The anticipation of shooting my first goose had me fidgeting in the car on the drive up to Paul Dixon’s trapline. It also gave me a lot of time to think. I wondered how many geese I’d bag. I was hoping for three, but I’d settle for one.
During the eight-hour trek from Montreal to Waswanipi, I thought about the way the Cree still live off the land today, and the way my people, the Mohawks, no longer do because of the amount of land that was taken from us and the fact that we don’t have vast tracts to hunt on anymore.
It made me angry on a certain level but it also excited me that I would be living in the bush like my ancestors used to and experiencing, albeit for a few days, what it was like to live during that time.
I met Paul at the airport and we headed out to his camp and the anticipation of shooting something, anything, was running high. Once we got there, however, we ended up shooting something of a different smell altogether.
Some of the Dixon family stories I was told ended up being worth the trip alone.
One story in particular had to do with the logging roads and how alarmingly fast some of the Barrette-Chapais trucks travel down this narrow path. I was told that a while back around Kilometre 70 there was a logging truck barreling down the road at a good pace. Suddenly the driver spotted a bear in his path. The next thing he knew there were pieces of the large animal strewn all over the road and up to 40 feet away on either side. Paul was notified and was aghast when he got to the scene and found unidentifiable pieces of what could have been any animal. It certainly didn’t look like a bear.
Despite this, Paul is amicable with people who “visit” his family’s trapline. He treats everyone with respect, despite some non-native hunters and fishermen that treat the land like a trash bin.
As a Mohawk, one thing that made me really mad was when we came up to a road that had been blocked off and had two signs, both of them telling people to keep out and that the land was private. It boiled my blood to see this white guy take over a certain part of the Dixon trapline and he hadn’t even said anything about it to Paul. A certain part of the Dixon trapline was now cut off to the Dixons.
Paul just shrugged it off and assured me that if asked, the man, who was a high-ranking businessman, would give him a key. Through my people’s experiences in similar circumstances I was skeptical and wondered if that would indeed happen.
Paul is very fond of his family and especially his father, Isaac. I quickly learned that a large part of the Goose Break experience is not only to feed your family, but it’s also a time to love and appreciate your family.
“The animals know my father, they know his smell,” Paul told me. “They know him like he knows them and when he dies they will miss him.”
During my time on the Dixon trapline, I was able to connect with my gracious hosts on a very different level than what a journalist is used to. I was treated like a guest and a member of the family at the same time.
I was constantly reminded how a certain Nation journalist before me used to come up every year and enjoy their company just like I was doing. When we went out to hunt I was given the hat he usually wore as some kind of sign that I was accepted as he had been.
After the usual feel-good banter, we got into more serious conversation on the second day. He brought up his struggles as a Cree in today’s world. He is a man who is outspoken, to say the least, and has fought numerous fights to protect his land and the land of his ancestors.
“One day a guy asked me, ‘why do you fight it, Paul’?” he recalled ‘“They
(non-natives) have tanks and you have a bow and arrow!’ I told him that patience is something we have as Native people. I said, ‘If one day that tank shoots at me and I’m patient and I wait, I can shoot my arrow at the same time they shoot and hit their bullet.’ And I asked him ‘then what do you think will happen?’ And he said, ‘it’ll blow up’ and I said, ‘exactly.’ Maybe I’m just waiting for that chance.”
After that we got into a discussion about the different kind of higher learning that takes place in the bush and he hit the nail on the head.
“For the white man, the one who has the most information is the most powerful,” he said. “If you want to learn how to fly a jumbo jet all you have to do is study the books, it’s been done, it’s written. But it takes many years and personal experience to learn how to live in the bush.”
As you have probably guessed by now I didn’t catch any geese. It’s not that I was a bad shot or we were unlucky, it’s just that I was a few days too early. The geese just weren’t flying yet.
That’s not to say we didn’t have an adventure though. Our 11 -year-old shoo boy, John Isaac, taught me the value of the up-and-coming generation. He picked off three partridge in as many shots, each ranging from 10 to 25 feet away.
All in all it was a great experience and I look forward to actually shooting something next year!