The rising of the yeast

Share Button

Nemaska’s 40th anniversary in its current location got me to thinking about the time before the community was officially recognized. In those long-past days, Indian Affairs decided to make their jobs a little easier by simply adding the Cree from Nemaska and Oujé-Bougoumou to the Mistissini Band.

In those days, the people from the Nemaska area had tent frames by the shore between MacLeod’s point and the Hudson’s Bay Company trading post. Usually they had plywood floors and walls with canvas roofs. Some were just prospector’s tents.

Resources for simple log cabins weren’t forthcoming from Indian Affairs at the time. That legacy continues to this day.

Those tents were peculiar, but that wasn’t why the RCMP would occasionally visit, uninvited. Mounties would enter Cree homes without a search warrant, and anyone found with what they considered too many packets of yeast were fined. The reasoning being that if you had that many packets, some were being used to make homebrew. But even though possession of yeast was not an offense under the Criminal Code (except, apparently, for Native people) some folks were, in fact, making homebrew.

In those days, if you passed by a Cree home a man might call out to you to come over. He would usually be sitting on a metal pail with a board across it. He would get up, take a tin cup and dip it into the pail. Then he would hand it to you. Until that first warm sip you didn’t know what kind of brew he had. Usually it was either raisin or spruce beer. Neither tasted particularly good but it did the job.

The fine for the yeast or beer if they found it was $10. It was a lot of money in those days and many Cree men did not have the means to pay. In that case they would have to spend a short time in jail in a distant white town. They would be released days later with no money and no way beyond hitch-hiking to get back to their community. Did I mention there was no road into Mistissini back then? It stopped about 16 or so kilometres from the community. So they would have to wait for some kind soul to give them a canoe or boat ride back.

In most cases, my grandfather Emmett MacLeod would pay the fines. He considered it as a necessary cost to continue following the Cree way-of-life – that you shared and cared for your fellow human beings.

Well, both Nemaska and Oujé-Bougoumou have their own communities once again and it is only right that they celebrate their return to their traditional territories. They were welcome guests and in some way will always be a part of Mistissini, but we can all understand what they achieved.

They were not given a choice in the past but have had to fight along with the rest of the Cree Nation to ensure that Cree can make their own decisions.

Happy 40th anniversary and may there be many more celebrations in the years to come.

Share Button

Comments are closed.