I was up at 4 in the morning ready for the geese. Like many hunters I looked at the water hole opening up early. It was warmer than usual for this time of year and the ice was melting. The snow had pretty much disappeared causing Luke MacLeod to mention that our coastal cousins had a saying concerning it. No snow means the geese fly high and long.
Those words seemed true as the flocks we saw flew on by despite some expert hunters plying their goose calling talent. Cree wisdom passed down through the ages learnt the hard but true way.
The early mornings were foggy, sometimes crazily so. I was glad it was morning and not evening or it would have been like some creepy film-noir movie. Out of the fog would come six or more swallows flying up and down over the water touching it lightly at times.
Don Macleod told me there was a legend that the loon would bring back the swallows under its wings to Eeyou Istchee. Sure enough one morning I heard the hauntingly beautiful call of the loon across the water. Once again I found truth in the words of the Cree Elders and ancestors that they passed on to the next generations.
On my second-to-last day I checked out the walleye spawning grounds at the Icon mine. It is yet another rite of spring for the Mistissini Cree. Traditionally, this time of year was welcomed by all the Cree. It meant the hard and lean times of the winter season were over and the land was sharing its bounty.
Fish was always and still is an important part of the traditional diet. In the past it accounted for about 25% of the food a person would eat. It would be the first solid food a Cree ate and usually the last as it could be mashed-up making it easy to eat.
This is a tradition we need to bring back as it could help combat the high rates of diabetes experienced by our people. There are many lessons and even solutions when you look at the history, traditions and legends of our Cree ancestors.
At the Icon I met up with Ernie Trapper who was relaxing and doing some fishing. He said fish had become one of his favourite foods these days. I have to hand it to Ernie as he was watching his daughters two weeks out of three as his wife was doing her nursing internship in Montreal.
They say in the past Cree adults were able to carry out both sexes’ activities when needed. It was nice to see that this tradition continues to this day. His wife, like men who were hunting in the past, is gone for a long period of time. That’s a traditional Cree family unit in modern days carrying on in the best of Cree traditions.
You continue to learn all your life and even though Crees today have many new things to learn it is good to know that what has been passed on is still as valued and important as it ever was.