What do Hannah Bay, Missisicabi River and Tidewater Goose Camp have in common? The area is an excellent place to have a successful outdoor education trip and a total learning experience. Have you wondered how the people of James Bay travel around in the winter?
A group of staff and students from the Moose Cree Education Authority learned how by participating in a four-day trip out to the bush. Not too long ago, the people of the James Bay area walked on snowshoes pulling a toboggan and used a dog team to get to their hunting and trapping grounds. Times have changes. Today people use snowmachines with custom-made sleighs as a mode of travel.
As some people may agree, winter is the best season around here. First, there is no choice as winter is about five or six months long and we have learned to adapt to the environment. Second, the winter season provides the natural roadways on the rivers and easier access to the bush and muskeg.
On Tuesday, April 1, the adventurous group of staff and students accompanied four experienced guides to Hannah Bay to learn a bit about the traditional way of life of hunting and trapping. With seven skidoos and sleighs in caravan style, the guides, teaching staff and students embarked on a three-hour drive to the Tidewater Goose Camp on the Missisicabi River. As part of the outdoor education program, the Adult and Alternative Education staff and students planned this trip for about a month and hoped for good weather. The sky was clear and the wind was not too cold so it was a good day to travel.
Tidewater Goose Camp is situated about 42 statute miles, “as the crow flies,” east of Moose Factory on the Missisicabi River, which flows into Hannah Bay. Our trip on the ground was a distance of 92.4 kilometres. The camp is owned and operated by Moose Cree First Nation and is available to groups and individuals who may want to use the facilities for staff retreats, a place to stay while on an outdoor adventure, or to see James Bay. There are eight cabins which include a kitchen with all the necessary items and would you believe… a sauna!!!
We travelled through the bush to Partridge River and along the coast to Big Stone and crossed Hannah Bay toward the Missisicabi River. We stopped a couple of times for a break and waited for the smaller snowmachines so they could keep up. We quickly learned that the group had to travel together so that help is available if one of the snowmachines breaks down.
We arrived at the camp in the afternoon and spent the rest of the day unpacking and settling in. Our guides went in the bush for wood as the students were going to build a huge bonfire. The best place for a bonfire is on the wide frozen river. We watched the sparks fly with the Halle-Boppe Comet glowing brightly in the night sky. It was an amazing sight. The marshmallows that we ate were okay too. In the evening, everyone stayed in their cabins, visited each other and played cards. The camp was quiet by eleven o’clock which is another amazing event.
The next day we got up bright and early to learn about setting traps for marten and beaver and set some fish hooks. Everyone quietly observed while Oliver Small and Allan Quachegan showed us how to set a beaver trap. Allan showed us the proper way to search for the entrance of the beaver house and later demonstrated the setting of the trap. A beaver uses the same passage to and from his beaver house. Oliver showed us how to set a beaver trap in the pathway away from the beaver house. Oliver described the habitat of the beaver and the layout of the swamp. One could see the outline of the beaver dam underneath the snow.
Traditional hunting and trapping activities are great learning opportunities. Not only do the students learn about the traditional way of life but also learn about themselves and their interaction with the environment. Young boys accompany their fathers to the
trapline and observe and later they have the opportunity to set the traps themselves. A couple of students followed Oliver in the bush and watched as he set a marten trap using only natural materials. You had to be there to appreciate his knowledge. On our way back to camp, we went hunting for partridge. (I didn’t know that partridge hung out in the swamp.)
We spent the afternoon making seven ice fishing holes using a tool called an “eschkan,” which is a large handmade chisel, an axe which is your regular chopping tool, and an ice auger. The fish hooks are tied with a heavy-duty string to a red willow branch. The fish bait is any kind of meat such as bacon. After setting the fish hooks, they are covered up with snow and left overnight.
The next day it rained and we stayed indoors and waited and waited. The rain did not let up and, finally, some students released some pent up energy by having a major snowball match. Other people waited out the weather and listened to music or to the portable two-way radio. Some played a mini Euchre tournament while others cleaned their cabins and the kitchen.
The best thing about trips is that we learn by doing and we also learn a great deal about ourselves, other people and the environment. I enjoy the bush because it gives me a sense of freedom. This time around I learned that the guides are dedicated and hardworking. Oliver told an incredible story of when he had to walk back to Moose Factory because his snowmachine got stuck in the slush of the snow. He stopped long enough to dry his clothes and move on. When he finally got home, one day and one night had passed. Since he was alone, he had to be patient and not give up no matter what befell him. I had nothing but respect and admiration for Oliver after hearing his story. This outdoor education trip also reaffirmed my pride in the Native culture and history. The Native people in the James Bay area hunt, trap and fish every year just as they have done for thousands of years. The guides have extensive knowledge of the land and an example is their use of landmarks to help them reach their destination.
It was interesting to note that the guides represented the three dialects of the Cree language in the James Bay area. Oliver Small, the lead guide (Oki ma ow), and Clarence Small spoke East Coast Cree. Thomas Tookate spoke the West Coast Cree, and Allan Quachegan spoke Moose Cree. During the trip, we could hear all three dialects of Cree being spoken. One guide, jokingly, said that he can converse in all three dialects at the same time but might respond in the wrong Cree dialect to whomever he’s talking.
On the fourth and final day, as we got ready for our return trip, the students were eager to get going. In retrospect, little did they know that the trip back would be arduous and time-consuming. We learned the meaning of patience as it took us eight hours to get back to Moose Factory. The warm weather and the soft snow made it more difficult to travel and the snowmachines can get easily bogged down. At times, we had to push the snowmachines and sleighs out of the slush. The frozen ice on the bay is not flat but has many jagged areas. Our passengers on the sleigh found it fun to travel on. We slowly made our way back travelling on the bay and then toward Long Point. As we got close to the mouth of the Moose River we headed toward the shoreline. By this time, everyone was exhausted and wanted desperately to get home. We had spent the entire day outside and it showed by the sunburn and tan on our faces.
The students had an excellent opportunity to observe and learn about the traditional ways of life and to become aware of our Cree culture and traditions. They also learned about the environment. One of the most important things they learned was about themselves. The students were in a setting where they had to interact with different people and had an opportunity to get to know their fellow students and the teaching staff.
We had fun too. Somebody rolled up a black glove and threw it across the floor where I was sitting. I was listening attentively to one of the guides when I noticed something in the corner of my eye. I screamed, jumped up and ran across the room thinking it was a mouse. Everyone in the room had a good laugh. The first night, the girls and I told ghost stories late into the night. The five of us got so scared as we sat on this tiny bed, clutching each other, not daring to move. All in all, it was a great outdoor education trip and I’m sure everyone had a good time.
We, the teaching staff and students at Moose Cree Education Authority, would like to thank the guides for taking time out to teach us about the traditional life of hunting and trapping. The students and staff are great and I must commend them on their adventurous spirit and willingness to have exciting and new learning experiences. I would like to thank the Moose Cree First Nation for having such an excellent facility out there on the “Missicabi” River. Tidewater Goose Camp is an ideal place for organizations which are looking for a place to hold a staff retreat, or anyone looking for a cozy place to stay on your next outdoor adventure, or even an excellent destination for a hike out to taste the salt water of James Bay. If you need more information or are interested in Tidewater Goose Camp, contact the Tourism Department at the Moose Cree First Nation.