This is a story from when I was young. I said to my father, “I am very hungry.” I thought I would not be able to reach the tent, the way I felt. My father would ask me, “Do you want to eat?” I answered him, “Yes.” He told me, “You will not feel hungry later.” Finally, I felt better. After a while, you feel very hungry again. When it starts again, you feel twice as bad. When it was supposed to be time to eat I felt very hungry. I would think, “I wonder if he knows I am very hungry?” He gave me the wing part of a partridge plus one foot when we stopped to eat. My father told me, “We will have to eat the bones, too.” So he crushed the bones with an axe. After we finished eating, I didn’t feel any different. I thought, “We should have not made a fire as I am still very hungry. Maybe, he is trying to show me all the hardships he had when he was young.” He used to tell me all about the hardships and his hunger when he was young. He said to me, “The longest I didn’t eat was five days. I thought I would not be able to walk. When I started to eat half a partridge, I felt better.”
He said, “For about 10 days, we did not have anything to eat or else very little. Sometimes we had a few partridges but there were no leftovers. They would serve me half a partridge. I tried to save half of that for the next morning. I was not full after a quarter of a partridge, especially the morning meal. There were a lot of children with us. I was very worried about them, as they were very greedy. For five days, we could not find any food.”
He asked me, “Do you think you could walk without food for five days?” I did not answer him as I thought I probably would not have made it.
Finally, he said, “They started killing partridge first. They killed 10 partridges, which was considered a lot of meat after five days without it. I ate almost one partridge. Then I felt full and better. We drank the boiling liquid of the partridges.”
He said, “We had to move now and again. There were more children walking now, although they were very hungry. The parents would tell their children, ‘Hurry now, you had something to eat,’ although they ate very little. The next morning, we moved again. After everyone was settled, we went hunting. We killed two porcupines and four partridges. We did not stay there, we travelled on again. Our next hunt, we killed one porcupine and five partridges. Even when we would have very little killing, we still tried to save it up for the next meal or day. The next stop, we killed another porcupine. There was a big snow storm.
“All of the children were very tired and weak. We were not sure if they would be able to walk. The next day, we went out hunting for partridge. We decided to travel on as the storm cleared up. There were three of us men. One of the men wanted to leave us.
“There was very little food the next morning. That day, when we went hunting, we only killed five partridges. All of us had to share the five partridges. This man told us, ’We are going to leave you all.’ This family had no children, there were three of them, his wife, his wife’s sister and him. This man said, ‘I am truly leaving you here. I will go another way with my family.’ My father told him, ’I don’t think you should go alone because we all had very little to eat. If one of us men Is not able to hunt, one of us who can hunt will be able to go and if you were alone, you will not be able to hunt anything.’ This man still insisted that he will go on his own with his family. He told them, ‘I will go, maybe I will be able to kill a partridge on my way or this evening.’ My father said, ‘Let him go, if he wants to go.’ When we travelled again, we reached a lake where we could fish. When
we reached the lake, it was very dark. They started making the tent. We decided to fish in the lake. Although we were very hard up, my mother had saved a little fish used for bait. All of us, two men, were fishing. The man had left with his family in the morning, the day we moved to the lake.
“It was very dark when we finished setting the fishing lines. We decided to hunt for partridges. I killed two partridges, my father did not kill any partridge. After returning from hunting, we checked our fishing lines. It was almost 20 days that we had very little to eat. We brought two fish home, we caught one each. My father said, ‘Cook both of them. Don’t cook the two partridges.’ I thought, maybe I will be able to have a filling meal. My father said, ’I guess I will be able to fill myself up.’
“They gave me the head plus the stomach to eat. I thought, ‘I have a lot to eat compared to my dishes when there was very little food.’ After I finished eating, I felt like a person who has been shot. We all fell asleep. This was because we had very little to eat for 20 days. The next morning, we caught two fish each. We started killing more fish, in a day, we would catch two, three or four. Now, I was feeling better.
“My father had a dream. He dreamt about the man who left us. He dreamt that his fire was burning out. He told me, ‘You should try and see this man. You can carry a load of food.’ It was four nights we did not see him. The day I left, it was very stormy. Sometimes I could follow his trail, sometimes I lost his trail. The day I left, I could not find them. I slept along the way. The next evening, I had an idea where they were. When I found them, the woman told me, ’My husband has already starved to death.’ I gave the woman all of the food I had. The woman had left the body inside the tent. That evening I returned home to tell my father. I reached home that night. My father killed almost 10 fish, as he had a set a net. My father and I went out to bury the man. I was able to eat when I reached home as I gave the woman all the food I had. They brought more food for the women. We were lucky to find them, as only the man starved to death instead of all of them.”
“Then my father had set the net and got nine fish. Then we got five caribou. Then he said. ‘I am sorry the other man went off by himself – he would still be alive at this time.’ And we stayed at the lake for quite a while because we were killing lots of fish. Then we killed another 10 caribou. So we killed a lot of food after that. We had been so hard up, it was as if we weren’t hunting. Where we killed the 10 caribou we left the nets on the lake, still. All this time I still remember the man that left us and starved.”
(John’s father was named Jacob. His grandfather was named Nahagagi. The man that starved was named Kamchatstatasini, “Big Rock.”) After that the partridges were very easy to kill. As soon as they had started to hunt in the fall his father had bad luck. My father didn’t have a wife at that time, he was just living with his father. My grandfather told his son to help his mother fix the meat when the old man left. They make grease out of the bones – smash the bones and boil them in water. When he came back again he killed another four caribou – big ones. My grandfather was very sorry when he came back from the four caribou. “That man would be alive still if he had stayed. I guess that’s why he wanted to leave us, he wanted to go away and starve. Maybe God wanted it that way.” His father told him, “Go for the nets, then we’ll go for the four caribou.”
“And when I went for the nets and hooks. I brought back a big load, 50 fish. When I brought the big load, still I remembered the man who starved. Everybody was very poor at that time, very thin, even the women, they were so hard up. That’s the way people do when they don’t eat. They get thinner, thinner. My father told me to pick everything up from there. Where we had our tents on the lake, we left lots of food there. After that we were doing well, it was about the end of March. It was the third of March when we lost the man by starving. So we were very sorry when they had lots of food so soon.”
From Cree Narrative: Expressing the Personal Meanings of Events,
Richard J. Preston