantasies of escapism, which he did. Even landed Rex in his own Pixar flick and Tim Hortons advertisements. Canada Trust campaigns for days. And as Rex took form and shape, he produced more by simply existing, and began to replace Mino’s appearances, speaking on his behalf and acting as a proxy for any situations that required his presence. But what bothered Crop Lake the most about Mino was that he never drove the trucks. Anyone who did could just tell from the one piece: the gratitude above Rex’s chin, the strokes that composed his whistling. Just Mino’s hard-working fraudulence doing its thing. Yet despite the poor imitations, he got to speak on behalf of the Crop. It was unclear which one of us he was or which house he came from, and anonymity like that was impossible at Crop Lake. And so began this dangerous and uncertain period where we stopped trusting each other, quit believing if we really were who we said we were, especially whether we were Mino. Really, anyone with a computer and access to the Adobe Suite could be Mino. I’d work and drive across the wastelands furious until I’d get back to the bird’s throat, and then when I’d get home I’d lie awake in bed, thinking about how mad that dino made me, until I fell asleep.

Although I don’t know who I do know why: Mino brought Rex into this world to animate the country’s fantasies of escapism, which he did.

After Rex showed up, I kept dreaming the same dream. Once REM set in, the sleep pictures would cloak a thin membrane around my first sensory memory, beginning with long strips of light that flicker and fade along a shaking wall of blackness.

In the dream, I’m barely two and throwing fist after useless fist against Pop’s bedroom door, which is where he used to put me when I acted up. And while I crave release from the separation anxiety, what I really want is to get away from the glowing television in the corner that plays a well-loved VHS tape of 1993’s Wallace and Gromit: The Wrong Trousers. Pops often relied on those British clay-mations about a hapless inventor and his loyal dog to phase out an overused Kenny Rogers cassette that worked magic tricks during my colicky days. The TV is rolling a shot of Gromit the beagle, who looks mournful in his doghouse out back. Gromit began sleeping out there to accommodate the scheming penguin, Feathers McGraw, who prefers Gromit’s bedroom over the spare. Grief nibbles Gromit when he sees Wallace enjoying dinner with this fraudster, and it is too much for one pup. So Gromit packs a framed photo of Wallace and him, one analog clock, and a doggy bone into a polka-dotted bindle and ties a knot, dons his yellow raincoat and walks off cloaked into the stormy street, looking for another place to sleep. Gromit wakes up the next morning in a tin garbage bin, and then the TV cuts to white noise. The shadows cast from the deception followed by the tape’s salt-and-pepper fuzz had me ping-ponging around the room in tears. But to balm my nocturnal meltdown and attend to my unanswered calls for freedom comes Rex, who in a great swoop picks me up by his teeny arms for a dangle-legged hug, hush-hush, anything he can do to shut me up, only to shove my head into his mouth. And then I would beat my work alarm by a few seconds.

The end of my life began like any other morning. Wake up while it was still dark out, shower, and slip on my neon hazard coat, and drive in the truck on up the road to the collection depot, where I usually bumped into my circle of co-wasters to have a coffee and bust guts about the dogshit it all was and probably still is. A crowd of wasters had their backs to the door of the depot foyer after I checked in, and when I made my way to the front of the meeting room I could see why.

Facing my fellow wasters stood Miigwetch Rex, dad hat and all. He was blinking and occasionally yawning, and his arms hung slack in front of him. But instead of the usual fit, he had a hazard coat overtop, and there was a seamed hole for his tail to poke through, and goggles nice and snug over his carnivorous peepers. I walked as calmly as possible toward the impossible to get a better look.

“Miigwetch Rex,” I said. “What the hell?”

“Boozhoo,” the dinosaur said. “Miigwetch Rex ndishinikath. Crop Lake ndoonji.”

I looked at the other drivers working that day, who just looked back as puzzled as me.

“What the hell is this?” I asked. More importantly, I was thinking how the hell is this. It’s not every day a dinosaur shows up in the flesh, but then again this wasn’t like every day.

“The creator has sent me to help,” Rex said, without prompt and sincere as an dinosaur could be. We made eye contact, and when we did, I got a fierce brainpic of Gromit in the trash bin, except I was Gromit and Gromit was me, crying at the TV for what he was about to see, had just seen.

I turned to the manager, who stood cross-armed and next to Rex.

“Think we’re stupid?” I asked them. “CBC sucking Mino off again?”

“Pipe down, Dane. Rex is on a research trip. Show some respect to our guest. Matter fact, he’s gonna shadow you today."

We made eye contact, and when we did, I got a fierce brainpic of Gromit in the trash bin, except I was Gromit and Gromit was me, crying at the TV for what he was about to see, had just seen.

“No way I’m hopping in a truck with that thing.”

But then he explained there was no way forward without it. So in the truck we went.

Rex and I made it on the highway shortly after daybreak. We drove to a prairie metropolis a half hour north to grab a load before going back to the bird’s throat. I told Rex that he had to get ready for the garbage.

“I am always ready for everything,” Rex said.

“Really? Everything? Okay, how about a question then? You’re always ready for those.”

“Only the guilty are not ready for questions.”

Sure, I thought. And then, “Why a dinosaur?”

“Indigenous peoples have long since been treated like dinosaurs,” Rex said while staring out at unceded land. An Italian tear trailed down his cheek. “There’s not a lot that can be done about the image lodged in the colonized mind, one that is in many of our minds, too. No matter how many attempts are made to show that our people can play video games and innovate and lift weights and change lightbulbs, we’re still dinosaurs to everybody else and ourselves at times, too. And when it comes to representation, the creator has no limits as to what counts and what doesn’t count. It’s all game. There are no limits for us anymore. Besides, it’s not like you’re even real, Dane.”

“You sure about that?” I tightened my hand around the wheel and pulled into the drop off to join the truck queue. “You—or sorry, the creator—think just because you’re a dinosaur and wearing some hat that you have the right to assert values and beliefs? That’s why you’re my shadow today, yeah? Cuz Mino already has all the textures down pat. Pretty sure you’re just like any other rat. Another ultramodern fraudster banking our lived hardship. Bet Mino’s a group of people. And if I’m not real, then why can I chew cheek and pass gas and collect garbage?”

“The creator is not a person,” Miigwetch said. “He’s beyond this realm. But you are very much from within this realm, and only serve those who think they’re better dinosaurs than everyone else. As though you know what’s up because you’re the real deal, right?”

“I’ll tell you what’s up,” I replied.

“Okay, Dane. What’s up?”

We continued like this for most of the pick-up. When we left the drop off, I noticed the long cascading morass of plastic and debris introducing new horizons had grown even bigger since the previous week. The freaky thing about the trajectory of garbage is how much of it there is. How consistently it arrives week after week after week. No matter how many bans or sanctions or fines or limits for the makers, there is little to do to halt it all or dig a way out of the trash. As we drove back to the lake, I knew what I would do next.

“Another question for you.”

“Any question, Dane Green.”

“Who is Mino Bee? Why can’t he show his face? Thinks he’s Pynchon?”

“That was three questions. And we’ve already covered it. I can only speak for myself. Besides, the creator works in mysterious ways. I am privy to those ways, just like you. I pray every day and smudge when I need cleansing and participate in the ways of throwing, just like you do.”

“You don’t know what I do, Rex. What I’m about to do.”

At that moment, I cranked the wheel and slammed my foot into the high pedal, and off we went barreling into Crop Lake, slow motion and all.

I drove into the lake that day because dinosaurs don’t know how to swim and sure enough, neither could Miigwetch Rex. But when the truck hit the surface and then sunk below, I began to realize how tough it actually is to get out of a sinking vehicle. Gravity and pressure work in tandem to keep the sinker sinking. Sure enough, Rex just sat there. He didn’t unbuckle himself or squeeze out the window or struggle without oxygen, just opened his mouth and let the Crop fill his insides with E. coli. I did everything he didn’t do. I fought against the struggle, but the efficiency of the lake made us sink to the bottom in no time flat, and I drowned in his plot.

The worst part about the end were the memorials held in Rex’s honour afterwards. National coverage of the incident took over the news cycle for a week, and the tragedy turned into one of those cycle-suckers that dominated all things native and makes everyone forget about the issues that really affect communities. The minister turned it into a national day of remembrance, and the critics described the death of Miigwetch Rex as Mino’s strongest toss yet.