Maamuuteusiitaau is the name used for the 1st Mistissini Traditional Gathering. It took place July 19-24 and as the name implies was the first kind of its sort for Mistissini. The stated purpose of the Gathering was to strengthen family and community ties, promote and maintain traditional cultural and values as well as to promote community healing and family well-being.

Josie Quesnel, one of the Gathering’s organizers, told The Nation she was pleased with the way things went at the Gathering. “We didn’t know what to expect but we knew this was something people had talked about. We tried to look at what is meaningful in traditions, the daily traditions of the Crees. This is why we didn’t do a shaking tent. It wasn’t a daily traditional happening. We were looking at positive daily traditional culture and values that would benefit families and the community of Mistissini.”

Traditional tents were the only lodgings allowed. Forty-two traditional tents were set up. According to Quesnel, people were doing a lot of visiting in the tents, but “community houses seem to have many walls. We are trying look at how to apply what we learned about visiting with tents to the community.” Other rules applied as well: no ghetto blasters, no cellular phones, no radios, no pup tents, no walkmans and a fine of 50 cents for speaking either English or French during the Gathering. People were requested to wear traditional clothing and do things as traditionally as possible.

At the start of the Gathering, as can be seen in the photo above, an old tradition was honoured. People at the docks to see off the convoys of participants shook hands with everyone there. In the past, the whole community used to do this for people leaving for their traplines in the fall in the same manner.

People attending the Gathering started leaving by 2:00 if they were going by canoe. All other people travelled by water as no roads reached the site of the Gathering.

A welcoming feast was held the first day. Later that night legends and story-telling took place around a bonfire.

The next day had discussion groups talking about strengthening family and community ties in the morning with the afternoon featuring traditional games followed by another evening of legends and stories.

Day three, the morning topic was social issues and the afternoon had demonstrations of traditional medicines and a final night of legends and stories.

Saturday (day 4) had a walking out ceremony in the morning. Later in the morning was a discussion of the promotion and maintenance of Cree values and traditions. The afternoon was for traditional arts and crafts. People were shown techniques for making your own fish nets, how to smoke fish once you caught them as well as other meats, preparing animal skins, snowshoemaking, making traditional carving tools, etc. That evening a feast was held for Lizzie Edwards, who has reached her 100th birthday, as well as another cake for Sally Minister followed by a dance. People were even outside the large tent listening to the fiddlers play. The feast was well attended with about 400 people served (children not included). The Gathering ran out of plates after serving about 380 people.

Sunday, the last day, had a religious service in the morning. The afternoon discussion topic was ideas for future Gatherings, with evaluations and comments on this year’s. The recommendation after this topic is that it take place each year. That evening was Elders’ appreciation time.

Quesnel said that next year they’ll be clearing more space for tents and are planning to use another bay for boats so people can swim in the bay at the Gathering. She said the target group for the Gathering was the youth. “A lot of youth came after and told me they didn’t know what kind of Gathering it was,” she told The Nation. “They told me they’ll be there next year.”

All photos by Josie Quesnel