As told by David Cheezo
I’ll tell a story from here in Eastmain when the people were inland. The people left Eastmain in their canoes to go live inland and stayed in the bush all winter long. That man’s father was there too. They lived inland. That man didn’t want to live with his father that winter.
In the spring, the people gathered their furs to trade for the next summer. That man who didn’t want to live with his father was out in the bush. The old man didn’t check up on his son. He was the eldest son of his father. In the spring, all the inland people came back down the river to Eastmain to stay for the summer.
This man who lived apart from his father’s camp wasn’t around. No one knew where he was. The people asked around to the other trading posts to see if he was there. They were anxious to know where he was. Summer was in full swing and the people decided to find out what had happened to him because no one knew where he was. The missing man also had five children. They went up the river to search for him.
They paddled to where he had frequently camped. Only a teepee was found. This was where they found the remains of his children. The people didn’t know what had happened to the
man. They hadn’t seen any traces of him. He hadn’t gone to the inland trading post. He wasn’t living with his wife since she had died previously.
Those people, who were in search of that man and his family, were gone for about a month. They had only found that teepee. Apparently, the girls of those children had beautifully made their hair. Most of those children were girls. All the bodies were inside the teepee. Those people who found the bodies properly buried them. They placed the children’s bodies in one grave. I guess they were mostly skeletal remains. Nothing had disturbed the teepee. It stood intact.
It was said that when the people were about to go inland the previous fall, the old man asked for one his grandchildren to stay with them. But the man didn’t agree. When those people came back from finding the bodies, they said that the children looked unsightly. People thought that if those children had a canoe, they would have survived. Two of the girls were already full-grown. They would have probably tried to make it on their own, if they had been able to catch fish. They would have survived if they had a fish net. The absence of a fish net was to blame for their deaths.
It was said that the old man had dragged his son’s canoe to an island. He had placed it on an island. The old man must have been mad because his son didn’t give one of his children to him. This was what the people blamed it on. It was an awful thing what had happened to those children that starved to death. Even though there was no scarcity of food at that time, those children died. No one knew what happened to the man. Others thought that maybe he was trying to get his canoe that was on the island. If it was true what was said, maybe that was how he died. The man’s children were there at the camp but no one knew what had happened to that man. He wasn’t seen at the inland trading post. His little children had died of starvation. When the people came back down the river, that was when we knew what had happened to those children. But no one knew what had happened to that man.
The people who found the teepee noticed the children’s trail. It seemed that they were checking on something for some time. I guess they couldn’t move after a while because of no food. They probably waited for their father. The children were all found lying together.
It was hard for the people to take when this happened. There was no scarcity of game during this time. Game was plentiful and people were living well. Many people were surprised that this had happened. Many people thought that they should have check up on them earlier but it was after over a month when the people decided to look for the missing family. There were no planes or helicopters at that time to aid in the search.
I guess many people didn’t hear this story correctly because they were born after it happened. So, when they hear this story, they might be surprised of what happened. When the people went there to check on those missing people, a lot of supplies were taken along expecting to catch the children in time. But I guess they thought that they wouldn’t be able to get to them in time, even if they were found.
This is the story that I thought should be recorded — when the people went missing here from Eastmain. When the man was about to leave his father’s camp, his father asked for one of his grandchildren to stay with him but the man didn’t agree. This was the last time the man saw his father’s face. When some people have bad thoughts towards each other, it was known that something bad would happen. During that time when it happened, it was difficult for us to take. It was a bit frightening when this happened. This is what I remember. I was already full-grown when this happened. I knew that there was no scarcity of food during that time of this event.
This is why I thought that I’d tell this story because many people, who were born after this happened, will know. It seemed that the search was carried out half-heartedly. The people checked up on the missing people after there was no sign of life. Many people have been born after this event and if they want to take this story, the younger generation will clearly know of what happened.
Translated and transcribed by Brian Webb. Voices of the Elders: made possible with the assistance of the Canada Council.