Jamie Moses reminisced about a childhood on the land when asked about his inspiration for initiating Eastmain’s weekend snowshoe walks back in 2015.
“As far back as I can remember, I always spent time with my grandparents out in the bush,” Moses told the Nation. “I would always try help my grandpa even when I didn’t have the strength to do all the things I can do now. Back then it was about observing and learning.”
He also acknowledged his good fortune to be able to work and spend time with Cree Elders from other communities. “It’s important to transfer that knowledge to the next generation,” he insisted.
Fast forward to today, and the weekly walks are more popular than ever. “The first walk, we had four walkers,” recalled Moses. These days as many as 20 attend the free activity every weekend.
Every Saturday and Sunday from January to March, no matter the weather conditions, walkers assemble at 1 pm, then set out on a 10-kilometre trek that finishes at the Eastmain Culture Camp. Moses credits the uptick in popularity to consistency – but also noted the traditional feast waiting for walkers at the camp doesn’t hurt.
“It’s become a nice little community gathering,” he said.
While Moses has spent much of his life working with Cree youth to promote Cree language and culture, the walks are open to anyone looking for fun, company and physical activity in the winter months.
“It’s a great opportunity for those who haven’t experienced Cree culture and traditional cooking to try it,” noted Moses. “There have been a lot of non-Native participants, teachers and nurses working in the community, this year.”
There’s also been a cultural ripple effect. With more people walking, the demand for traditional snowshoes and moccasins has risen, giving more work to the community’s artisans. That in turn, has inspired the younger generation to pick up those skills.
For Moses, the secondary benefits couldn’t be more welcome.
“One of the best lessons I got from my grandparents was to be adaptable,” said Moses. “My grandpa always said, ‘If technology helps you out on the land, embrace it.’”
Another lesson his grandparents, who are now both in their 90s, imparted on him was safety. “As I grew older, I kept in touch with the land and began venturing out on my own,” said Moses. “Even though my grandparents always had confidence to be safe out there, to this day they still remind me that the most important thing is returning home safe.”
That teaching has also been incorporated into the weekly excursions. Snowmobile assistance is available should any of the walkers need it. There’s also a shorter trail near the culture camp that can be used by people who want to walk but don’t think they can go the full 10k.
“Culture isn’t just about hunting and trapping – the stories, legends and activities are just as important,” Moses concluded. “We can never forget to encourage the next generation to learn their cultural history. With practice, we improve and we never stop learning.”