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Geese return North, while early spring raises ice worries

BY Ben Powless Apr 23, 2021

It’s April, and across Eeyou Istchee the geese are returning as Cree communities prepare for Goose Break. In some communities, however, an early spring has created dangerous ice conditions. The Nation reached out to public safety officers and Cree Trappers’ Association (CTA) representatives in each community to find out if there had been any goose sightings or harvest and to get an update on safety issues. 


Chisasibi Trappers’ Association’s Local Administrator Reggie Bearskin confirmed the first goose harvest April 6, after sightings the previous weekend, though the person who shot it was not known at press time. Bearskin advised people to be very cautious with the ice, not to go near the mouth of the river or to hunt in the bay, saying that the snow was melting as well. A public safety representative for Chisasibi declined to comment. 


According to Betty Tomatuk of the Eastmain Local Cree Trappers’ Association, the first goose sighting was reported April 6, with Johnny Tomatuk taking the first goose April 9. Public Safety Officer Ivan Gilpin said that the river was closed April 12 for monitoring and evaluation.

“Every year we monitor the ice through the fast-melting ice and snow. We always have a team monitoring the Eastmain River, this year we have no choice but to close the river,” Gilpin said. Even though this is a few weeks earlier than normal, Gilipin said it shouldn’t affect Goose Break, with a helicopter going into use April 13 to transport materials and starting to transport people to camp where necessary April 18.


The first goose was caught April 9 by Louise MacLeod, who uploaded a photo to social media, after the first sightings were reported April 6. 

Public Safety Coordinator Jason Shecapio said that snow and ice conditions are worrisome this year. “We had a late freeze-up for Mistassini Lake, it was mid-January, so in mid-March it had been frozen just two months. It was pretty mild for the half month of March and April, so it’s kind of worrisome for the ice.” 

Shecapio advised people to avoid the ice if they’re not comfortable with it, and that they would be checking ice results and informing community members. He also pointed out that with the snow melting at a fast rate, it would be best not to build big fires around camps. 

“I think it’s going to be a dry season with snow melting at a fast rate. We usually have snow until the end up May, but now mid-April a good amount of snow is already melting away.”


When contacted, the Nemaska Local Trappers’ Association said there had been no goose harvest or sightings yet. A representative of the Nemaska Public Safety Office said there were no concerns with ice safety at this time. 


Representatives from the Ouje-Bougoumou Local Trappers’ Association and Public Safety department were not available to respond. 


Waskaganish Local Trappers’ Association Administrator Karilynn Blackned confirmed the first goose harvest April 7, with five geese being taken by Bertie Small at the Mshigabi River near the Ontario border.

Community Safety Officer Ruben Blackned said his office was monitoring the ice conditions and that there was no need to panic. Ice conditions were still driveable for camps, but that they are monitoring the ice thickness daily. He said there was one area not recommended for travel in the Shepanic area. Blackned said people travelling to their camps should follow all CTA guidelines and to not travel alone. 


When reached, a representative for the Waswanipi Local Trappers’ Association said that they had recorded their first sighting April 6 but had no harvests at that point. No representatives of Waswanipi Public Safety were available to respond. 


Victor Blackned of Wemindji Public Safety department confirmed that ice conditions were poor this year. “We usually have an Elder talk to the public, but ice conditions are slowly deteriorating. It’s been like this along the coast every year but it’s getting bad,” he said. Blackned advised hunters against going south and to follow the guidelines published on the Cree Nation Government website.


Whapmagoostui Local Trappers’ Association Administrator Melvin Masty confirmed that there had been no sightings of geese yet and said that they had no information on ice conditions. 

Photo of Louise MacLeod

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Ben Powless is a Kanien'kehá:ka and Anishnabek writer and photographer, currently living in Ottawa. He has a degree in Human Rights, Indigenous and Environmental Studies from Carleton University.