Tea & Bannock: Everlasting bond

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I used to spend all my summers in the bush, on the shores of Assinica Lake. My family owned Broadback Fishing Camp back then, so when the school year was over we would make our way to Chibougamau, take a hydroplane and join my mom, my aunt and my grandfather. We had to be creative and find ways to stay busy. We would work, swim and fish. I remember my mom waking us up at night to watch the northern lights on the dock. I miss this place every day.

During my time there, I observed animals a lot and learned how to interact with them. I would sit on the dock for hours fishing perch with the tip of a broken fishing rod and occasionally got scared by the pikes hiding under the dock that would try to catch my bait. I loved calling the loons. Sometimes, they would get really close to me, as if they were visiting. One of them, always alone, would come close to the boat. To this day I like to think it was nuumshuum William.

My summers in the bush helped shape my understanding of the strong bond we share with animals. One time, my brother, my dad and myself were the only ones at the camp. We went out on the lake fishing, as usual. At some point, three loons started flying in circle over our heads, literally screaming. They flew back and forth and didn’t stop until we started heading back to the camp. A thunderstorm was coming and as soon as we got to the dock, it started pouring. I remember us running to the kitchen as the sky was going black.

I was still very young at that time, but I understood how powerful nature can be. The storm was so violent; a lightning bolt struck the antenna and the satellite telephone blew up in bright colours next to us. We sat together quietly in the middle of the kitchen, processing everything that happened. That day, three loons saved my brother, my father and I, and stayed with us instead of seeking shelter quickly. I will never forget the eerie sound they made, a sound I never heard from them again.

I had many intense encounters with animals in my life, some too sacred to share. An Elder once told me his father never said how he hunted animals because it’s such a personal bond you share with them that you have to respect it and honour it.

I was taught to never brag about killing animals as they surrender their lives for you to live. Working at Aanischauukamikw all winter also gave me the opportunity to learn beautiful stories and teachings from some of my coworkers. I found out about the caribou hunting coats and how fancy our ancestors would dress on hunting trips. Intricate designs were painted on our hunting coats to be visible to the animals – the more visible you were, the bigger the animal you would get. It was a great demonstration of respect.

Even if things have changed quite a bit since the caribou coats, some Elders still ask their grandchildren to wear something new on their first hunt. You have to dress nicely to meet the land.

I’m currently living in Mistissini with my aunt, uncle and grandmother. Every morning when I walk to work, I can hear the loons calling on the lake. Smalls details like that put a smile on my face and make me feel safe. They’re small details, but great reminders of bigger teachings we can’t forget, teachings that make us Cree after all.

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