It is a way of life in the north to be resourceful and self-sufficient. People learn from a young age to fix, maintain or even build whatever they need to get a job done. Hunters and food gatherers out on the land have to be able to find solutions to problems on their own as it is a matter of life and death.
I grew up in my home community of Attawapiskat watching my father and my older brothers run a family contracting business. Dad had trucks, tractors, saw equipment and tools and machines to work on all sorts of projects in the community. Most of the time I observed my brothers and my dad fixing, repairing and maintaining equipment.
When I grew older I eventually joined my brothers in this work and I learned how to become resourceful. One of the main activities that kept us all busy on a regular basis was repairing flat tires for trucks, tractors and all-terrain vehicles. In our remote community back then, there were no tire machines to make the job easier. We didn’t even have access to special equipment like tire irons. Everything was done by hand using large screwdrivers, crowbars, hammers, wrenches or long metal poles. Even though we got our work done, it was difficult and most of time this work resulted in cuts and scrapes because we had not used the proper equipment. By the way this time period was in the 1980s.
Out on the land, resourcefulness becomes even more important. It is more difficult to make repairs at a remote camp where there are fewer resources. I recall one repair we had to make on a snow machine that had ended up with a broken ski tip. Dad, two of my younger brothers and I were camped with a few other hunters from the community on the north end of Akamiski Island out on James Bay during the spring goose hunt. The snowmobile with the broken ski continued to be used for a few days. We waited for a period when no hunting could be done. My cousin Benji volunteered to use the snowmobile. He was also given the challenge of driving his snow machine with only once ski as the opposite one had been removed to prevent further damage. It was very humorous to watch him balance his machine to one side to keep the stub of the missing ski aloft as he slowly rode to his hunting blind.
On a bitterly cold afternoon several of the men finally came together to discuss how to fix the ski. Several options were presented including fitting a new wooden part to build a new ski but it was decided that we could use the old ski tip and some ingenuity to fasten it back onto the main part of the ski. We had to fashion a wrench to become part of the new ski and we had to do this in very cold weather. Finally, after several hours of cutting, the wrench magically became part of the new ski as it was fit into place with some hammering and then wire to tie it together. When the repair was done, the ski stayed in place long enough to allow the snow machine to function for another week of hunting and the three-hour drive home over difficult terrain.
There were many other times when different situations required us to make repairs or improvise by doing something different. In the spring after the goose hunt, it seemed like most of the time we limped home on snowmobiles that had been repaired and maintained just enough to make the trip back with a full load.
Old habits die hard. These days I amuse my friends with my interest in garbage that dots the streets on a weekly basis. I am always stopping to look over some interesting item that someone has decided to toss out. My non-Native friends get a big kick out of this and they like to tease me a bit. However, I am the first one they call on when they need a spare part or some material to repair something. As a matter of fact I usually end up fixing their problem for them. Like the old saying goes: One man’s junk is another man’s treasure. Native people in remote communities are very aware of that reality.