A majestic sun rises over the Rupert estuary and illuminates the long point stretching out of Waskaganish unto the vast James Bay horizon. Amidst the wide landscape, a tiny woman stands by her tent, along the riverbank, and reads the Bible – as she does every morning – before starting her daily chores. Soon, she will be cleaning hides, cooking meat, attending to the needs of her children or preparing medicine to alleviate someone’s pain. The quiet little woman, who works from sun-up to sundown, is radiant with an energy that is peaceful, serene and powerful. She has a beautiful smile and the penetrating eyes of a healer. This somewhat portrays Josephine Diamond at the peak of her years while residing in Waskaganish, during high season. But so much more can be said.
Mary Diamond-Bear and her brother Sinclair Diamond were gracious to open the family albums and tell us a bit more about their mother’s amazing story and how she managed to spend most of her life in the bush.
Josephine begins her life as the child of a single parent. Sarah McLeod, her mother, looks after her three girls (along with sisters Lily and Louise) with limited means through the early childhood years. Fortunately Sarah is able to rely on the support of her own mother, Gookum Mary Blackned, and her sisters, aunties Anna Hester, Helen Weistche and Minnie Hester. Everyone knows that it takes a community to raise a child. Together these women possess a wealth of knowledge in the Cree traditional way of life and Josephine partakes in it early on thanks to her rich extended family. She is often taken to the bush where she learns the skills.
In 1934, she starts attending residential school. Like so many Cree children who experience the painful separation with their parents, Josephine has to leave her mother and home at the tender age of 10 in order to meet with the educational requirements of the times. She spends two years in Moose Factory (Ontario) and then three years in Fort George (Chisasibi). From ages 10 to 16, and during all this time, there are no visitations and Josephine can only return to her village for two months a year (July and August).
From age16 until her wedding in 1942, Josephine is back in her village and taken under the wing of other families who help further her knowledge of the Cree way. Willie and Mary Moses, Maggie Cowboy and Ronnie Cowboy all play an important role in her life.
THE ’40s & ’50s
Her marriage with Bertie Diamond helps her pursue a life in the bush. Along with her husband, she goes out on the land where they fish, hunt and trap together. When Bertie is involved with the Rupert River Brigade, she keeps busy by hunting for small game, setting rabbit snares and fish nets. She also works alongside Bertie during the Beaver Preserve Program.
In the 1960s, she accompanies Bertie, one of the Waskaganish Cree Trappers who participated in the Ministry of Natural Resources beaver trapping-out program in Ontario. From 1960 to 1985, they hunt and trap in various traplines on Michipicoten Island on Lake Superior, Gogama, Shining Tree, Hornepayne, Oba and Hearst. They also participate in the Northern Ontario Reforestation Program, and together they are involved in tree planting, pinecone picking and slashing.
Closer to home, Josephine and Bertie are known to hunt and trap in the La Sarre area, Matagami, Rupert and Nottaway rivers, as well as on two Waswanipi traplines. They leave late in August and return in June, every year. She and her husband portage for many years and bring with them whichever baby is in mother’s care or has not started school. Josephine walks the children, she climbs rocks and stone-hops by rivers and streams, while Bertie is gathering supplies. Both are clever in the art of snowshoe making and, like their ancestors, they are able year-round travelers.
Although she is considered an intelligent and skilful woman, Josephine remains very humble. Her language skills and her knowledge of traditional medicine make her a useful helper and interpreter while visiting patients in the community with the Anglican minister. She also produces and provides traditional remedies. She uses alder for canker soars, ulcers and soar throat. Spruce gum, willow bark and balsam fir gum are used for other ailments. She also uses moose grease for burns, bear grease and castor glands for various other treatments. She also gives precious child rearing advice; she also shares her skills on cleaning hide and sewing. Josephine gathers knowledge and passes it on.
WOMAN OF FAITH
Josephine’s demeanour through hardships is also inspiring and is worth a full biography on its own. Her mother dies in 1947 when she’s only 23 – seven years after her return from residential schools and two years into her marriage. Her sister Lily, with whom she was very close, dies from tuberculosis in 1959. Josephine loses all her closest friends over the next few decades. Such is her fate.
Bertie, her companion of 54 years, passes on to the Creator in 1997. Her lifelong friend Louisa Diamond passes in 2007. Josephine ages gracefully. She never complains. She is never bitter. She’s busy looking after others. She cooks and feeds everybody. When she’s out of food, she makes tea and bannock. She adores her grandchildren and shows affection to everyone. She gives hugs and kisses to children and adults alike. The little woman known as “Googooh” is a healing mother to many. She likes everyone. She has a lot of non-Native friends. She likes community events. She jokes and teases and gets it back.
Josephine walks on with her faith in the Lord Saviour. She attends church regularly. When she’s in the bush, the first thing she does every morning at dawn is to read her Bible and it is the last thing she does before she goes to bed.
Her last trial takes place on June 13, 2010 when she accidentally backs up on a boiling pot while cooking moose on an open fire, and she burns one of her calves. Her wound takes long to heal and prevents her from going back to the bush for a long time. This interrupts abruptly the many activities she loves to do.
When the doctors finally allow her to return to the bush on May 13, she immediately proceeds to move all her belongings into her new cabin at the gravel pit (20 km outside of Waskaganish) and manages to clean the entire adjacent shoreline. On the afternoon of Saturday, May 14, 2011, while in her teepee, cooking and working, she collapses. Family and friends believe the new cabin that made Josephine so proud was – in fact – the waiting room for God’s grander mansion.
This giant leaves in her wake a priceless heritage and a never-ending story. It seems like everyone who knows her can share a wonderful story about Googooh. She is to be regarded as a keeper of the light and tradition. A defender of Native customs as they have been passed by Elders before her, patriarchs and matriarchs of a proud race. She is a model of hard work, humility, faith and acceptance – a true beacon for the generations.
Josephine is survived by seven children, 24 grandchildren, 29 great-grandchildren and five great-great-grandchildren.