Ahhh the goose hunt! For some it’s the best time of the year, when families and friends travel together to the camps, hunker down behind the blinds and get ready for some old-fashioned hunting. Some enjoy the simple thrill of the hunt, for others it’s a time to immerse themselves in Cree cultural activities and still for others it’s about being number one.
After calling around to all of the communities, one thing was present on just about everyone’s minds: the weather and its effect on the hunt. Though we have not been able to find out who killed the first goose in every community, just about everyone in every community had something to say about what Mother Nature brought them during the 2007 goose break.
According to Reggie Bearskin, Eddy Sealhunter was the first to get a goose in Chisasibi and, for the most part the hunt went very well up in the Cree metropolis. Said Bearskin: “This year I did better, I got maybe less than 10. The weather was kind of cold. It was not warm but the ice was still good here. Chisasibi had a good hunt because of the weather, we were still using ski-doos last weekend but last year we couldn’t, we had to use helicopters.”
Over in Eastmain, there was not as much cause for celebration as the season has been much slower. Rick Cuciurean of Eastmain said his sense is that “it’s been slow and late for this year. Some people have caught some birds but I think what is going to happen is that they are going to be two weeks late maybe.”
Bessie Tomatuk, the helicopter dispatcher for Eastmain, agreed that the season has been slower than usual. “I take care of the flights to the camps and coming back and usually that is how we know the geese are sent back,” said Tomatuk. “They will send bags and they are pretty heavy so it’s pretty obvious that it’s geese that they send, but we did not see very many this year.”
However, many were still out at their camps as of May 15. The whirly birds started to fly over Eastmain to aid the hunters back on May 7 as the Eastmain River was closed two days previously.
Though it’s been slow, Tomatuck said three camps south of the community did quite well. ‘At my dad’s camp they got over 100 and then the other camp had over 100 as well so that is pretty good.” Considering that there were only three shooters at her dad’s camp, they didn’t do too badly!When asked about the first goose for the community she said, “I think it’s Norman Gilpin, but I am not really sure, usually it’s him and I hear it’s him so maybe I am just thinking it’s him again.”
In Nemaska, Matthew Swallow was the first in the community to kill a goose, according to Kenneth Tanoush. For Tanoush, the goose hunt is “the best time of the year for Cree men and young Cree guys like me!”
His spirit of the season is not just about the birds. “We do a lot of cultural stuff, too. It’s not only geese; it can be fish or ducks so it’s very fun,” he said.
He said this year’s hunt was going well, though unevenly from family to family. “We did good, not bad as a family. I killed only four but my dad killed many, many, many, probably more than 20.” The Nemaska families could not use skidoos at all this year due to the lack of snow. From Tanoush’s experience, he thinks that they went out to hunt too early as the first week the birds were not really flying.
Ella from Nemaska (who did not want to give her last name), said the hunt was not very good. “There were hardly any geese flying, I have no idea why. I guess that is just the way it goes. It was a slower hunting season, though I guess everybody got their share.”
According to the boys in blue in Waswanipi, the verdict on the season tends to vary, depending on who you talk to. Joe Saganash said he went out but didn’t bag a single bird. “I am not sure who killed the first goose, but this year was slower than last year,” he said.
It was a different story for his coworker, Jonathan Saganash. “We have 300 or close to 300 geese. The whole family was there, I don’t know who shot the first one as I was a little late.”
In Waskaganish, Samuel Wesley killed the first goose, according to Jack Diamond, but he wasn’t sure exactly when. The hunt started earlier this year for Waskaganish and the community was able to use their snowmobiles the entire duration of a quite successful hunt.
When we spoke to the Nation’s own Sonny Orr of Whapmagoostui, he said that he had not yet shot anything despite having already been out goose hunting for a full week. While he was out the previous week the weather had been very cold was warming up, so the geese were showing up.
Though the Whapmagoostui hunt only started to pick up later, said Orr, “For some reason this year it seems to be good, all the other years there were some that caught geese but not like everybody complained. Not this year, people are killing to the point that they are running out of shells. It could be they are bad shots, too, I’ve already lost 150 shells so I am waiting for my chance this weekend. There are areas where they feed along the coast and there are a lot there now. I know the guys who just came back, they killed 60 in one day and 60 the day before.”
So, where as the killing started a lot later, this year’s hunt should be very successful for Whapmagoostui. Unfortunately, the information on who shot the first goose was not available.
Gregory from Wemindji (who did not want to give his last name) said he “only shot two geese, it was very slow.” He said the geese were still south of the community but the community’s elders are saying that the geese are expected to come back up. The geese, he says, “were here a long time ago like just a little bit, day by day they just flew, like two, three flocks a day. For the last two weeks we have not really seen them yet.” Gregory attributed the poor quality of this year’s hunt to global warming, with warmer temperatures and very little ice or snow at all this winter. “When it’s warmer, the geese, they just fly by.”
According to Don Macleod, in Mistissini, the hunt went fairly well. “We did a lot better last year, this year wasn’t as good.” Macleod said Anthony Macleod killed the first goose for their community. The big difference this year in Mistissini was that, according to Macleod, “the ice went out too fast. The water holes got bigger and the geese couldn’t land even on the ice so they had to find other places that were open,” which was what contributed to a slower season.
Cree Grand Chief Matthew Mukash said his family’s goose hunt this year was a very good one. “Indeed, what season this was for the Mukash family!”
Having lost his eldest sister, Juliet Mukash-Bullfrog, last August, Mukash got together with his two remaining siblings, Anne and Connie and their families to return to the Mukash family hunting camp for some family togetherness time. Though there was much sadness amongst the family due to having their first spring without their beloved sister, says Mukash, “we realized that her passing brought our-families closer together.”
At his camp, on the south coast of Hudson Bay about 70 km from Whapmagoostui, Mukash was focused on passing along the family’s hunting traditions to the younger men of the family, whose ages range from 8 to 15. They include his son Pakesso and nephew Isaac Kawapit.
With wonderful ice conditions on the Hudson Bay throughout the hunt they we were able to spend a lot of time at Long Island near Cape Jones. Though the trip started out very slow, said Mukash, “The big flocks arrived three days before we returned to the community, this is when the good moments hit at the blind. Our camp got about 60 geese, with more than 200 in all counting in the kill of the hunters from the three other families that came to spend the season with us at camp.”
Though many memories were created on this trip, what stands out most in his mind was the “the honour and excitement of the first kill,” for two of the young hunters on the trip.
No information was available for the community of Oujé-Bougoumou as the hunt was still ongoing at press time.