Depending on the weather, goose hunting season usually occurs during the months of April and May up on the James Bay coast. The spring goose hunt is the biggest one. Almost everybody in my home community of Attawapiskat heads out on the land for this hunt. They take this opportunity to stock up on Niska (Canada geese) and Wayway (Snow geese), as the next hunt does not occur until fall.
Much of the culture of my people, the James Bay Cree, surrounds the goose. A lot of our stories, traditions and arts and crafts are based around the goose. If you are acquainted with any artist from the far north of Canada you have probably noticed that much of their work includes images of the goose.
One very popular craft work has evolved out of the goose hunt. In all of the very best art and craft shops in the big cities in Canada and other parts of the world you will find tamarack decoys and carved wood decoys of geese and ducks.
These productions are very detailed and are done by First Nation artists and craft people.
Many people don’t realize that the tamarack geese and wood carved ducks and geese evolved from the first use by my people as decoys.
The tamarack goose which is produced up the coast is famous all over the world. A few people up the coast still know how to make them, but it is very time consuming and requires a lot of skill and patience. Long ago, these decoys were made by my people from the branches of tamarack trees to lure the geese down to a hunter’s blind so that it could be taken for nutrition. Later, when my people began to change their nomadic way of life, we turned to faster ways of producing goose and duck decoys. People began to carve images from wood of geese or ducks and place them out on the land as decoys.
In more recent years many of the people I know up the coast have turned to very quick production of Canada geese decoys. Often I participated in producing these decoys. There wasn’t a lot of time or great skill used to produce these decoys, but they provided the same results in luring the geese down to our blinds. The fast way we produced goose decoys was to take a length of log about 10 to 12 feet long, delimb it and then cut it in sections of about a foot and a half long. We then cut these sections with a chain saw at about a 45 degree angle so that we wound up with triangular shaped pieces of wood. We then built a big fire and threw in the triangular shaped pieces of wood. These v-shaped chunks of wood soon turned black as a result of the fire, at which point we would pull them out. We let them cool down and then cut a small opening at the top of one of the wide ends of the triangular pieces of wood. In the small opening we stuck L-shaped branches, which were also charred black in a fire, that looked like a long head or a beak. That was it, in a few hours we produced enough decoys for the hunt. Believe it or not, these rough goose shapes were sufficient to draw the geese from the sky and into our range. Of course this was not accomplished by the decoy alone. We James Bay Cree have developed a very good goose call over centuries and we know how to stop a flock of geese in flight and call them to our blinds.
Although many hunters use the new plastic type of decoys sold these days, people still like to produce their own. So the next time you see a beautiful tamarack goose or wood carving of a goose or duck, remember that it originated in the need to feed my people.