“My dear young one,” he said, “I’m going to tell you a story of my youth. Listen carefully and I’ll tell you about the many hardships we had to go through… I remember my grandfather. He was a wise and great hunter. He was also a proud and kind man, and he took care of his family and the other people in his camp. Whenever big game was killed he taught us to share with the rest of the people at camp…
Every season when the leaves start to change colour the whole family including my grandparents would go upriver to our traplines as was the tradition of our people. Along the way my father and grandfather hunt for small game of birds and animals, but that particular season, small game was scarce. It was really hard to kill anything that could serve as our nourishment As we travel along the river, we would stop to set up camp for a few days rest and to set up our nets. My father and grandfather would go in the forest in search of wild animals and birds that were essential for our survival.
Finally, we reach our destination and we set up our teepee. Our supplies were at their lowest since father and grandfather hadn’t had much luck in their search of small game… As time went by and winter was upon us, we hardly had anything to eat. Every day my father would go in the forest in search of any kind of game he could find with no luck. Most of the family members were getting weaker every day. I recall seeing my grandfather looking into space in deep thought..
One morning (as my mother told me in later years), my grandfather called my father to his side and said, “My son, I have given this a lot of thought and I think it’s best for your mother, your family and you, my son, to leave me here and try to reach the river. When you do, continue on until you reach the village.” My father looked at my grandfather with a sad expression and said, “I will not leave you my father. You are our leader, our strength and our hope. Please don’t ask us to leave you.”
My grandfather looked at my father with tears in his eyes and replied, “My son, you know how much I love your mother and the rest of the family too. You’ve got to do as I command, leave me behind and I guarantee you will all survive and you will see my grandchildren grow up in perfect health and grace. But if you don’t do as I say, we will all die for sure. So you see, my son, you have little choice, but to leave me here.” My father knew it was no use arguing with my grandfather. He just had to obey and leave him behind just as he wished.
It was my mother’s job to set up a teepee for my grandfather. She made it as comfortable as possible. She also chopped firewood and took it inside as much as she could and then she put a small stick beside my grandfather so he could tend to the fire. After she finished getting everything ready and having had my grandfather settled down comfortably, that’s when she went over to him to say her good-byes. She fell on her knees beside him, putting her arms around his neck, and cried, remembering the many happy years she had spent with him and his wife ever since she married my father. My grandfather comforted her, saying, “Hush, my daughter, don’t cry for me. You will see my grandchildren grow up because you’ve done what I asked of you even though it has broken your hearts, I know. Go now and be happy.” My mother left him with a sad heart, but she knew this was what he wanted. Since he had been their leader they had to obey his last command even though it meant they would never see him again…
When we traveled from one place to another I usually walked beside my grandfather, but on this particular day, he didn’t seem to be traveling with us. I asked my mother, “Where’s grandfather? Did he go another way?” My mother replied, “Hush, little one, don’t say anything, just walk.”
My father usually traveled ahead of us pulling our toboggan with our few belongings. We must have traveled for two days or more, I don’t quite remember, when I saw my father stop as he let go of the toboggan. Then I recall seeing him take his rifle as he started running toward the shore of the lake we were traveling on. After a few minutes we heard two shots. I yell to my mother, “Come on, I think my father killed something, hurry! ” We walked as fast as we could to where we last saw my father disappear to. We saw him kneeling beside a big black furry thing. I asked my mother, “What is it? What did he kill?” Before she could answer, my father said looking at me with tears in his eyes, “Come here, my son, come and see.” I went over and I could see it was a big black bear. My father said to my mother, “We’ll make camp here for a few days.”
My mother helped my grandmother set up our teepee. After everything was ready, my father put the bear in front of my grandmother, as was the tradition. When you kill a big game, you have to give it to an Elder as a gesture of respect… When my grandmother saw all this food in front of her, she broke down and cried. She must have thought of my grandfather and of the way they both felt whenever they saw this much food during their life together. She must have remembered my grandfather whom we left behind, so that the rest of us could survive. And we did survive.