Greatest respect was shown for nature (wildlife) because to us, Cree people, life depended on them (animals). Non-Natives do not understand the strong attachment we Cree people have for our traditional lands. Through evolution and time, we conquered, to live as hunters and gatherers. Our concern is to remain as we are, a hunting society, in the face of continuing development on lands we occupy. So-called economic development does not take into consideration the lifestyle and resources we Cree people have survived on and lived with for so long. Our emotional attachment to the land is not simply a ploy to gain economic concessions. We live and die out there. Our land is our life.
I hope this story I will share with you might help you understand a little more the desire we Cree people have to hold onto our lands and our dreams.
Just like my ancestors, my father was born in the bush when his mother still had fresh snow on her moccasins. The place he was born was called “Jack Pine’s River” translated. Upon one of his visits during winter to the area where he was born, on a mountain called “Wab-bon-nuu-chii,” he killed his first moose, at age 15.
A decade later in a different area while portaging, he met his future wife. Together they roamed and hunted on land my father was familiar with, never staying too long in one place. As years went by, there were seven of us children. Three of us were born in the bush, the rest my mother rushed out of the bush by sled or canoe to be born in a hospital. But the child and mother always came back to live in the bush, where home was. I have fond memories of childhood days, hunting with my father in and around “Lo-ledd Shak-hii-gun,” a lake named after one of my sisters who was born there.
When we were younger, my father and teacher, who is still in the bush today, shared with us many hunting stories. However, I will always remember the one about the moose and a time when they were very scarce. When you came across moose tracks on your trapline during winter, you did your utmost to get that moose. My father said he would sleep four or five nights outside in very cold weather tracking the moose. This was often the case, he said. There was no choice. You could not turn back empty-handed because when you left your loved ones back home, they barely had any more food to eat You were happy and grateful when the moose (animal) gave himself to you. You would never forget the place(s).
“But you must remember,” my father mentioned, “one would never have come so far and killed a moose if it were not for the squirrel cooked on a stick, or the small leg of rabbit you carried in your hunting bag. Sometimes on those long journeys when you were hungry you suckled only on a partridge foot saving the rest for your family.” My father’s father pointed out to him, as he would with us, to respect all animals and birds equally. He said, “Without the smaller animals, how could one hope to catch the bigger ones.”
As I had grown up in the bush with the trees and animals and birds, I gradually understood what my great-grandfather had said once: “The animals know us by name.”
Looking back now, a father with three children and a wife, I am very grateful to be alive today, surrounded by the beauty of Creation.
Let’s always remember the patience and time our Elders took to teach us to respect as well as understand nature and its supposedly mysterious ways. We must also be patient and take the time to teach our children what we were taught about nature, to give back a little. Because deep down, we really do care about life. We need the land as much as the land needs us. We must never, never lose respect for nature (wildlife). This bond must be forever or we, Cree people, will be lost forever. Eegoodeh, Mequetoh.