(Photo: Mina Tapaiatic at Mamweedow Minschtukch, July, 1994.)
Translated by Ernest Webb
“I’m beading right now,” she said, as I talked to her through the phone. “I’m kissing you,” she said. “Me too,” I replied.
She raised seven children. Two have passed away. Thirty four Grandchildren. Three passed away. Seventy great-Grandchildren and 18 great-great-Grandchildren. Her name is Mina Tapiatic. She was born in 1904, and I think it’s safe to say she saw it all.
She saw how Dab-Iiyuu lived. She saw the transformation of the Cree culture first-hand.
I felt honoured that she took the time to talk to me. She is 90 years of age and offers a unique perspective on life.
(NATIONAL ARCHIVES OF CANADA PHOTO #2241-1927-LTB – Teepees in Ft. George, 1927.)
Is there anything you want to talk about?
The thing which I really don’t allow is our river being polluted. It’s hard on me. When I remember my Grandchildren and my great-Grandchildren and your parents’ Grandchildren, that’s why it’s hard on me.
I’ve talked about this a lot of times, that it doesn’t sit well with me. How beautiful the water was before it was polluted. I never saw a bug (mindoosh) in the water when I was growing up, fetching water at the Island. How beautiful the Creator made it. It is hard on me. Everything is being destroyed. Where our parents raised us and their parents also.
When they say we can’t eat anything anymore, it’s hard on me. Let’s try hard to keep what we had or didn’t have, like alcohol. It was never around. I never saw my parents drink. That’s what’s on my mind, things affecting us, that were never around. I am grateful that drinking has gone down a bit since the first time they unloaded it here at the Island. Talk to your children.
I AM GOING to tell a bit about what I’ve seen. From where I remember, that’s what I’ll talk about. When I was 10 years old, the white man’s influence wasn’t around. Everyone got everything from the liyuu way. I saw my father make a canoe. He got everything himself. He got his birchbark on a mountain. All he had was his crooked knife (mookidakin). He used his arms and hands to measure. He didn’t have a pencil to mark; he used blackened wood from the fire, liyuu got everything for himself. My mother said they didn’t have matches. They used flint to make fires. Where was Quebec when they say it’s his land? My father never talked about them. We always saw the Whapmagoostui-liyuuch, Osawow-liyuuch and Wabinuutau-liyuuch and the Waskaganish, Nemaska and Waswanipi-liyuuch. I never heard talk of the one they call Quebec. I don’t believe him when he says it’s his land. Where was he? Where was his garden? Where did he drink from? What would he do if he was told to start a fire with flint?
I remember my father having matches. They were very careful with them. They always lived for themselves and for their children. It was only recently we knew the wood stove, to cook with it. I remember when there were only three buildings on the Island: the store manager’s house, which was attached to the store itself, plus the rectory and the church.
I’m telling the truth when I say I remember the time when there were only three buildings. We would only stay for a while at the buildings, then we’d be off. We would go further than where the road ends (900 km). Where the last dam is. Straight east is where the river starts, further east is where I used to be. There weren’t any planes either. Maybe some people don’t believe I only used my legs to get around. I was married. That’s where we used to go.
We stayed with a family of Osawow-liyuuch and a Wabanuutau-liyuu. We winter-camped a couple of times where the dam is. We paddled. We stayed with Bobby Naheekapuu’s (Neacappo) parents. Bobby wasn’t around yet. I was very happy. Nothing could stop us, in the way of the liyuu. We were there when our children’s father was still alive. During the moon of the Loon (May) is when we got our Canoe. We travelled far… Before the sun broke, I would take down our home. And my children were strong. It was far. Then we would start for town. To the Island. I was very happy. It was happiness, when one could get around. Lake to lake we portaged many times, set the net, baited the hook. Wherever we were. Then there would be many people along the way. Uushtchinuukupii (Duncan Lake) is where we would paddle to sometimes, if people wanted to. The needles from the boughs would have already been dried off where people stayed. The time was during the Cox’s father, when he was still hunting. It was far to come into town.
I’m going to complain a bit. Today when one wants to go inland for any period of time, it’s as if he has to send for supplies the “next day.” For us, the amount of time we didn’t see the buildings. “How did we do it?” I ask myself. From hunting, porcupine, otter, there wasn’t anything we didn’t eat. Today there is a lot which is destroyed from where we can live from. The thing which is hard for me is the disease (mercury poisoning) they talk about. We never had that before. He made everything beautiful, the one who made everything. For us, it is destroyed. It’s all under water now, where I raised my children. I do mourn it, where we got everything. All my medicine, from the trees. That’s why I mourn it. We had all our medicine. Labrador tea… I helped a lot of people with my medicine. If anything happened, accidents with the axe. That’s why I mourn it.
Where we lived, it’s not there anymore. Before the schools, my children and their children were there. They hardly remember anymore. They come to talk to me and ask me if that’s the way it was. And I reply, “yes.” Then they say it’s like as if they are dreaming the memories. Where they were. Then they went to school. That’s why they hardly remember. Nothing ruled over me. Nothing ruled over anybody. Whatever anybody wanted to do, they would do. Nothing would rule them. Wherever anybody wanted to hunt. Over inland, after the last dam, is where we were. Nothing ruled.
Pollution of the water is what I don’t allow. At Uubichuun (LG-1) was beautiful hunting. That’s where people gathered. They would gather fish. I don’t want to see Uubichuun now, how pitiful it looks. They asked me to take a drive over there. I refused, I feel sorrow for that place. “It looks hideous now,” I told them. Even the Whapmagoostui people came there, to gather fish. I will never forget that. And the Whapmagoostui River will also be destroyed. Let’s help them, so it doesn’t get destroyed. They also remember theirGrandchildren and great-Grandchildren.