Ah, goose break.
Before it happens you feel the tension, excitement and anticipation all wrapped up in one big ball at the pit of your stomach. It doesn’t matter how old you are or what gender you may be, the tradition takes hold of you.
Since time immemorial, we Crees have waited for the geese to return and bring with them the promise of spring. It is then that we know the harshness of winter is over and life will begin to flourish once again in Eeyou Istchee. As every Cree knows, this is a special time of year. Band offices and schools close down as families get ready to travel to hunting spots.
It is a time of coming together for Crees. We all work together to make it happen as family and as friends. We will, if we are in the bush, be living in close quarters so we will be talking together between generations. Not only will we be learning and teaching but we will be sharing. We will share stories of past hunts, or what has been happening since we last were together in this fashion. We will be sharing stories of those who have passed on.
Those memories are precious and are sometimes the only way that a grandmother or a great-grandfather will be remembered by their offspring and descendents. I can hear the laughter as a favourite tale is told and I can see the seriousness of young eyes as a particular adventure is recounted.
I know one story about my great grand-father, William Matoush. When my uncles were young and traveled with him to check beaver traps, he would always give them a piece of tanned rabbit fur to keep in their pockets. They were curious as why he would do this and asked him why. “Never mind,” he would reply, “I’ll tell you when the time is right.”
One day it was extremely cold and got even colder while they were out checking the traps. They stopped for tea and that was when Joomsum said they should get out the fur. He proceeded to put it down in the front of his pants explaining they should do the same to protect their privates. It was in order to protect future generations of Cree he laughed. I often wondered why he didn’t tell them about this before but I guess he knew young boys and rabbit fur better than I did.
The story still pops up every now and then but not as often as one of my experiences. I had a new gun and it wasn’t sighted in.
I was young and very self-conscious in those days. You could almost say I was shy… when hunting. I was out with uncles, cousins, friends, brothers and other assorted riffraff and we stopped at a place to see if there were any bears in the area.
Some of my fellow hunters egged me on to try out my new gun and sight it in. It was recommended and stressed that I shoot at this whiskeychan.
Finally bowing to the peer pressure, I shot and get this, missed! Slightly embarrassed, I followed the whiskeychan with my gun vowing silently to erase the shame of missing a shot. Remember I was young.
As I followed the whiskeychan it came closer and closer and even closer. To my utter horror and to the delight and howls of laughter of all the other hunters it landed on the end of my gun. I guess it knew it was the safest place for it at the moment and that way it could continue to laugh at me and my shooting. Since then I have always gone on the land with humility in my heart. A little bird taught me that important lesson with one landing.
These are a couple of the tales of the goose blind. A little humour combined with a lesson. But spending the time in the bush is more than just telling tales or being with family and friends. It is a time of reconnecting with the land, when Crees are Crees and they take responsibilities for being a part of Eeyou Istchee.
Our forefathers became part of the land and the part they played was one of a hunter/gatherer culture. In doing so they became part of the balance of nature. It is important to remember and celebrate those roots and the part they play in our lives today. We must never forget who we were to know who we are.