Margaret Cromarty, an accomplished writer, eco tourism guide, speaker and poet, has lived on the land most of her life, growing up on Fort George Island where there was no electricity or running water, and later moving to Chisasibi in 1981.
The move was not something she agreed with. “I didn’t like it, I think the move was too much, to uproot everything I knew at the island was very hard. I lived by the coast and the one thing I missed the most was looking at James Bay from my home. I thought my life would never change, but it did.”
That’s why she still keeps a home on Fort George Island, where she runs her eco tourism business with her husband, William. They worked for Mandow agency for a number of years as eco tourism guides, and they have now been running their own venture for the last four years. Unfortunately, they have recently decided that because of their age, they are unable to continue and are now looking to sell the business.
Cromarty thoroughly enjoys teaching other people, especially the Europeans, about her Cree culture. She finds it funny how little they know about it. “I remember one time after eating lunch, a group of non-natives asked us where the dessert was, and I said, ‘You just ate it, it was the bannock!’
Her humour is evident by her response to the question, “How many books have you published?” She states, matter-of-factly, “Oh, only three,” with a chuckle. That’s three more than the majority of people in Eeyou Istchee, and the rest of the world.
Cromarty will be looking to publish another book as soon as she can sell her eco tourism venture. She currently has enough material for at least one, possibly two more books.
Growing up, Cromarty thought she’d be “nothing but a bush person.” Then one day her true talent reared its head – writing stories, and poetry. It took a full seven years before she was able to find someone to publish her work.
She got the idea to become a writer out of necessity. “I was no longer taking care of my mother, and at that time I was in my 50s, and I knew nobody would hire me. Then I thought why not write? No matter how old you are, you never retire from that, although I never thought I’d actually make money on it, but I did.”
Her three books are Indian Legends and Poems; James Bay Memoirs, A Cree Woman’s Ode to her Homeland and Cree Poems and Stories.
Because of her newfound success, the Cree School Board hired her from time to time to travel to the other communities to discuss her local stardom and talk about her books.
She was shy at first, never having before spoken in front of large crowds, but she quickly adapted and now enjoys it immensely. She has also been to different colleges and universities on the east coast, including an Ivy-League school, Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.
“You have to go out and travel to promote yourself, and your book,” Cromarty says. “Sometimes it’s at schools, other times it’s at gatherings, which I enjoy very much. People usually ask me about my work, or the Cree way of life, or sometimes they want to know about the dams and how the Cree people are coping with them.”
Cromarty’s first book was published by Waapoone Publishing and Promotion in Lakefield, Ontario. Waapoone is known for publishing Native books, and is always looking to encourage new Native writers. All of her work has also been translated into French.
Her most favorite poem she’s ever written is titled “Trees.”
It was selected in a nationwide search to appear in a book along with other well-known Native poets from across Canada. By her estimate, there are at least 5,000 copies of her books circulating around the world.
Part of her inspiration when writing poetry was her mother. “My mother told me a lot of stories, and my parents lived such a hard life, and I thought why not write it down for people to learn about (life back then). I didn’t write any sad stories, I wrote my stories so readers would enjoy it, and I enjoyed writing them too.”
The Nation on its tenth anniversary
Hold on what is good you have our gratitude. Hold on what you believe a free press.
Hold on what you must do the basic law of life showing respect.
Let’s hope the magazine (the Nation) stand the test of time for another great ten years.
It helped hold us together as nations.
I’m forever thankful