‘Brave’ heart beats its last

To paraphrase the well-known Anglo-Saxon saying in a more culturally-accurate way, the Creator is believed to not give the Ojibwe people any more than He believes each one can handle.
If so, He must believe Nancy Indian and her family to possess the strength of Nanabush himself for what they’ve already endured and now must do so again.
The ace pitcher for the Big Grassy Lynx in the Rainy River District Women’s Fastball League, her family, and the entire Big Grassy First Nation lost her brother Linden Indian, who passed away Monday at age 26 in hospital in Thunder Bay from a serious illness that struck him just before Christmas.
Linden was an elite performer in his own right in the Rainy River District Fastball League in recent seasons since moving back from Thunder Bay.
The left-handed hitting powerhouse crushed one extra-base bomb after another, including several prodigious home runs, while being a sure-handed pillar of consistency with his glove at first base.
Linden’s contributions at the heart of the batting order, and on the right side of the infield, were a huge part of the Big Grassy Braves becoming an RRDFL dynasty in winning the league championship three-straight years from 2012-14.
The first and last seasons of that run saw him named as an all-star at his position.
And that final title in 2014 came on the heels of the Indian family take a hard hit of its own as Linden and Nancy’s father, Leland, passed away in November of 2013 from an illness that claimed his life much like what eventually would happen to his eldest son.
The night of the clinching game against the Barwick Blue Knights on Big Grassy’s home turf (now known as Leland Indian Field) was awash in emotion for the Braves, who memorably held up his No. 24 jersey in tribute during the team photo after completing their “three-peat.”
A shift in residence for teammates Jesse and Travis Tom led Linden to follow their path and join the newly-established Rainy Lake Pirates that began playing out of Fort Frances in 2015.
That crew won the regular-season title with a 14-2 record, then advanced to the league final before falling to Barwick.
This past season, the Pirates changed their name to the Fort Frances Braves. But Linden and his teammates didn’t change their winning ways in posting a 16-3 mark to finish second overall before being upset in the playoffs by the Couchiching Raiders in the East Division semi-finals.
In a league with more than 150 regular players, Linden stood out from the crowd. His intensity and desire to win was virtually unmatched.
I found that out up close while filling in as a first-base umpire during the Braves’ last couple of playoff games this past summer. It so happened I made two separate calls on bang-bang plays that went against Fort Frances—both times earning a withering glare and a civil but emphatic protest from Linden.
But there was the other side of Linden, shown both on and off the field, that was most revered by his family, as well as his teammates, who considered it more of an honour sharing a friendship with him than sharing a uniform.
The booming laugh that could be heard all over the ballpark, the devilish smile after delivering yet another stinging but good-natured one-liner to an unsuspecting target, and the spark in his eyes when he was enjoying the company of others all were standard experiences being around Linden.
He didn’t hesitate to speak his mind honestly and candidly, and never was one to beat around the bush, especially when he was speaking out against any perceived injustice to his family, his friends, or his sport.
He also took pride in his job as a recreation co-ordinator for Big Grassy—doing his best to provide plenty of entertaining and physically beneficial activities for young people of the First Nation.
Even more than his eye-popping blasts and his grit between the baselines, that is what will be remembered—and missed—the most when the new RRDFL season dawns this spring.
For now, it’s left to Nancy, younger siblings, Brandon, Tyson, and Evan Penner, mother, Darlene Joseph, stepmother, Marilyn Penner, and her newest infant, grandmother, Marlene Indian, and aunt, Lynn Indian, to absorb yet another tragic and all-too-soon departure from their world.
The saving grace for them is that there’s no shortage of people throughout Rainy River District who are ready to step up and provide shelter from the family’s latest storm, as witnessed in numerous thoughts posted online Monday.
Rob McGinnis, Windey’s Warriors pitcher: “Today we lost an amazing young man way too early. My heart aches for his family and anyone else that had the privilege to meet him. Every memory I have of him contains laughter and great times! RIP Lindy Indy.”
Vaughan Wilson, Barwick shortstop: “When someone can break your heart on the ball diamond and make you feel good about it afterwards, that’s something. Had a heart as big as his laugh.”
Braves’ teammate Dakota Andy simply put: “I love you Lindy,” followed by a heart and then a sad-face emoji that proved pictures indeed are worth a thousand words and sometimes even more.
The final words on this for right now, though, will be courtesy of Nancy, who faces a future as a sister without a best friend of a brother, as well as a daughter without a father whom she also held in the highest regard:
“I lost another one of the most amazing men in my life today. My brother Linden went home to be with my Dad and our other loved ones..
“There are no words that can describe the feeling of losing someone so special to you. It hurts so much, I can’t even begin to think of life without you, especially on that ball field.
“You [fought] so hard until the very end, and your strength and determination still showed even though you were so sick.
“When you were leaving [the Rainy River District to head to the hospital in Thunder Bay], you told me you were scared. There is nothing to be scared about anymore, my brother. Go and rest in a place where no pain or sadness exist.
“Give Dad a big hug for me. I love you both so much. My handsome angels.”
That last phrase was followed by a heart—a fitting symbol for a man who had so much of it and who will live in the hearts of those close to him always.
A post about Leland from Nancy on Dec. 14, two days before she first revealed that Linden was sick, delivered a message we all can learn from.
“You never know when it’s going to be someone’s last day on this Earth. Tell the people you care about that you love them!
“Family is the greatest gift of all!”
Amen, Nancy. Miigwech, Linden.

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