“It seems like sometimes I have a dozen wives,” said Billy Moffat. “And when they bitch, they bitch!”
Moffat, the Fire Chief of Kawawachikamach, is the coach of the all-female Indigenous fire brigade from this Naskapi nation in northern Quebec.
“But on a serious note, when you train with the women, it makes it a lot easier,” added Moffat. “They listen and they focus, and they look at the technique. When it comes to the men, they try to outdo you with muscle but without technique.”
“It’s all about my kids,” said Marina Uniam. “I want them to see how much I work on myself and whatever obstacle I’m coming across; I’m still going to finish what I’m doing. So they can look up to me and think that whatever they’re going through, just to keep moving forward.”
And as Moffat explains, the women have had to overcome a lot of obstacles and continue to overcome personal struggles. “Sadly, many of them have come through family violence, addictions and they’re dealing with the addictions as we speak. One woman recently lost two sons because of drug overdoses.”
“I did a memorial walk for my boys – that was my first healing step,” explained Melissa Peastitute.
Then she joined the Naskapi Fire Brigade. “The fire team got me to focus on something different than just my depression. I was proud. I didn’t think I would ever use that word again, proud,” explained Peastitute.
“Melissa is very inspiring because she has lost people she loves and still comes out of her shell to be this outgoing person. I’d like to be more like her one day – more social and she’s so kind,” said Louise-Pearl Einish-Shecanapish.
The Naskapi firefighters took second place at the Quebec regional competition held in Listuguj July 29. “My son messaged me after he found out we took second place. ‘You’re a legend! You’re my hero. My role model!’ I couldn’t stop crying – I was overcome with joy,” shared Uniam.
Now the women are more determined than ever to make it to the national competition to be held in Vancouver in 2024. That’s why Uniam, Peastitute, Einish-Shecanapish, Shania Mameamskum and Priscilla Sandy attended the National Fire Safety Competition in Montreal, to pick up some skills and strategies from other regional teams.
“Fire chiefs kept coming up to us to say that our team is a real inspiration,” said Einish-Shecanapish. And they got more than compliments, but invitations to show off their firefighting skills.
“We’ve been invited to a female firefighters symposium in October to represent our Naskapi Nation,” said Einish-Shecanpish. The team was also invited to represent their community at Camp Molly that is targeting Indigenous female youth next year in Kingston, Ontario.
The women also took advantage to get their photos taken with former NHL hockey player Jordan Nolan. “He’s got a firm ass,” said Sandy with a smile. “Men don’t have asses like that in my community.”