For a number of years now there have been Wellness Journeys happening in Eeyou Istchee. While the Nation has been on hand to see people off or arriving, we’ve never been on one. This winter I decided it was time that we participated in a Wellness Journey. I wanted to find out what these trips meant because I was hearing of the changes that they made in people’s lives. I never thought of myself as someone who needed healing but when it gets down to it I guess we all do in one way or another. Even a vacation can be seen as a healing journey to get you back into shape to go back to work again, but this would be something more. I telephoned Luke MacLeod in Mistissini to see if it was possible. It was and I joined 18 people for the last week of a two week walk. Some people came on the journey to see what was happening .Others to get closer to each other in their relationship and yet others because it was a way for them to get active and participate more in life.
I knew I would be using shoeshoes to get around but learnt that I would have two dogs and a tobaggon to pull my equipment on the Walk.
When I saw the smiling faces of the walkers returning from Trolius little did I know that I would be pushing myself to my limits and beyond. It was a process that many of them had already been through. I hadn’t realized how much Montreal had left me unprepared for this trip.
Besides snowshoeing and pushing, pulling and/or slowing down the dogs I would be gathering wood, chopping wood, getting water, gathering tree bows, feeding dogs, cooking, setting up camp, taking down camp, loading my sled, harnessing my dogs, feeding and caring my dogs, ice fishing, packing down snow with my snowshoes for the trips to the outhouse, cleaning dishes and a host of other duties that are necessary in the bush.
During the first day on the trip it became more than a story for me. It became a memory walk for my grandmother and I also carried the memories of my great-grandparents while I was out there. This was the way that Crees lived and some still do though skidoos have replaced the dogs for the most part. During the Journey I would achieve a greater understanding of how they lived and a greater respect for my Elders. Their lives were tough and they didn’t have contact with the outside world through a trapper’s radio and the visitors via skidoo that we did.
I remember the second day the best. It was the most challenging. We covered about 20 kilometres over two mountains and a bunch of foothills. It was through slush at times with varied weather conditions. One thing that made our life just a little more interesting was that one of the dogs was in heat causing my lead dog Segiuin to try to turn back. That dog was on a permanent caffene high. My second dog, affectionly named Bod Knees was coming along. I had been told she was the laziest dog on the trip but that would change before the day was over. If you threatened to hit her, she would lie down and not move but responded to talking, kindness and encouragement well.
That day seemed like it would never end but finally we hit camp. I was asked how I felt after that walk and replied that the only muscles in my body not sore were the ones I got rid of waste products with, if you get my drift.
During this day I came to realize the evilness of when the RCMP came into the communities and shot all the dogs. Without the dogs and tobaggons life would go from difficult straight into hardship. It must have been a heartbreak when it happened. I know how close we got, man and dogs. Now I understand the starvation stories more in that context.
I was beginning to understand how people’s lives could be changed. I can’t explain it to you if you haven’t done it. The words are not enough without the experience. The best I can do is give you a glimpse into what we did and hope that you will take one of these journeys yourself. I could have stopped and given up at any time but I started the trip and was damned if I wouldn’t finish it. If it had been a workout at the gym I would have stopped long ago but this was different. MacLeod told me that was one of the lessons to be learnt; that a lot of people start things in life only to give up when they got hard and those who finished a trip like this would learn that they can do anything with perseverance.
One of the things I found on the journey was a thankfullness for what I had in life. It was nice to with the group of walkers. I became close with them on the trip. It is a feeling that will never leave me. Inescapably the co-walkers are a part of who I am now and I am better for that and I thank you all for what you have shared with me on a journey of triumph and overcoming challenges.
The Journey was to follow in a traditional route of our ancestors, to value our traditions and Cree culture, maintain skills in the bush and be a journey of self-healing. It succeeded in being all those things and kudos to Mistissini for these journeys. There were two journeys happening at the same time. One started on February 20 and the other on March 5 and both arrived in Mistissini on March 19.These journeys are needed by us all and we will be seeing more of them in the future I am sure.The welcome home by Mistissini was overwhelming. So much so that I broke down and cried on my mothers shoulder. Thanks to all for making this trip possible.
One last word to the ladies; sometimes a flash of longjohns is all a man has to joke with.
And to all, walk with the Creator.
Annie Cheechoo- author of the daily journal
I decided to participate on this journey because I wanted to know what it was like a long time ago when my parents traveled. It was a good experience but hard. It was worth it The other reason why I took the trip, even though it was for couples, I wanted to get away from it all and be with other people besides work. It was a lot of work being in the bush but nothing like office work. I’ve enjoyed everything that has happened so far. It was great.
The journal entries are from Annie Cheechoo’s trip diary. TripTips are by everyone on the trip.
Monday March 5th 2001
We’ve packed all our belongings and we’ve loaded the items into trucks, sleds & dogs, off we go to Troilus.The community members meet us at the Youth Centre. A prayer is done for the journey walkers, our family and friends.
Everyone going is heading out to Troilus. This is our starting point. There’s about 18 people. We left Mistissini around 12 noon to go to Troilus.
I’m not sure of how the others feel but I feel sad having to leave my family and friends, but I’m sure this is how the rest of us feel. I also felt excited about this adventure, wondering if I will make the whole journey.
Trip Tips: Be kind to your dogs but make sure they know who the boss is. For example let them stop to clean the ice that forms on their feet in warm weather. It can injure a dog and you don’t want that. Keep an eye on them when they do it as some learn to fake it.
Tuesday March 6th 2001
This is the second day and the men are going today to make the trail for us. We are heading out tomorrow.
The men returned early afternoon. They’ve made the trail, about 5-6 km. They’ll take it easy on us (women) since for most of us it will be the first time on snowshoes actually walking quite a distance.
While the men were out, the women gathered around Sam Awashish’s trailer and we were making legging straps for each of us.
The legging straps are worn around the knee to prevent leg cramps we were told.
After we’ve finished our little project, some of us women went out to try out our snowshoes.
Also, another couple arrive at Troilus to join our group, so that means there’s 8 couples.
Today we’ve also repacked our belongings since we were told that we have too many things and should bring only the things that we really need. We have to leave some of our things behind.
Also today, back home, there’s election for chief. We wonder who it is?
Trip Tips: Teamwork is important. Keep an eye on each other and help out as much as possible. It makes life easier for everybody all around.
I took the trip so I can witness the traditional lifestyle of traveling and to socialize with other people. To get myself into shape at the same time so I can pick it up when the trip is over. I wanted to see the land itself, how beautiful it is so I can have it in my mind and have a remembrance of God himself. It reminds of what He did.
Wednesday March 7th 2001
Our very first day for our journey we were up at 6:00 am, got ready, had breakfast, packed our sleds, and after we’ve said a prayer, we were off, and it was a beautiful day.
The first day went well except when we started, the dogs were not cooperating, some of the dogs took off, we had to catch them, and set them to the sled. After a while, they were traveling good. Not too much fuss. We’ve reach our camp area. The men start to set up tents.There are four tents to be set up. This is our first camp.
Not much happened today. We just walked for few hours and covered about 5-6 km. When we got to the area where we were to camp, we were relieved, although there was quite a bit of work yet to be done before you can actually sit down to relax.
There was setting of tents, fetching water,getting firewood,cooking supper,feeding the dogs and making sure that they have a comfortable place to rest too.
We also know who the new chief is. It’s John Longchap. Most of us are happy for him.
Trip Tips: Lay a good layer of tree boughs for your dogs to sleep on. It prevents the cold from sapping too much of their strength as well as being more comfortable for them.
I went on this trip to see the undisturbed nature. The snow, white snow and the trees in natural beauty.
Thursday March 8th 2001
Another beautiful day, sunshine, and not cold at all. The men left early this morning to make another trail. This time I think our journey will be longer.
Not all the men left. There’s a couple of them at our camp. They’re getting more firewood and fetching more water.
The women are preparing their supper and also preparing for the lunches for our long journey tomorrow. The men left early in the morning to make the trail and they’ve returned late afternoon.
Trip Tips: Watch out for the dog behind you. That can be taken a number of ways but seriously the wooden sled brace used to hitch up the dogs to the sled can break a leg if you’re not careful.
This is my fourth year on the walk. I have seen a lot of life, communities. I have thought a lot of my life and my friends’lives. I am thankful to have seen lives looking for something better. I am also happy to see people walking the trail I broke and that trail making them happy. That’s all I have to say. Thank and goodbye.
Friday March 9th 2001
Another beautiful day. We were up by 4:30 am and the group is ready to leave by 8:00 am. The journey took us five hours to cover 8.5 km. We’ve stopped for a break. We had our lunch and continued our journey.
The journey went well and I’m proud that all of us were doing fine. Everyone is exhausted, though. We’ve reached our camp area, and we are camping near a creek. Our group in our tent cooked a goose (boiled goose) and it was delicious. This is our second camp, and we’ll be here for one night. We go to bed early because we’re going to start early tomorrow morning.
Trip Tips: On warm days you can knock the sticky snow off of your snowshoes making your life easier. Use a wooden snow shovel.
Mary Jane Petawabano
I went on the journey to find out what its like. I really enjoyed this trip and I learned a lot about our traditional ways. I made new friends and I wanted to take part in it because my brother was the leader. He’s done this for several years already and I wanted to find out for myself what it was really like.
Saturday March 10th 2001
Another beautiful day. The sun is shining and not too cold but the day gets warmer later during the day, at least it looks like
We were ready to leave by 7:30 am but because of a minor accident with one of the participants, we left around 8:00 am. The participant who was hurt limped all day, couldn’t walk properly on his leg, but he had the emergency sled so he could get on now and then. In all the day’s journey was long and very exhausting. We reached our camp area around 3:00 pm., set up our tents. Our little group in our tent, we had a late supper and went to bed like around 9:00 pm. Meanwhile, the rest of the group were long gone way before 9:00 pm.
During the day’s walk, when I was all alone with my own thoughts, I thought about my late parents.
Thinking about their way of life, how they would travel, and probably traveled long distance.
The walk was just beautiful that day, and the scenery was really wonderful.
Trip Tips: When walking you sometimes get a cramp in the abdominal muscles. A traditional way of fixing up this problem is to take a spruce branch and put it under your shirt even though it’s cold. The prickley needles will take away the cramp allowing you to go on. How’s that for a tip!
I was one of the people who were on the walk between Troilus and Mistissini.When we left from Troilus I believed I would be able to reach Mistissini even though I was walking with my wife. Because I thought I would help her a lot And I knew the dogs were strong and I thought I would have my wife get on the sled. It was very nice to be in the bush. It had been over ten years since I had been in the bush. I was happiest when I was sleeping in a tent. I thought of my kids every evening and asked God to take care of them and this made me feel better, praying. And while I’m here at Gobanjeeht, with my kids close, I can’t wait to see them.
Sunday, March 11, 2001.
Today is kind of cloudy, windy, wet snow.We tried ice-fishing but it’s too cold for me so I head back to our camp.A couple of guys set a beaver trap. Sunday was a rest day for all of us. We just stayed put in our tents, just relaxing.
I spoke to my husband and daughter, Neanne who both wished me a happy birthday. Tomorrow is my birthday. Also today is my grandson’s birthday, my grandson, Etienne!
Tomorrow, about three people are going home by airplane but they’ll be back to finish the journey with us.
TripTips: When making a fire outside first build a platform using thick pices of wood. Make it two pieces high and about four or so across. Build your fire on top of that. It will prevent the fire from sinking in the snow so fast.This will keep the heat accessable to all for cooking and warming up.
The reason I’m doing this trip is because I wanted to help myself and I know it’s helped me. I felt a difference in my life.
Monday, March 12th
Today is my birthday and it is another beautiful day. We are continuing our journey, and we finally reached a goose camp. We left around 8:00 am and arrived here at the goose camp around 4:00 pm. Philip and Paul Petawabano arrived by airplane to pick up three of our people. We made a camp fire there and we had a rest for about I ° hours. Today was a very hard day for me. I tried to get two dog-sled teams going but I had some help from one of the people. We have reached Allen Edward’s goose camp. Everyone is doing well so far especially Demerise and Kathleen.We are staying at a cabin and our group is having a spaghetti supper. We made a big pot of spaghetti and it was so good. I thank the Lord for keeping us safe and thank Him for all the blessings.
Trip Tip: On the snowshoe binding where your feet stand on put some binding over them. This will prevent wear and tear on them when traveling.
I was very happy to be walking. I was happy that God helped me during the walk, and brought me back to Mistissini. I was happy to get help while on the walk the dogs worked very well and they didn’t tire me. I’m happy to be getting back to Mistissini. I will make my friends in Mistissini happy.
Tuesday, March 13th
We traveled for about 5 hours to reach our next camping area. It was kind of windy. We walked on the lakes on most of today’s journey. Paul came in by skidoo along with two other guys. This time, we have a new person joining us in our journey and his name is Will Nicholls. He would be with us until we finish our journey, until we arrive in Mistissini. I think he is here to do a story as well.
We finally reach another goose camp and this one is George Petawabano’s camp. There are three tent frames, and our little group is staying at a smaller tent frame since there is only three of us. Our other couple was flown home yesterday but they said they would be back to finish the journey with us. So the boss decided to stay another day at this camp because one of us had swollen feet, and another one had blisters on the feet, and the other one was overtired so the boss gave us another day to rest.
Meanwhile everything is going well and everyone is doing fine.
TripTips: When you get a blister and it hasn’t popped you take a piece of wood and put on the stove. When it gets really hot (almost black but not charring) you press it against the blister (not enough to pop it but firmly).This will take the blister down. A good nights sleep and the skin should be better.
The reason I wanted to be on the walk was because I wanted to know what people did in the bush. I wanted to learn and I wanted to get to know other people and make new friends. I can say it wasn’t too hard because there was already a trail. That probably why I thought it wasn’t too difficult
Wednesday, March 14th
Today is Wednesday, our resting day. Stephanie and I are doing our laundry. The men went out ice-fishing and Stanley caught two pikes which we had for our supper. It was so delicious. I never actually had fish in the winter. This is the first time I had it. It tasted so good. We spend the day just relaxing. It was not cold at all. That evening we had a prayer meeting.After this meeting, we went back to our tents and packed a few things, getting ready for tomorrow’s journey.
Trip Tips: The new pop cans are great. Take the tab off of them and you can jam in a normal size candle.
I am from Mistissini Lake Reserve. My friend here, Will, we call him Iron Will. He surprised me the way he went the first day. He was way in the front with the pack. I thought he was going to be way in the back but he was in the front. One of the main things I enjoy about these trips is to experience the survival skills of our ancestors in the bush and the medicine they make through the trees and plants. Our group leader Jimmy taught us about it.
Mentally this journey put your mind to rest because we only had to think one day at a time as we traveled. Not a whole bunch of things. Your mind has a good rest while in the bush.
Thursday, March 15th
Today is Thursday and it is wet snow and also it is Stanley’s
birthday. So we were up very early (4:45 am) and getting ready to leave by 7:00 am. We walked about three hours before we stopped for our lunch break. We lost our trail for a while because it snowed and we could not see the trail but we managed to find it. We reached our next camp around 4:00 pm but this time we had to set up our tents. It would usually take about three hours to completely set up the tent, that is, getting firewood, fetching water, and taking care of the dogs, feeding them, etc. It was a tough day because of the wet snow. The dogs were not traveling too good and the sleds got stuck in the snow and it was rather a long day for us.This is the last time we are actually setting up our own tents, after this, we will be reaching goose camps along the way. We are about 10 km to Mistissini Lake and we are getting closer to home.
Trip Tips: After using your snowshoes to push down the snow for your tent, take them off and use your mocassined feet to pack it down more.The put on your snowshoes and walk around again to create a even surface that will keep out the cold air. You need all the warmth you can get.
I’m very happy I went on the walk because it really helped me. I thought of my kids sometimes but I trusted God to look after them. When I saw Mistissini Lake I cried. I remember the bush and I wanted to go back because it was so clean. There was nothing to make you worry. That’s all for now, watchia.
Friday, March 16th
We left our camp around 8:30 am and arrived at the next goose camp which was the late Francois Mianscum’s camp. We must have traveled about 12 km today and now we have reached Mistissini Lake. You could see the tower from this point and it looks like a pencil line. My first thought when I saw the lake was my own family. I was homesick for them and anxious to see them, especially my little girl who I knew missed me so much. I was very happy to see the lake and at night, we could see the glow of Mistissini and I knew we were closer to home and I thanked the Lord for this.
TripTips: Don’t let your dogsled ride over dogcrap. It makes it harder for the dogs to pull as well as being unsanitary. Also watch out for dog crap or piss on the trail, it’s bad for the mocassins.
The reason why I took this trip is that I have seen them before. When I seen the guys leave I always felt something in me and especially when they came back. They always looked and felt better when they came back. For me I took three months off work and I went into the bush. When I came back I felt better about myself. Not like being in the reserve. It’s different. So that’s what I wanted to feel again. It’s been three years since I took that time off and I went back to feeling and being lazy. I wouldn’t be able to do things without breathing heavy when I would chop wood or go for a walk. Ay wife would ask me to go for a walk and I would say no. So I thought about this trip here and the first day was really really tough. Before they told me I would have to get ready but I was lazy. When I was on the trip I work around the camp getting it ready and it was tough but after three or four days it was like a normal routine. You weren’t tired at the end of the day and you felt much better. For me the trip for two weeks was kind off short I would like to have been on it longer now that I have experienced it. With the dogs I never really cared much for the dogs before, now I know they they can do and I have more respect for them.
Saturday, March 17th
Today is Saturday and it looks like it is going to be a beautiful day. We will be crossing the big lake, now and it is about 10km. We were told that we would be camping across the lake for two nights (Saturday and Sunday). At this camp, we are meeting the other group (Abel Jolly’s group). They left about one month ago. We are meeting them on Sunday. They would camp with us for one night, and together we would all travel home to Mistissini. Our journey today seemed forever to reached to our next camp. But is was a beautiful day. The sun was shining and it was getting warmer. We stopped a few times on the lake for rest periods. It took us four hours to reach our next camp and this is our last camp before we reach home.
At night, the glow of Mistissini looks like it is just behind the trees across the river but it is quite a ways yet. In today’s journey as we were crossing the lake, my thoughts go back to the first day when we were to leave. First of all, I was already homesick even before I left for this journey. When the group had a meeting, I noticed that all of them had a partner and I was alone. I was actually already homesick at this meeting and wanted to back out but I did not let my husband know what I was feeling and I knew that it was something that I wanted to do. I thought about last year’s journey and how I wanted to participate but I was not ready for it so I did not go. I thought about my feelings about the day when the participants arrived. I envied them so much and knew that I should have gone on the journey.
That is why I would not change my mind on this journey. I wanted to go even though I was already homesick for my family and I knew I would be very proud of myself. This year would give me another opportunity to participate and so I went on this journey. The couples group I was with were all very helpful and cooperative and we were a family. They were like my own brothers and sisters. This journey is an adventure that I will remember for a long time.
TripTips: Make sure your socks are snug and without wrinkles before putting your mocassins on. Check the inside and duffels for twigs or such also as all can lead to a painful blister.
I’m happy to be doing this, traveling over the land like my father used to do. When I left from Sam Awashish’s camp near the mountain. When I climbed the mountain, I was very happy, something touched me. I love it very much.
Sunday, March 18th
We have reached another goose camp (Joseph Iserhoff’s camp). We would be staying here for two nights. Abel Jolly’s group is arriving here tomorrow. Today is our resting day, too and we are having our Sunday prayer meeting. On this prayer meeting, we are asked if any of us wanted to say something about our journey and few of us did. Some of us had some visitors from home and they came in by ski-doo. We had many visitors that day. It was so good to see family members and friends. Our group was anxiously waiting for the arrival of Abel’s group. Finally, at around 4:00 pm we would see them from a distance. They arrive at our camp by 5:00pm and everyone appears to look well.
TripTips: Make sure you don’t place the lacing too tight on your snowshoes, moccasin or leg bindings.
I came on this journey because I am part of it My mother is a diabetic and I want to be here at times. That’s it, that’s all, man.
Monday, March 19th
Today is very special for all of us. Today is the day we reach home. We have been waiting for this day. We were all anxious to get going that day. We were up by 4:30 am, grabbed whatever you could for breakfast. We were all very crowded in our tents. We had only four tents and that was about 42 people all together. So we were all moving around, packing our things and loading our sleds and getting the dogs. People were moving in all directions. Finally, we were ready to leave that morning at around 8:00 am. Before we left, we did our prayer like we always did
before we set our journey. The whole group was moving very nicely and the dogs were cooperative. The pace was moving good. I guess everyone was anxious to get home. We arrived in Mistissini around I 1:30 am. It felt so good to see Mistissini and to see families and friends. Everyone was glad for us as well and we had a very nice welcoming crowd.
Our journey was successful. It was worth it although sometimes it was hard. I remember thinking about my late parents and thinking about their way of life and what it was like for them when they would travel. I cried thinking about them and was glad to have experienced part of their lives.
At this journey, I truly enjoyed it and was glad that I participated. I felt blessed that I made new friends, too. I thank the Lord for all these blessings that He had given to each one of
Trip Tips: Take this walk and you’ll lose weight guaranteed.