Recently on visit to Montreal, Eliza was interviewed for this story. We thank her for taking the time to tell us a story of what she has seen in the past.
During this time of the season, we fished, while the fish spawned. That was what the people worked on during this time, while the people lived inland around the lakes. The men only hunted the muskrat and only the women worked on the fishnets. They put all their efforts in harvesting fish to make completely dried fish and pounded fish. Siihkwaakidsaawaanch are fish that are completely dried. Once the fish were completely dried, they were packed without breaking them up. When the dried fish wanted to be eaten, they were boiled for a long time until they were tender. The women put all their efforts in harvesting fish in the spring.
When suckers were caught, nothing was thrown away. Even the tails were all used. The fish were fat and the heads of suckers used to be boiled in a very large pot for a long time. The people made oil with the sucker heads. After the fish heads had boiled to pieces and were removed from the fire, the pot was placed somewhere to cool. The oil that floated on top was removed. It was skimmed from time to time until there was no oil to be removed. There used to be a lot of oil in a pot and that was because fish oil was made. The fish oil was placed in a pot or frying pan and placed in the fire to boil dry. The water evaporated and there was only oil in the pot The oil could not spoil and when there was water with the oil, it spoils when placed in throat sacks. That was what used to be done. People made large quantities of oil and fat, and stored it in throat sacks. I knew some used stomachs of seals for containers. Other people’s sack containers used to be large. Also the seagull, duck and goose throats were to store fat and oil. There was no plastic in those days for fat and oil to be stored. The people just used sacks made from the throats of birds and other animals.
In making pounded fish, the fish were first broken up into pieces and the people did not really pound them. The people sometimes left the dried fish where they lived. What was dried sometimes used to be placed under the ground so those that run around on the land and scavenge couldn’t disturb the dried meat After the dried fish, pounded fish and meat was put in burlap or flour bags, it was placed in the pit with logs placed on top. That was what used to be done. They used to be there for a long time and nothing bad happened to the dried food. The reason the people dried all their food was because they wanted to keep it Back then, the people didn’t have freezers or ice-houses. The fish the people dried didn’t spoil even if they were kept all summer. In the winter, they didn’t have to dry their food so they just placed their meat on scaffolds to freeze.
Only teepees were used in that time. They didn’t use tents in the spring because the people wanted to cook and dry their food in their teepees. When lean ducks and geese couldn’t be eaten right away, they used to be dried. First it used to be cooked over the fire, of course, then it was dried. Even if it was not thoroughly cooked it was still dried. It used to hang in the teepee for a long time. The nimaashdaakuch could not rot because they were thoroughly dry. The people used to just hang stuff high up in the teepee. The dried food was boiled for a longtime until it was soft, when people wanted to eat the dried meat they prepared before. When eating the food, they used fat or oil for dipping because the food used to be so dry.
When the ice broke up, that was what the people did. They waited for the ice to break up on the lakes to set fish nets. What nets they had, that was what they set Fish used to be plentiful at this time. People harvested fish even though there was plenty of food. They knew in the future when fall and winter arrived they would use the dried fish and pounded fish. They made pemmican from the pounded fish and the fat they made.
The women worked on the nets and checked them twice a day. When fish were really plentiful, they did not just check their net twice a day. After checking the nets, they cleaned the fish and hung them outside when it was a nice day to dry. Then the half-dried fish were brought inside the teepee to dry again. When they were a bit dry in the indoors, then they cooked them. After cooking the fish, they were then dried again for good. That was how complicated fish doings preparation used to be. Many people today are lazy when fish and game are killed because of all that work there is to do. Today, some people just throw the game in the freezer and are still lazy when working on food. Long ago, it used to be more complicated working on food; also they did not throw anything of the food away.
In the summer at the houses, people used to be hungry because some of the people didn’t have money to buy food to eat Some people had traditional food and they gave some to those who had none. In return, they used to give a bit of flour, tea or sugar to people who just had traditional food. Even when at the houses, some people couldn’t buy flour. The people used to be eager to head back to the bush in their canoes. The people had plenty of food when they were in the bush; however, there must have been others who were hungry during the winter. That is what I remember during this time of spring when the ice breaks up.