It was a last-minute decision to take a needed vacation. My brother Donny called to say he was heading back to Mistissini for the week. Would my son Declan and I want to come?
It was a resounding yes from both of us. For months, every time Declan saw a plane in Montreal’s sky he would always say, “Daddy, can we go north? We go north?” I would say that we would go soon but Covid and other problems made this more difficult than it should have been in the past two years.
Everyone needs vacations. For many Cree down south, that means going back to Eeyou Istchee, the land we have inhabited beyond the limits of recorded memory. After all, one of our teachings tells how to kill a mammoth.
Declan wants that connection just as much as any other Indigenous person belonging to the land. He told me once that he wants to hunt and kill a moose. I explained that, at six-and-a-half years old, he wasn’t ready. He would have to start with time-honoured lessons on how to hunt responsibly. He said, “Maybe a rabbit?”
My brother and a good friend, being both well-trained in this, began Declan’s hunting lessons by making sure everyone was safe in these activities. It’s the way we were taught as people who draw sustenance from our lands and who keep a strong connection with it.
His trip to Mistissini was also about connecting with family and the community. We are a welcoming and caring people. When you meet us, we start incorporating you and your story into ours. By being there, you become a part of a very large family who will anxiously await another visit and to watch you reach milestones in your life.
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of Cree children being able to go back to their communities and extended families to make these bonds. It’s vital that they learn their identity, culture, language and people.
Declan also wanted to go fishing. My uncle Don loaned us a canoe and for the first time in many moons, I took a canoe on my shoulders and carried it to the water. My steps were not as sure as they were in the past. Without asking, Declan helped to carry stuff to the canoe. It would be his first fishing trip in Eeyou Istchee. Surprisingly, I paddled for two hours.
Declan had a new children’s rod to start and a few of his hooked fish almost make it to the boat. There were a few tears of frustration, but it was a start. With practice this will get easier, we told him. He will catch many fish. We were passing on important teachings with each step.
Still, we brought home a nice walleye for supper that night. Uncle Don invited us for an amazing supper of his famous walleye nuggets. Declan loved playing with his cousins Phoenix and Ryder throughout the evening.
Declan attended his first Mistissini Cree Nation annual general assembly. He met newly elected Chief Michael Petawabano, who reminded him he was also a cousin of his. He met many others, and some reminded me that my hair was the same colour at his age. The way a community remembers is amazing. Declan also heard Cree spoken throughout the proceedings and collected many gifts from the booths. He seemed to shine outside Montreal.
Bringing our children home to learn what it means to be a Cree is incredibly important. They may get a different education in the city, but connecting with their culture, history and identity is priceless. I hope to be able to say yes many more times when he asks if we can we go north.