It is September 1992 and we are on the open waters of the great James Bay on a freighter canoe heading south to Attawapiskat. We have just wrapped up a moose hunting trip along the Opinigau River about 200 kilometres north of Attawapiskat along the James Bay coast. I am traveling with my younger brothers Paul and Joseph with our dad Marius in a 24-foot freighter canoe. There are two other smaller 22-foot freighter canoes riding alongside, one piloted by my brother Anthony and the other by my cousin James Kataquapit. Our boats are loaded with everything we used for the past two weeks; sleeping bags, mattresses, canvas tent, rifles and shotguns, extra clothing, extra parkas, extra boots, pots, pans, our food box, two empty gasoline drums and several jerry cans of fuel. In addition we also hauling a load of butchered moose meat covered over in a layer of spruce boughs to keep it from spoiling. The water is rough and the salt-water spray is coming up over the bows of our boats. To keep dry in the cold we have tied a large bright blue tarp over each canoe. The engine operators are the only ones exposed to the frigid elements as they guide us over the waves.
It is just after noon and we are boating alongside the distant coastline and enduring the long ride home. We know we may not make it home today so we plan on traveling as far as we can. The water is fairly rough but the sun is out and there is a clear blue sky. We ride until after sunset and into the early part of night. The stars appear brilliantly in a cloudless dark sky and the moon is nowhere to be seen. Still, the stars provide ample glow to illuminate the horizon and a thin line of trees that mark the shore. In the dark my younger brothers and I wonder if our pilots really know where they are heading. We ask them for some reassurance and they confirm that we are heading to Manwanan, also known as Twin Islands, just 20 kilometres north of the Attawapiskat River. The idea is to try and make it to the Attawapiskat River tonight and to the shores of our community.
It is past midnight and as we ride in the dark alongside the two large islands, we realize the tide is too low for us to enter the Attawapiskat River which lies only an hour or so away. During the day it is possible to enter the river at low tide but at night it is dangerous to try to find a way through the shallows and sand bars which are sometimes studded with large protruding boulders that can tear holes into soft skinned canvas freighter canoes.
We make the decision to stay the night and wait for the tide to rise. The boats are tied securely to shore and we unload the necessities for a few hours sleep. The decision is made to sleep outdoors and we bring only our sleeping bags. Tonight we will sleep under the stars. We all pitch in by gathering driftwood, as well as huge logs and we place them in a pile near where we intend to sleep on the gravel shore. We do not have time to fool around lighting a fire so a cup of gas is poured over the woodpile and lit. A large bon fire bursts alive in the dark.
A pot of tea is brewed before we sleep. We sit wrapped in our sleeping bags in front of the roaring fire as we sip on our hot tea. When we are finished we get ready to bed down for the night. As the fire dies down, I tuck myself into my warm extra thick sleeping bag. I am lying flat on the ground and staring up at a diamond studded night sky. The Milky Way glows in a thick band that crosses a large part of the sky. I feel like I am lying on the edge of the planet as I look out into space. The night is cool and I can see my frosty breath as I slowly fall off to sleep.
There are no walls to enclose me or a ceiling to block my view. The air is fresh and I am warm in my sleeping bag cocoon.