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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

In the spirit of the traditional hunt

BY Xavier Kataquapit May 8, 2024

It looks like the swallows are back and that is a sure sign of warmer weather to come. A couple of weeks ago I heard the honking of Niska (Canada geese) as they paused to take a break on the field behind our house in Kirkland Lake. They seemed to have moved on now and have arrived at their summer destinations on the shore of James Bay. 

My family and friends have been heading out to their traditional camps for the past week or so and they are having success in harvesting Niska. This is a time where my people enjoy being on the land and practising our traditional pursuits in the way that our ancestors have since the dawn of time.

These days things are very different as the First Nation of Attawapiskat finds funding to transport many people by helicopter to the remote camps. Many of these camps are on Akamiski Island where most of my family have traditional camps and my brother Anthony and his family are situated way up north on Lakitusaki (Lake River) where my mother’s people were originally from. 

Many of my family members have been at their camps for over a week and managed to get there by snowmobile. These days there is a lot of preparation involved in transporting food and equipment up to the camps so that life is a little easier than our ancestors experienced. Years ago, our people travelled to their hunting and gathering lands by dog sled or simply by snowshoe treks lasting many hours. 

The camps my family have constructed and renovated over the past few years are comfortable places in very remote areas. My brothers Paul, Joseph and their families have done a great job in setting up all the comforts of home in the middle of nowhere. They have satellite service with internet coverage, so they enjoy watching entertaining video streams and surfing the internet in between setting up hunt blinds and harvesting Niska. They now have full kitchens where they can cook great meals to share with family and friends. 

I am very familiar with all the gatherings and the hunting that goes on at this time of year as I was raised in this reality. Most of my hunting for the past couple of decades has to do with taking photos of the animals and birds on the land. I have also documented much of this life in writing to share with non-Indigenous people. 

I am also aware of the danger that is involved. People should be very careful to survive during these revitalizing trips to family camps. There are many risks travelling on the ice on the great James Bay by snowmobile, with severe weather and even visiting polar bears. This year I hear there have been more polar bear sightings. Thanks to the wisdom of local Elders and experienced hunters, everyone is kept safe while they are on the land. 

However, at times tragic things happen that result in injury or death. This past month, Joe Rickard, a young man I grew up with, died when a helicopter landing at one of the camps came in contact with him. That experience was terrible for family and friends who witnessed such a horrific situation and the loss of a kind and caring young man. 

I wish everyone a good hunt and a wonderful time filled with good times and family gatherings with friends. At the same time, I send my condolences to the Rickard family and all of Joe’s friends. It is my hope that everyone has a good experience, and they all make it home safe. The treks my family and friends make out onto the land is a huge gift to the younger ones who are learning our traditional Cree hunting and gathering skills. They are seeing and feeling the power of nature and discovering how beneficial this reality is for their minds, bodies and souls. 

There is a freedom there on the land on the shores of the great James Bay and the many rivers on the coast that you can only know if you are fortunate to have been born Mushkego Cree and you have the spirit of your ancestors all around you when out on your traditional lands. 

Mee-noh Tah-mee-nee-ook Mee-see-way (Good traditional hunt to everyone)!

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Xavier Kataquapit is Cree from Attawapiskat First Nation on the James Bay coast. He is a writer and columnist who has written about his life and Indigenous issues since 1998.