It has been many moons since I’ve been moose hunting. I was talking to OJ Chief Curtis Bosum and at the end of our business we chitchatted. I mentioned that my wife Amy was pregnant and looking for moose or caribou so I planned to go moose hunting. He asked whom I was going with. I replied I didn’t have a partner. Curtis invited me to join him and I gladly accepted.
Now many might expect this would involve ulterior motives on both our parts, but we agreed there’d be no business for the week. Curtis would also be bringing along his 7-year-old son Antoine. This is not unusual in Cree society. In fact, there have been 9-year-olds who have shot their first moose. On the other hand, I’m 54 and I haven’t been fortunate enough to have that honour yet.
On the way up to the Happyjack trapline we shot some partridges with the three of us taking turns. I watched as Curtis helped his son shoot one. He was patient and explained how close you could get and where to aim the .410 shotgun. He was passing on Cree traditional knowledge and practices. The first shots we made were nice. It felt good to know you were part of the circle of life on the land and that one of our meals would be the result.
It is all about our connection to the land, both physically and spiritually. That starts as soon as you are born. Most Cree do not touch or walk on the land until they are able to walk. Then there is a Walking Out Ceremony that signals you are ready to be a part of the land and the Cree way of life. Even walking on the land isn’t a right but a time when you accept responsibilities for your actions.
It is the beginning of learning to be a part of the land, not living off the land but living with it. Learning Cree values and our way of life. Curtis said his late grandmother Winnie G. Happyjack played an important role in understanding and living the Cree way.
We ran into Philip Awashish. When I got out of the truck Philip gave me a strange look so I took off my cap. He laughed as he didn’t recognize me at first. We talked about hunting and we both agreed that being on the land is something special. I said just being out here was enough. A moose would be nice but the reconnection was special. Philip said it was one of the hardest things for the Quebec and federal government to understand when they were negotiating
Arriving at Camp 3, I saw two of Curtis’ brothers, Nathaniel and Reggie Bosum. Nathaniel was leaving but Reggie was staying. The next day I hunted with Reggie. As we drove around Reggie passed on moose-hunting knowledge to me. Yes, I knew some of what he was saying but my last moose hunt was many years before. It was like a refresher course combined with new knowledge I soaked in like the desert sand in a rainstorm.
Once again Grandma Happyjack was acknowledged as the person who passed on the ways of the land that the Happyjack family is responsible for. Reggie said she knew more about that area than anyone he knew and was honoured to learn from her. Listening to him I was once again reminded that both men and women knew the land and all about the life on it. Reggie said he not only learned to know the land but how to survive on it because of her.
I asked Antoine what he felt was the most important thing he had learned at the end of the week. He said that Cree hunters do not kill what they won’t eat. While we talked about that my almost 4-year-son Hunter might have helped to re-enforce that teaching. Hunter had texted me asking why I had to go to bush to hunt? He said I could hunt squirrels in Montreal. He asked me to bring him back a squirrel’s paw. Antoine was willing to do that for him. Both his dad Curtis and I said we would have to eat the squirrel. We were willing but they are fast so I can’t comment on the taste of squirrel meat this time around.
One of the places Reggie took me was up the river where he had a traditional shelter that he and his son had built. It was peaceful and we called from there. When you are on the land you can tell a lot about a person. I would have to say Curtis, Antoine and Reggie are Cree who know what it is like to be a part of life in Eeyou Istchee.
Yes, we may have not taken a moose but we all have no regrets. As Philip said, for any Cree it’s the connection to the land. I thank Curtis and Reggie for showing me the land they know and are connected to. It was a privilege.