The weather is an important part of life to my people, the Cree on the James Bay coast. Many of the elders have a great understanding of changes in the weather. This is due to the fact that during their early lives they lived a traditional life out on the land and had to deal with their environment on a daily basis. It was a matter of survival to have a good knowledge of extreme weather conditions in order to be able to prepare for them.
A good knowledge of the weather can also mean the difference between a good or bad hunt. There are many hunters and trappers in the community and each time they leave, forecasting the weather for the near future determines whether or not one should leave to head out on the land. Good or bad weather also determines what animals will do and where they will go.
Many people I know who still venture out on the land keep a close eye on different signs that forecast the weather. Halos around the sun and the moon can signal cold weather for the next few days and active northern lights that dance across the sky mean stronger winds in the near future. Fire can also provide a clue as to what weather will take place in the near future. If the base of a fire is burning white it means cold weather and if it is red then it will be warmer.
I learned about these methods of predicting the weather from my parents, elders in my community and others who have a good knowledge of life on the land. It seems that when I was growing up the only way to learn about my people was outside of school.
Thankfully, there are those who want to introduce the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of First Nation people to young students. The Ojibway and Cree Cultural Centre, based in Timmins, has produced a new book for educators to teach the knowledge and experiences of the Cree and Oji-Cree of the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation (NAN) area. It is a unique book, titled Weather, It’s Right Or Not and was developed by Jim Hollander, Curriculum Writer and Coordinator for the Cultural Centre. The book features the science of climate change. It provides examples of predicting the weather from a First Nation point of view and the ways Native people dealt with changes in the climate.
This will be good for young students who do not have as many opportunities to live on the land as our parents and grandparents once did. The new book is an outline for teachers to follow and teaches students about the six seasons of the Cree and Oji-Cree people. These seasons are spring (See-Kwan), Breakup (Mee-Noh-S-Kah-Mee-N), Summer (Nee-Peh-N), Fall (Tah-Kwa-Kah-N), Freeze-up (Mee-Kee-Ska-Ow) and Winter (Pee-Poh-N). It also provides examples of predicting the weather using traditional knowledge and encourages students to learn more from elders and others in the community.
The teacher resource is a great teaching tool for any school and is designed to be adapted to any curriculum or school. It was created to meet provincial standards with the aim of teaching the weather using the traditional knowledge of the Cree and Oji-Cree people in addition to scientific facts about climate change. The book was created for the NAN area but is also available for non-Native schools and educators who can use this resource to introduce their students to the Native culture.
It is nice to know that there are people who are actively working to teach our young people the accumulated knowledge of my people. It is good to see this knowledge being used to keep our students aware of their Native heritage.