It was a whale of a time. As usual with any trip on Air Creebec, our airline of choice, we were traveling standby. It is not unusual to get bumped, but the land was with us as we traveled to enjoy the 13th Annual Whapmagoostui Traditional Gathering. It is located where in the old days Cree gathered for the summer. It made Whapmagoostui seem as deserted as any Cree community during Goose Break.
We were looking forward to outdoor air conditioning since Great Whale is located where Hudson’s Bay meets James Bay. We were informed however that the week before Grand Baleine had been the hottest place in North America with a temperature of over 38 degrees Celsius. It was almost as hot during the couple of days we were there. Instead of sweating buckets lugging around camera and sound equipment, we rented a four wheeler for three days. Our days of ease ended the first night when some youth stole the bike. Coming back from shooting we noticed one by the side of the road. Lo and behold, the creator was still with us. It was our vehicle, hot wired and now out of gas. A pretty passerby slid her four wheeler behind ours and gave us a push back to the hotel. We’ll remember her kind smile as she waved and drove away.
Her actions were what we had come to expect in Kuujuaraapik. The people there welcomed us and were always friendly and smiling.
Even though we aren’t Elders we were welcomed and allowed to film an Elders’ feast. It was put on by Ernie and Charlotte from Waswanipi. They had also held the sweat lodge for those interested. At the feast they brought a treat for the Elders: two beaver that were spun by the fire for most of the day driving passersby crazy with hunger. A giveaway was held also and even we were treated like honorary Elders, receiving a pair of socks each. It was hard to tell which of us needed them more.
Ernie explained to us that in holding sweats, feast and giveaways he wasn’t trying to promote the old days of conjuring but rather the sharing that came naturally to our ancestors. We can attest that it lives on in Whapmagoostui.
We shared in another feast with Matthew Mukash. He held the feast to honour the geese and what they meant not only to him but to all Crees. He gave thanks that they were a part of his and our lives.
Participating in the Gathering, we could not help but notice how many people were happy and having fun. The kids were open and laughing almost as constantly as the adults. Everyone was relaxed and helping each other. It seemed like another world. It is something that we should all have in our lives.