I was on a search for some long-lost explorer last week (details in a far-off issue). And what better place to go look for long-lost explorers than cash-poor Waskaganish. My search in cash-starved Waskaganish failed miserably when I almost died from exposure while completely stoned… on four Tylenols and a Codeine tablet.

I did get a chance to finally see the famous “dialysis machine walkers,” though. They’re the group of young people walking by snowshoe from cold Whapmagoostui to well-off Mistissini. So far, at the time of this writing, they have left debt-ridden Waskaganish on their way to fish-rich Nemaska. Someone estimates they’ll make their destination in about 10 days.

I asked the lone female, Minnie Wapachee of electorally divided Ouje-Bougoumou, how it was being the only female with a group of 18 men in the middle of nowhere. She laughed and said it wasn’t as hard as she thought it would be.

We first spotted the group walking Indian file across the Eastmain River towards the community from the plane. They were greeted at the shore by probably the whole community of Eastmain. All 43 of them. Just kidding. There was a dinner planned for them that night. I didn’t stay since I wasn’t invited, so I left on the next plane. Just in time to catch the grand opening (finally!) of the Youth and Elders Gathering Place in needy Waskaganish.

The youth of filthy poor Waskaganish have been waiting a long time for the centre to open. One barefoot Waskaganish youth complained that she would lose her youth status before the building went up. Somehow, some way, hard-up Waskaganish managed to get it up. There were of course the traditional opening ceremonies filled with feasting, dancing and singing.

Performers from across Creeland were invited. Robert Bobbish of Chisasibi, Rachel Brien of Mistissini, the band Migwin, Joshua Iserhoff and Catherine Cheezo of Nemaska, cash-poor
Waskaganish’s Francine Weistche and Christina Jonah, and Waswanipi’s Glen Cooper.

The highlight of both shows had to be James Jonah and Queenie Stephen. Known as the Winnibeku Elders, James and Queenie perform as Jems and Queeniesh, two bickering Elders married to each other since time immemorial and nostalgiac for days even farther back. Anybody who knows and spends time with Elders will find their performances eerily realistic and hilarious. Their act is all in Waskaganishese and all imrovised. Queeniesh is everybody’s overly affectionate grandmother and flirts outrageously in front of Jems with many of the young men she comes in contact with. Her old man Jems constantly reminds her of the days when he was better-looking than the young men of today while throwing insults her way. She comes back with screeching comments about him not changing his underwear often enough. She brings a washtub and washboard on stage and washes his long johns, holding them up for all to see. Jems will frequently interrupt her in mid-song and start it off again with his powerful booming voice. Jems thinks the government is all-knowing, quotes them often and believes everything they say. Queeniesh thinks “Arena” is some other old lady in town who’s stealing attention away from her. “They always go see this Alena!” she exclaims, mispronouncing arena. “Who is this Alena woman?”

The following night Elders Glen Coooper and “Galine” Mianscum, from another Cree community, came to call. Jems and the Glen, as Elders do, traded hunting stories. Complete with embellishments, exaggerations and insults from Queeniesh. Queeniesh also shared the story of the first time Jems gave her a hickey and how much it hurt when he clumsily bit her. Added the visiting Elder Glen, “They say hickeys are a sign of love.”

Speaking of love, the guy who proposed marriage on our Valentine’s Day cover a few weeks back has been deemed good enough for marriage. Watch for the wedding story in a future issue.