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Voices ᐋ ᐄᔮᔨᐧᒫᓂᐧᐃᒡ

Kaius and the caribou

BY Xavier Kataquapit Mar 15, 2019

Kee-sah-kee-eh-tee-nan Kaius. We love you, Kaius.

When the snow began to accumulate and the cold temperatures hardened the ground this winter, my older brother Ah-twen headed out into the open tundra north of Attawapiskat. His English name is pronounced Antoine Kataquapit and he is a traditional hunter, trapper and knowledge keeper who has years of living on the land. The place he went to is called Mooshoowak, an area where the bays of the Hudson and James meet. The Cree word is a description that basically describes the land as “clear” or “without features”. This is where the treeline ends and there is only soft tundra moss and grasses over layers of clay and sand. In the winter, it turns into a white barren desert.

Ah-twen went out to commune with the land as he had done since he was a boy. Our father Marius had brought him here often and our mother Susan’s uncle Abraham Paulmartin accompanied Ah-twen there many times. Our family knew Abraham as Wah-pah-koo-sheesh, the Cree word for mouse. He was one of the last of a generation of skilled hunters, trappers and traditional people who were capable of living off the land indefinitely.

On this recent visit, Ah-twen went for peace of mind and to meditate on the Elders who had taught him, his parents who had raised him and the many other hunters, trappers and traditional people who had gone before him. Our family had been part of this land for many generations and Ah-twen views this area as his second home. He was alone, as he prefers the silence and peacefulness of the land. He learned a long time ago from his Elders that if you have enough knowledge, you should never be afraid to wander out into what looks like a featureless barren and inhospitable wilderness.

Lost in his thoughts, he spotted a man pulling a toboggan on a distant rise of land. At first the person stood still but then raised their hand and arm in the air as if waving. Ah-twen had often heard of images like this from Elders and was not afraid even though he knew he was alone in this wilderness. He approached cautiously on his snowmobile and the form continued to stand. As he got closer, the image then moved away from the high point and disappeared to the other side of the rise. Ah-twen went to the spot where the figure had stood.

On that high point of land, he was astonished to see one of the largest herds of caribou he had ever come upon. Hundreds of animals stood grazing on the lichen and moss they uncovered from the snow-covered land. Great bulls with massive antlers wandered among them. None of them took notice of Ah-twen as they ventured close as he watched from the top of the hill. He marvelled at the sight for a long while. Over the years, his hunts had meant great preparation, tracking and enormous efforts to find a small group of caribou. He was astonished that he had stumbled on such an enormous herd.

He took the vision of the man on the hill as a good sign from his ancestors and as a message of good fortune. In our family, we’ve never believed in coincidences or chance events and always felt that signs like these involved our ancestors for good or for bad. To my brother Ah-twen, it was a powerful sign of good fortune.

Three months later, on February 7, his daughter Julia gave birth to his first grandson, Kaius Brendon Kataquapit. He was an unexpected birth as he arrived earlier than his due date.

Julia wanted a special unique name for her son but also desired to hold to tradition by memorializing her ancestors. She chose Kaius as a remembrance of her grandfather Marius’ name. Kevin chose the second name Brendon in remembrance of his best friend who had died in a hunting accident several years before.

I like to think that my brother Ah-twen did receive a visit from his ancestors on that lonely hill in the wilderness surrounded by hundreds of caribou to celebrate the birth of his first grandson. I am sure that this sign of good fortune will only bring more good things for their family.

Kee-sah-kee-eh-tee-nan Kaius. We love you, Kaius.

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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.