I try to spend as much time in the woods as I can. The feeling of being surrounded by the familiar sights and sounds of the forest brings back my childhood on the James Bay coast. Every memory I have of being in the wilderness with my family, friends or just by myself are quiet recollections.
Most of the time we never ran into all that many animals or birds out on the land. When we did get an opportunity to see something it was special and considered a sign of good luck. To some people this meant a friendly gesture from the animal world. Any wild animal will quickly shy away at your approach for fear of being trapped, killed or chased. To us, whenever you came upon any kind of animal that allowed us to watch it was a gift.
On a recent walk through the woods, I came upon a group of partridge socializing in the forest. It was an odd sight and I was surprised by my luck. Camouflaged in the brown and soft colours of the fall leaves and dead vegetation, a male was quietly puffing up his breast feathers in a mating show to attract two other females. He seemed angry at my appearance and turned towards me while beating his wings.
The sound confused me at first but I quickly understood I was upsetting his chances at making a new friend. I took a step back and had a better look at the display and communication of feathers and beating sounds in this partridge love triangle.
As the birds strutted around the forest floor, a squirrel noisily chirped away from a distance at the commotion of beating feathers and a human observer venturing near his tree. The sun shone down on this scene like a stage light in a theatre.
After a few minutes the squirrel gave up his protest and darted from branch to branch in search of a safer vantage point. Like a group of actors exiting the stage the partridges slipped away behind the curtain of brown foliage. I was alone again on the trail.
When I lived up north in Attawapiskat, I encountered wildlife on a regular basis. My brothers and I were taught how to hunt and gather food at a very young age. At the same time we also learned how to respect the land and the animals that live there.
The first lesson was to hunt and gather only what we really needed. There is an ancient belief amongst Cree hunters that if you gather more than what you could use or if you killed anything you didn’t need then you were committing a serious offense against nature. Any kind of offense meant you brought bad luck to yourself and your future chances for good hunting.
It is confusing for someone with my upbringing to understand sport or recreational hunting. I just can’t connect with the concept of going hunting for the fun of it. I have difficulty understanding hunters who kill large animals like moose and take only the choicest meats and cuts for themselves and leave the rest to rot. Recently I have seen several news articles about the remains of moose discarded in the forest.
Hunting to my people in the north is not a sport; it is a way of life. I haven’t hunted much in the past few years. It has been years since I have fired a rifle or shotgun to kill another animal. As a matter of fact, I really don’t feel a real need to hunt anymore.
I realized a long time ago that one of the greatest things about the hunt was the fact that it gave me the opportunity to visit the land and go back to our traditional lifestyle for just a short while. Whenever I sat by myself on a lonely blind in the spring there was a sense of peace and tranquility. It made me feel alive to wander around the forest, lakes and rivers in the fall during the moose hunt. It was exhilarating to sit under the warm glow of the summer sun during a fishing trip on a river. I came to the conclusion that I don’t need to kill something in order to enjoy these things.
Some might say I am losing my traditions or culture but I just see it as a healthy evolution. If I don’t need to take another animal’s life to feed my family then it is wrong in my mind to do this just for the thrill of the hunt.
There actually is a very old and traditional word that sums up this idea of taking just what you need when you need it and showing respect to the land and its creatures. It is ‘Pah-Sh-Tah-Moo-N’. If you commit ‘Pah-Sh-Tah-Moo-N’ then you will reap what you have sown.