I can’t believe I am writing words dedicated to the passing of my dad, Marius Kataquapit (October 26, 1938 – March 13, 2013). His death from a heart attack has left a hole in my own heart that I know will never fully heal, though it will get better with time. Dad was very much a larger-than-life, fun-filled character in the life of my family and whenever we were with him, he often punctuated our time with laughter and smiles.
He was also someone who thought of life and death a lot. He prepared us for these realities in so many ways when we were young. He often reminded us that we only have a short time in this existence and that we should enjoy life.
Dad was an adventurous spirit and he wanted to see as much of the world as he possibly could. He planted that seed of adventure in me and it was one of the main reasons why I left my northern home.
In his own way, he saw as much of the world as he could. He travelled up and down James Bay by foot, by water and by air. He prided himself in knowing just about every river, creek and waterway along James Bay. As a young boy at the age of 12 or 13, he actually started working as a guide for visiting American fishers and hunters. When he was a teenager, he often left his family to head out alone on the land to hunt, trap and fish to sustain himself and his family. He thought nothing of wandering hundreds of kilometres by snowshoe to get to the next river, the next lake or just to see how far he could go. He did this travelling in the wilderness with only a few supplies, an axe, matches and snowshoes.
He was a survivor of the residential school system. Even though this made it difficult for him as a Catholic, he still held a strong faith and was a proud member of the Church. He was happy to call the local parish priest, Father Vezina, a good friend.
When he was 16, he left James Bay to find adventure and work in the south. He went to work for forestry companies and that took him to non-Native towns and cities where he was dazzled by different ways of living. During his travels he also saw and met small business people who operated shops, stores, farms and machinery of all sorts, which fuelled his imagination of what he could do for himself later on.
He kept travelling and eventually landed a job with the northern railroad where he worked as a lineman with a travelling crew. This work suited him well as he was now able to move from town to town to see new places and meet new people.
When he returned to the north, he was strong, full of stamina, and without fear. He made it his goal in life to become the best, the strongest and the hardest-working person in his community.
Early on in his life dad suffered his first great loss when his mother Janie died in a tragic house fire. He did his best to care for his father James.
As he reestablished himself in the north, he also discovered someone who would help him fulfil his hope of a life as a father. He fell in love with a young woman named Susan from the Paulmartin clan, a close-knit family group that wanted the best for their young daughter.
The Kataquapits had done their best to raise their large family through hard times.
While dad courted his new-found love, he knew that he would have to prove himself to be worthy, so he worked twice as hard as anyone else in the Paulmartin family. At one point, Xavier, the Paulmartin family head, told him that he needed to slow down and that there was no need to kill himself with work. Soon after, dad was accepted into the family and he married Susan.
Mom and dad spent their early marriage in Moosonee and Moose Factory, where dad was able to find steady work for a few years and then decided to move back to Attawapiskat.
I was always fascinated by the fact that just about everyone on the James Bay coast knew Marius Kataquapit. He seemed to endear himself to many people in one way or another.
When dad returned to Attawapiskat he reconnected with his large extended family and he often went out on the land with his brothers Gabriel, Alex, Leo and George to hunt, trap and fish on their traditional area. They all liked to have a laugh and even though they did the serious business of gathering food for their families, their camp was often full of good humour and fun. Dad was also happy about returning to the community so that he could spend time with the rest of his family, including his older brother Thomas, younger brother David and their sister Celine.
Anyone who knew dad understood that he was someone who could never stand still for long.
He found employment as a hospital maintenance man for several years. While he learned the trade of fixing, repairing and maintaining the operations of the local hospital, he kept searching for more work. Through his connections with the hospital, the church, local leadership, the school, the Hudson Bay Company (which later became Northern) and just about every business associated with the town, he searched for contracts, business ideas and employment of any type to support his growing family. He acquired the transportation contract for the local store, and using farm tractors, trailers and trucks, he employed local young men and later recruited his sons to manage this business. By the time, most of us boys were teenagers, we were at the airport three times a week, lifting, hauling, moving and transporting just about everything that came into the community.
While we lived in our crowded home, dad at one point took in his father James to live with us. Mooshoom was a First World War veteran and, just like his son, he enjoyed making his grandchildren laugh with silly things he did. Dad took great comfort in seeing his father at home with his grandchildren.
Dad became one of the major entrepreneurs in Attawapiskat and we followed him through all of his projects. We learned about carpentry, woodworking, machinery operation and maintainence, as well as welding, plumbing, heating, electrical and just about any other trade you can think of. The greatest accomplishment he achieved through all this was to instill in his sons and daughters the idea that we could do anything we wanted.
As dad aged to become an Elder in the community and his strength and ability gave way, his grandsons and granddaughters provided him a second wind.
His greatest regret came when he lost his 16-year-old son Philip on Christmas Day in 1990. Philip was a charismatic youth who was adored by many people from his home community and his friends along the James Bay coast. The hole in dad’s life that was left by this loss diminished somewhat over time as he saw his children grow to give him grandchildren and even great-grandchildren.
His spirit also fell when he lost his young grandson Nicholas, son of Lawrence and Christine. He also had to deal with the loss of brothers Gabriel, David and Thomas.
He dealt with the pain of losing his loved ones in the only way he knew: he kept working. He developed new business projects that included a laundromat, two restaurants, a winter road transportation business, freight hauling, a guiding business, a hotel and a sawmill.
I know he never really understood my interest in writing and many of my choices in life but I also know he loved me dearly. He was proud of his grandchildren and the steps they were taking to better their lives at home and in cities and towns to the south.
He confided in me once on a road trip out west that his key to success in life was his wife Susan. Dad always enjoyed talking about how proud he was of his sons Lawrence, Mario, Antoine, Joseph, Paul and of course myself. He was so happy with all the successes of his daughters Jackie and Janie and he lived for his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Even though dad is now gone from this world, I can still sense and hear him inside of me as I carry on with my life.
I think dad is still looking for something to do in the spirit world. He was never one to stand still for too long. He is young, strong, vibrant and full of energy again. He has found a canoe, collected his things and he has plans to explore the rivers and lakes that have always been part of his life. On his way, he will find his mother Janie and his father James along a great river where there are plenty of fish, rabbits and geese. They will never be hungry again. His brothers Gabriel, Thomas and David are there. As he travels the land, he will eventually meet all his other relations and friends he knew and loved from so long ago.
As he sits by the fire, the crackling flames, fresh-cut wood and smell of the sap settle his spirit and makes him feel content. He does not have to work so hard anymore. There is time. There is space. He is surrounded by the scent of the pine, the willow and the grasses by the river. He can taste the cool tea-coloured water in his cup. His son Philip and grandson Nicholas are calling him by the shore. There is still some work to be done. He now has time to teach them how to hunt, trap and fish the land.