I joined the Cree Youth Heritage Journey in August 2009 from Mistissini to Waskaganish. I was the assistant guide in Group 1 and Lawrence Neeposh was our head guide.
I had a hard time, about whether I should go on this canoe trip as that trip was the last route my son, Jeremiah, took in the summer of 2006 from Mistissini to Waskaganish. At the age of 23, Jeremiah ended his life on February 26, 2007.
Jeremiah loved the outdoors. He would spend his summers participating in canoe expeditions from Mistissini to Waskaganish, down to the Pontax River to Waskaganish, Nemaska to Waswanipi, Waskaganish to Nemaska and lastly from Nemaska to Old Nemaska. He made a lot of canoe trips with Eric Cheezo, who called Jeremiah “my scout”. He also took a course on white water rescue.
Jeremiah loved these canoe brigades and from time to time he would laugh remembering these special moments during the brigade. He would also tell me a lot of good stories during this time. He respected and cherished the Cree way of life. The last trip was a winter journey; he was helping out with the youth from Nemaska to the old post and return. In February 2007, he used the skidoo to haul some of their stuff and camping gear. We have a picture where you can see his skidoo trail at that time he assisted the Youth Council leading to the sun going down.
Going back to the journey I participated in from Mistissini to Waskaganish as we departed from the mouth of Mistissini Lake. The first couple of days were hard and we struggled. Some days were awesome and there were days when it rained, days when it was windy and even thunderstorms struck at times. The cooks were great and they had to cook our meals three times a day. Even when it was rainy and windy, they still cooked our meals and they were tired at the end of each day. I was amazed at the strength they had, cooking for 30 participants each and every day. I would like to thank them for doing a good job. Each day we had to paddle and portage. On this trip I lost 21 lbs, which I did not mind at all. I would go on this trip again if there was one organized in the future.
I wanted to say to the youth who participated that they helped me a lot with my grief over the loss of my wonderful son Jeremiah. During the three weeks, I watched them and enjoyed being around them because they reminded me of my son, how precious life is, watching them laugh and having a great time. The youth were full of life and excited as we paddled on the Rupert River one last time. I want to encourage the youth to keep on striving to live each day and if you think there is no way out, reach out to someone who loves you. Don’t give up on life for it is a gift and life is precious.
Each morning on the canoe brigade we were asked to speak. I would say to them, “Today is a brand new day, we have a goal to reach and our goal is to reach our destination, Waskaganish.” In life we have many goals that make us go further and we must keep going. On this trip, I watched the youth and enjoyed every minute with them. Some would whistle when we were paddling, this reminded me of Jeremiah, when he was happy he would do the same. It gives me a great honour to be part of this canoe expedition, and I would like to say, “Thank you for letting me be part of your lives.” I saw the beauty, the serenity, the power that the Rupert River had as we traveled to our destination.
I write this story to speak out about how it is to lose a son who died at a young age. As a father I struggle daily, even wondering how this could happen to me, how other people think of me as a father. There are things we can’t change as a father when that happens, we can’t see that far ahead. There is a lot of regret when this happens, you wish you could have done things differently or things that you said, you can’t apologize because it’s too late. You feel lonely, sad, distressed and there seems to be someone missing, especially at family gatherings. One time we had a feast and after everybody was seated, we had one open seat. These are the things people face when they lose someone they love in a tragic way. Overall, you have disappointments after disappointments, you feel a lot of guilt, things could have been done differently and blaming other people why my son is not here with me. There were times when my son was beaten by a bunch of bullies. These are the things that a parent has to go through after a suicide. Questions that never seem to have answers.
Furthermore, I wanted to thank the people who came during our great loss. I still remember who they were; they supported us on that day and the days that followed the death of my youngest son. I could not find the strength to write this, until now. It’s been three years since my son died. My house is still the same. I still see the basement where my son hung himself. I asked the band council to relocate me and my family to a new house to call home. But they say I have too many bills. I guess bills are more important than our well-being.
Going back to the end of the canoe brigade, arriving in Waskaganish was the hardest. As we reached the shores of our destination I knew it was time to say goodbye to the group, it was our last moment together. I made a lot of good friends during the trip and they will forever be in my heart. At the same time, I remembered my late son Jeremiah Tanoush, as he reached his goal in finishing the brigades he attended. I am still proud of him today and his accomplishments of participating in these canoe brigades. My family was there to support me. As I watched other parents hug their sons, it reminded me that day he used to arrive in Waskaganish. I felt his presence right there beside me and it reminded me that I was there for him, he would say, “Thank you dad for coming and picking me up.”
Last but not least, I am still on a healing journey and I have just started. I thank God for being here with me during this time and hope that you all enjoy what you still have. Please remember that family is the most important thing in life. To the youth, may the sun always shine on you and wishing you all the best in life!
In the spirit of the Cree Nation, I remain,
Nemaska Cree Nation