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Goose Break traditions are eternal

BY Nation Editors May 22, 2023

by Guest Writer, Alison Coon Come

It’s that time of the year again, where families prepare for the spring hunt and goose harvest.

Some take truckloads of supplies or people to their camps to prepare.

Some leave with skidoos and come back with boats.

Some take the plane along the shore where their families see them off. 

Some take a helicopter where the whole community waits for their turn in the sky.

Some might not be able to leave their communities this spring. 

Some might even take the less traditional approach and set their sights on travelling the world.

All of us collectively prepare for adventure and with gratitude for making it another year.

It is the Cree way. We are nomads so we flourish in our ventures.

It is an exciting time for most. But for many, this is a year of firsts without their loved ones by their side. My heart goes out to the families who are in mourning and won’t be able to fully bask in this season. I hope that the blessed will share the wealth of their successful goose hunts with the families, Elders and others who didn’t get the chance to hunt. 

Every year at our camp at Cold Water Lake we have a Mother’s Day / first goose kill feast at the end of the hunt. I always remember the tallyman Isaac Shecapio reminding us that we are blessed and with that blessing we must learn to share. As much as I wish I could be at Cold Water Lake this year, I will be stuck in Montreal where I will be looking at your Goose Break photos on Facebook.

Thanks to Starlink there will be more photos, videos and stories to be shared during their Goose Breaks.

I will be slightly jealous but that’s okay – as long as I get invited to the feasts. 

First goose kills will take place another year for a fresh set of hunters eager to learn and break their zeros. They range from all ages and genders. This is an exciting time for all.

Personally, I still haven’t had the chance to break my zero. I was raised in a camp that didn’t allow us younger girls to take part in the hunt. Instead, I was tasked with bringing lunches to the blind for my grandfather. It was still an adventure that I enjoyed very much. 

But my two-spirited younger self always hoped to be treated like the boys in my family. I remember seeing how the family came together after my cousin got his first goose kill. The women would prepare a feast big enough for two campgrounds to celebrate the boys and their first kills.

As the families from across the river made their way to our camp, us children eagerly waited on the shore for the other kids to arrive so we could play a game of tag. The adults often stood outside with cigarettes and cups of tea while the Elders sat inside sharing stories of their Goose Breaks. 

We would hear laughing all around and maybe some parents shouting for their kids’ attention. There would be yells of “be careful” as the kids ran wild, before the Elders called everyone to come sit together under one canvas tent. 

Chairs and beds were claimed by the Elders and adults while the kids sat around a tablecloth laid on the floor by the wood stove. Everyone shuffled in and the cousins sat side-by-side as they waited for an Elder to say a prayer. 

I remember one time when, instead of saying a prayer, my grandfather started oiling my cousin’s gun. He began telling us a story about why it’s important to treat your gun well and to never play with it because it is a tool that keeps our families fed. 

We all watched him oil the gun of the first-time hunter. It was a lesson I learned as if he was talking just to me. I know someday I’ll have my first goose too. I’m still working on being my own hunter. I know that times are changing because with each season our hunters are becoming more diverse. 

I love that, for us as a people. I always appreciate seeing the photos of our fresh-faced hunters. I congratulate all those who broke their zeros this year and wish courage and luck to those going on their first spring hunts. Godspeed and take good care of each other.

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Will Nicholls, Lyle Stewart & Martin Siberok are the editors of the Nation magazine.