One night Philip [Awashish] and I recorded a long conservation with the three hunters. I asked how they felt when they heard that white men regarded the land on which they live as worthless and empty.
“They are saying,” said Philip after a good deal of conversation, “that the white man’s argument is bullshit. It may appear to white people there is nothing here. But if you will leave that land alone for a year or two, the animals will come back. That is why we are close to the land. We love the land because we know it will bring back animals, even if to white people it looks as though there is nothing there.”
QUESTION: Can you ask Sam [Blacksmith] if he regards himself as the owner of the land?
SAM: I feel I cannot really say I own the land in the full sense of owning it. I am old, and I do not know how long I will live. After I am gone, I do not know who will follow. I cannot commit myself to say I own this land here.
QUESTION: If you do not own it, what is your relationship with it?
SAM: What I expect from the land is to be able to support myself as a trapper. I expect a lot from the land. And when I come down to discuss it, I always refer to it as my land, as long as I am depending on it.
RONNIE: It is quite ridiculous, this idea of the white man that a person can own all of the earth, and everything that’s under it, and everything that moves on it.
SAM: We cannot know what will happen to man. That is the way things are while we are living. Even myself, today, I cannot know what will happen to me. If I was to fly back to Mistissini, I could be gone for days, for a long while. I cannot say, “Well, I am going back because I have territory to look after.”
For no one can tell what might happen to a man while he is in Mistissini. One cannot predict life or death, so how can one say, “This is the way things will happen to me on my land,” or, “This is what the land will be doing to me”?
QUESTION: Well, what are your basic thoughts about the land?
SAM: For one thing, a man who is trapping and hunting always hopes that things will continue to grow on the land.
QUESTION: If this is your trapping ground, do you own it?
SAM: We are told that we own or possess it, but really nobody can own it, he cannot do so. Nobody can, because eventually everyone dies. In this way, no one can really predict anything.
QUESTION: Is it the land you relate to, or the animals on the land? If the animals all left it, would you be interested in this land at all?
SAM: My relationship with the land depends on the animals. The animals support my family, they establish my pattern of life. If there were no animals here, I would not be here.
This excerpt is reprinted with permission from Boyce’s 7997 book Strangers Devour the Land.