We hunted goose differently from the way the coastal people did. On the ice where there is a lot of open water is where we would go when we wanted to kill geese. When the geese were spotted sitting out on the ice on a lake, we made a trail to go to the shore beforehand, laying branches on the ground. We had a small yellow dog. We left him on the beach and gave him meat and he would run around. When the geese spotted him, they started coming towards the dog. Ducks of all kinds. Lots of them. All calling.
It was decided we would shoot when the person closest to the most birds gave the word. Of course we didn’t have the pump-action type of guns, just the double-barreled ones. I was just a young boy then. Someone would call out O.K. and the shooting would start. The birds would take off and the shooting would continue until everyone had shot off their two shells from the double-barreled shotguns. The shooting would end.
The next morning the hunting spot would be checked. More birds would already be there. Ducks, geese, all kinds of duck.
The geese were not usually cooked right away. They were collected until there were about 15 of them. When a child’s birthday approached, the geese were cooked for him. All the women worked. Once cooked, the geese were carved up. All of them. One of the geese was left uncarved. I would see my grandfather before he served the meal cover the meat with a completely white cloth and let it sit. Then he would bring in his drum and sing with it for a while. Making himself heard that he was giving thanks. He valued that type of food. And was careful with it. The entire goose would be cooked; the intestines, all of it, the gizzards, nothing was left when it was first killed.
After my grandfather finished his song he would tell of animals yet to be killed. I was happy when I heard him say that. He would say exactly where caribou were going to be killed. The hunters would head there the next morning. As many as there were, 10 of them, they would all be killed. That is why I was so happy to hear him tell of the animal that was going to be killed. I was sure I would see what he was predicting. That is why they respected their drums. That is how the old men used the drum, they used it for hunting.
Another time I heard him singing with the drum in the fall when the leaves were falling. He had removed the hair of the beaver over the fire, boiled it and was ladling the meat onto a plate. Then he sang. After his song he said, “You can see the way these leaves look, they’re falling now. We will see them bloom again. And we will all be in good health.” It was not until the next spring when the leaves bloomed we would see them again. We went our separate ways in the fall to where my father trapped.
When we saw them again, we saw that it was true what he had said. They were all safe and healthy. It was the same with us. That is why they were very careful with their drums, those old men. Children were never allowed to play with the drum. Only when the old men wanted to sing was when it was brought out.
The uncarved goose I was talking about, a small piece would be cut off along with the bannock and placed on a small plate and thrown into the fire as an offering. After the offering we would eat. The goose would be eaten first by the hunters only. Then the rest of the carved geese would be served and everybody was fed. Even the youngest child who wasn’t able to chew yet was given a plate with a bit of food on it. The eldest would then eat the child’s food. They said they did this so the child’s soul would be satisfied. If it wasn’t done the child would be ungrateful and greedy. The hunt would not go well if he wasn’t given a plate. Because it was not known how long the child would live, that is why they did this. So everybody would eat in the teepee. That’s how I saw it done. Nothing was left to waste. That’s what I saw being done with the goose when it was first killed.
We killed geese earlier in the south. It was seen earlier. I knew this from the old men telling each other stories when we came to the coast. Long before they saw them on the coast we had seen them. They showed up earlier.
Sometimes it would come to be that more caribou were killed when there were just patches of snow left. When the meat accumulated it was dried and smoked. The caribou oil would be prepared. Sometimes the men wouldn’t even go out hunting. They would be working on the meat. This they would keep. When it was packed it would be wrapped up in a caribou hide that still had meat on it. It would be completely sealed along with the oil. When it was to be cooked at a feast, only then it was opened. My, you could tell right away what kind of meat it was—that it was caribou meat. It smelled like it had just been killed. That was the way they did it. Nothing was thrown away and wasted. There were never pieces scattered all over the place and thrown away. When all the people had gathered, the Eastmain people would usually arrive later. Whenever the rivers had cleared of ice. Then they would try to come and people would wait for them. When they had all arrived they would cook the food. The Elders were invited first and they would eat. One of the caribou hides had been prepared and coloured with berry juice along its legs. My mother always had these berries they used for decorating drum and caribou hides. The decorated caribou hide would be hung facing the East and then we would eat. That’s how I saw it done.
There was always food to eat where my father hunted. But not so much. There was moose, caribou and beaver. These were what we lived on, we who lived inland.
I was like that before the way they hunt now. I was different. I did not use what they use today. These are what I used, my legs. Like my father, especially my father. Fortunately he saw the arrival of the snowmobile. But we used a lot of the land even though we used only our legs. Game was not plentiful. That is why we used a lot of the land. We never stayed in one place. Just travelling around. That is why we caught furs. That is the way we were.
George Diamond is a hunter, fisherman and trapper from Waskaganish. He is 74 years old.