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Community ᐄᐦᑖᐧᐃᓐ

Surveying the communities as they get ready for Goose Break

BY Ben Powless Apr 21, 2023

As Eeyou Istchee prepares for another Goose Break, the Nation reached out to local Cree Trappers’ Associations (CTA) and public safety officers across the communities to get updates on goose sightings, ice conditions and other safety concerns for those preparing to head out this year.

Chisasibi CTA administrator Reggie Bearskin said there hadn’t been any sightings in the community yet, but that community members were starting to move material out to their camps. He said the community has ice monitors, who will be announcing ice conditions on the radio.

However, Bearskin advised that there’s lots of open water on the river due to the hydroelectric installation. It is fine to travel south by snowmobile, but to travel north community members should go by plane or go 40km out of their way overland to avoid the open water. 

In Eastmain, Thomas Stevens of the CTA said they were expecting the geese to be a bit late this year, perhaps arriving the week of April 17. 

“Right now, ice conditions are pretty good. A lot of the hunters are still travelling by skidoo, but there are still parts of James Bay where lots of people aren’t able to go to camps because of so much open water,” he said, particularly near Strutton Islands, where planes are being used to fly people to camp. 

Stevens said that people will have to return by helicopter because the ice will be gone by May when Goose Break is over. He advised those heading out to follow all relevant safety precautions, especially ensuring that children don’t get access to loaded firearms. 

“We have a lot of younger generations that started to go hunting at a younger age. Some of them still don’t have firearms licenses when they start using guns, so it’s important as parents or guardians that you always explain how procedures are with firearms, and make sure the gun is unloaded when in camp,” he explained. 

Stevens advised those heading out to listen to Elders and others on ice conditions to ensure the ice is thick enough for travel. He also urged people to supervise their camps so that children aren’t playing with fire. 

“I just want to make sure we have a safe Goose Break. Making sure that we spend time with our families and kids and spend time with the Elders – they pass down all the traditional knowledge, we have to listen to them,” he added.

Eastmain Public Safety Officer Ivan Gilpin said that the open water was six kilometres away from the community as of April 4, adding that the winter was long but not particularly cold. He said schools would close in the community May 1-12.

Gilpin encouraged those travelling for Goose Break to “just listen to our river monitor when it’s time to close the river. Stay put where you’re going to be for the rest of Goose Break.”

Nemaska CTA administrator Mabel Rabbitskin said there hadn’t been any goose sightings in the community, but people were busy preparing, taking their belongings to the beach. She said the ice was still solid and hadn’t started to melt and was still safe for travel. 

She said the community, in collaboration with the Cree Health Board, is hosting a bush training session April 18-20, for those who want to learn first aid and emergency preparedness. Those who are interested should contact her.

Ouje-Bougoumou Fire Chief Stanley Bosum said people weren’t setting up camps yet but getting camps ready for flyout. He indicated the ice is “still pretty thick” and that it’s still safe to head out by snowmobile. The schools will be closed May 1-12.

He advised community members to check the ice thickness and weather conditions before they head out. “Some of the rivers are the ones that are pretty tricky – just snow on top of water.” He urged residents to “enjoy their holiday and take a breather when they’re out there to relieve the stress,” he added with a laugh.

In Waskaganish, CTA manager Darryl Salt said that there hadn’t been any goose sightings, but that he expected them to arrive around April 12 or 13, as the weather had been warm then cold. 

He advised that some parts of the ice were very thin, while others were still thick. He said initial flyovers showed a lot of open water near Charlton Island, which he said was nearly unprecedented, so community members will have to use a bush plane to get there. 

“For Goose Break safety concerns, we’re asking our people to move fast before warm weather comes,” Salt said. The CTA will have an Elder who will provide radio updates about conditions. Goose Break is scheduled to begin on April 22 in the community.

“Be safe out there, always look at weather ahead when you plan your trip, always listen to your Elders, that’s the best advice you can get,” Salt added. “Don’t try to be Superman out there thinking ‘I don’t need help’ – no, you always need help, that’s my advice.”

Jonathan Prive, dispatcher for Air Tunilik, advised community members to take a detour if travelling to Charlton Island because of nearly 70 miles of open water between Jacob and Charlton islands. “For us, the ice condition around the island is safe to land on the ice with our plane,” he said. He advised residents to book with the CTA if they need their cargo flown up.

In Wemindji, CTA Executive Director Tyler Coonishish said there had been no sightings, but that he expected geese to start returning around the week of April 24. He said the ice was still solid and they would be meeting with land users and tallymen to get their input on ice conditions. “But we’re hearing from a few people that it’s looking better than last year.”

He said the CTA has an Eeyou Marine Coordinator who will be giving updates every two weeks, based on satellite imagery and consultations with land users, which will be necessary, because the weather has been unpredictable. 

A representative of the Whapmagoostui CTA said their office would only be open after April 17. The Nation was unable to reach any representatives in Mistissini or Waswanipi. 

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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.