Many in the Cree Nation have talked about the traditional knowledge of our Elders and how some of it may be lost as they pass on. More and more, however, the Cree communities are doing something to not only preserve those teachings but are making it a part of everyday life. This is Mistissini’s story: what the community is doing to ensure Cree culture, values and knowledge will continue to be a part of everyday life. The Mistissini Band Council’s Public Health Department initiated Chishienuu Chiskutamaachwin a few years ago. One of the coordinators, Murray Neeposh, had a chance to talk to the Nation about the program. Most of the activities are centred on Murray’s Lodge, about eight kilometres from the community.
The Nation: So this is your camp?
Murray Neeposh: No, it isn’t. They just use my name. It’s for the community. All the activities that are taking place here are projects under Chishienuu Chiskutamaachwin, traditional Cree fishing. There are two projects going on, one here and another in the community. There’s a Shaptaun over there and that’s where the traditional fishing takes place. All of these are projects of the band that run for some time. Last year we ran it for 18 weeks. The fishing is a new project. It’s going to go about 24 weeks. Since it’s a new project, we’re going through the aches and pains of a new start. The Chishienuu Chiskutamaachwin, which is about traditional learning, we’ve had it for three years now. We have a pretty good handle on what we are doing in that area. The sewing, the wood carving and all that is going fine.
Are there a lot of participants from Mistissini?
Reasonably well. Somehow what we have noticed is that middle aged are involved and we would like to see more youth involved.
We are starting to see gradually there’s an increase in young people. We are starting to get their interest. All of this is an effort to get our youth to know where they came from. We want to help them to know what their grandparents were like and what they knew before outside people came into our communities. The government came in and all that and they took the children from their homes. There’s a lot of conflict that happened then. A lot of cultural disturbance took place. Many, many young people lost what they could have known from their parents, what they could have been taught.
You know, there are a lot of years in between here where residential schools attendance took place. As a result children stayed away from home and the parents were told to participate. They were threatened with the loss of family allowance, welfare would be taken.
So, there was a lot of pain, a lot of hurt. All of this separated us from what we would have known if we were in the bush. There are a lot of intricate, detailed hurts and pains that took place. It affected the Elders raising their children. The transfer of knowledge, the skills, the teaching they would do, that was taken away from them. And the children were robbed of their identity.
Do you think that’s why you have so many middle-aged people coming? They’re learning those skills they perhaps didn’t get?
Yes, I think that’s what happening right now. Their interest is there because now they see since they have been in and out of school now they are getting involved with the community. These middle-aged people see now how important our way of life is. Our culture, our way of life, what we have been missing. What we grew up with. The very reason of our existence is based on our culture and our way of life.
Some of these skills could lead to a career. There’s a market for some of these things?
Yes, but for this activity or type of project, we are not interested in that. We are interested in transferring skills. We want people to utilize the knowledge and skills. To be able to do things with their hands, to make cultural things. We want them to learn the skills of the Elders.
Secondly, when you do these things there is an inner healing from the aches and pains. As I have said before there a lot of things that are happening. It affected us in how we raise our children because we were away from our mothers for long periods of time. We didn’t learn that much back then when we came back. We see now how important it is to learn that.
There’s a lot of disturbance today and we acted up back then, too. All of this is interconnected. Our problems were caused by the schools because if we were raised by our parents we would have had more respect towards people, things, the animals, towards our surroundings, towards people from outside. We would have had more concern and respect for all of this.
It’s very important for our community to continue to do these activities for the sake of our children in the future to understand the importance of why we are here. We have a certain way of doing things and the Elders are teaching it to us. We will have to teach it to them and how will we do that if we do not learn it ourselves?
This program is something that has to evolve in order to maintain our culture, our way of life and our language. Our language is deteriorating very rapidly. Getting our youth involved will influence how much we retain in the future. If we don’t do anything like this the deterioration will increase as the years go by. Our Elders are passing on quite rapidly. That is why all of this is taking place.