“My power comes from my leg,” he said. “See that guy over there?… His leg is not well either so he learns very easily.”

Steven Sheshamush talked of his skills as a carver. He uses a crutch to walk around. He said the problem with his leg gives him the power to carve. A legendary soapstone carver, Steven Sheshamush carries with him ancient Cree knowledge. The knowledge is being carried on to another group carvers.

Steven along with Samson Shem, Job Kawapit, Andrew Kawapit Sr. and Peter Sandy, and many onlookers, were in the process of building a canoe during the Annual General Assembly in Whapmagoostui. Steven was directing his crew during the canoe-building process. They handpicked and cut the wood used for the canoe across the river from the community. A raised platform of sand provided the support for the skeleton of the canoe. A canvas was stretched out between logs that were buried at the ends of the canoe.

Then, it seemed as if they built the canoe around the stretched canvas. The work site was covered in wood shavings. The felled trees were prepared by hand, cutting the trees to the appropriate lengths and then shaving with a Muukitakin and carpenter’s
plane into pliable strips which would be used for the ribs. The spine or Wokinatuuk would be inside, “which is the Cree way,” Steven said. “The Wahmschtikuushiuu have theirs on the outside.”

Steven talks with the air and knowledge that he just may be one of the last Cree people able to build canoes and other tools in the traditional way. The confidence was very evident during the days we were there. He directed his crew as he sat in his chair, rising only when he had to. Sometimes he would personally carve some wood if it was at a sensitive time in the process. Using only his eyes for measurement, he always made sure someone saw how he carved a particular piece.

When I arrived in Whapmagoostui on Tuesday one of the first stops my guide Sonny took me to was the culture camp up on the hill, where they were building the canoe. By that time they had the frame and canvas in place. They were working on finishing up the slats for the ribs. Sometimes the weather would interrupt their progress. They then put the ends of the canoe in place. Next up were the gunwales which they were securing as we left on the Friday, leaving the ribs and finishing left to do.