As told by Samuel Bearskin

I will tell a story of how it was in the past. This story must have taken place around 45 years ago. When someone is determined to do something, he’ll eventually succeed. He shouldn’t turn his back on what he wants to accomplish if he doesn’t see it right away. I’ll tell you a story of my youth. I was among the ones who hunted for my food out on the land.

In the fall, we left from the island settlement here on Chisasibi to live in the bush. This river was called Chisasibi as soon as Iyiyuu knew about it. We began our canoe trip from the island. We paddled up the river near where our community is located now. We occasionally rested here at the shore of our present-day community. We journeyed to the east to the middle of the land. We were sometimes closer to the other side. We always paddled to distant places.

In the past, people began using bush planes to transport their supplies to their traplines but the people themselves paddled in their canoes. Later, they flew to their traplines. This was the first time my uncle used a bush plane to transport his supplies to his trapline. Both my parents had passed away when I was young so I lived with my uncle. I was 15 years old at this time. It snowed as we paddled to our trapline and the small lakes were covered with ice. We only paddled on the large lakes which weren’t frozen yet. We dropped off our things at the place of our winter camp and we set off for our supplies that were dropped off by the plane.

We weren’t able to paddle on some of the lakes but we still took our canoe. I was able to carry the canoe on my shoulders by that time. My uncle had said there was a river we’d reach and that it probably wasn’t frozen yet. We slept out in the open twice. We simply walked. We reached that river my uncle had mentioned and it still wasn’t covered with ice. There was a huge lake with an island in the middle. This was where the bush plane had dropped off our supplies. It was already late in the evening when we reached our supplies. We stayed on that island for the night.

In the morning, we took our supplies to the shore of that lake. It was a calm day. It took us the entire day to paddle across because this is a very large lake. The lake is called Minaawaan (Egg Gathering Place). It is far inland. There is another lake called Minaawaan near where the old settlement Kaanaayaapiskaau was. But this lake where our supplies were is farther. We stayed the night at the shore of this lake after we transported our supplies across.

We cached our supplies there. My uncle said we’d come and pick it up once he had made toboggans. I still wasn’t able to make toboggans. So we left again heading back to our camp site. We left our canoe also. We walked. We camped
once and left in the morning again. We were about half-way home and it had snowed a bit when I came across bear tracks. I waited for the rest to catch up. There were four of us – my uncle, my aunt and my aunt’s sibling. My uncle said, “We’ll follow the bear tracks tomorrow. First, let’s go back to our camp.” In the morning, he said, “Let’s go.” We followed the tracks of the bear. It became dark as we followed the tracks and we stayed there the night. We made a fire. It snowed during the night. My uncle mentioned that we might not be able to track the bear if the snow covered its tracks.

In the morning, we could still see the bear tracks in the snow. My uncle mentioned that there was a river we’d reach. He said, “If the bear reached that river, it must’ve crossed it and we won’t be able to cross it.” The bear tracks led down to the shore of the river. It had crossed the river. My uncle said, “We won’t be able to do anything so let’s go home.” We headed back to our camp.

There were many small lakes as we walked but it still wasn’t safe to walk on the ice. We saw two beavers. My uncle shot them and killed them. He said, “At least we’ll bring something home.” It was already dark when we reached our camp. My uncle had said that if we still had our canoe, we’d be able to go where the bear went. We lived near the same river the bear had crossed. It snowed again in the morning and it started raining for about a week. It rained down hard but the snow hadn’t all melted away.

My uncle was very knowledgeable because he knew about living in the bush for a long time. He said, “I think the tracks of the bear are still visible.” He told me to go over to where it had walked. It was a bit far from our camp. I went over and saw the tracks still clearly visible. I returned home. It was already dark. I told my uncle that the tracks were still visible. It was starting to get cold at night. The river started to freeze. My uncle said, “We’ll try to walk across the river here. If we’re able to walk across, we’ll track down the bear again.”

In the morning, my uncle and I walked onto the ice of the river near our camp. He led the way. He advised me to stay far from him so I wouldn’t fall through the ice if he did. He taught me what to do. I did what he said. He took a walking stick and tested the ice. He moved quickly across the ice. Then I knew he wasn’t afraid of falling through. We got across and he said, “Let’s go.”

I think we only took enough food for two meals. We left. He told me to lead the way and told me where to go. The bear must have crossed the river straight across from where we last saw the tracks. We didn’t walk close to the river. We walked into the bush. Then we saw its tracks. It was getting dark. We weren’t that far from our camp and we stayed there that night. We didn’t bring anything along to use as shelter. We couldn’t sleep because we didn’t have any bedding also. It was a long night. At dawn, we ate the last of our food and we left again. It became dark again and we still hadn’t reached the bear. We stayed out in the open again that night and left again in the morning.

My uncle didn’t mention anything about returning home. I wondered why we didn’t just simply go home. It was probably because I was hungry. But I didn’t say anything. I guess I didn’t really mind. My uncle wouldn’t shoot any of the partridges we had seen during the day as we walked because he was afraid the bear would hear the gun shot.

The bear tracks led to a lake. We lost the bear. The lake was probably not covered with ice when the bear had reached it. My uncle said, “The bear must have swam off.” We walked around this large lake looking for signs of the bear but we didn’t see any. We even checked all the islands but didn’t see anything.

Then my uncle said, “There is a little place we still haven’t checked out. Let’s go there. If we don’t find the bear, we’ll stop our search.” He said the bear probably fell through the ice and sank if the ice had already formed on the lake. On the lake was a long point of land. This was the place we hadn’t checked yet. Half-way on that narrow point we saw the signs of the bear. We saw where it had disturbed the ground to make a den. When we arrived, here was the bear peeking out of its den. We shot it and killed it. My uncle butchered a little bit of the bear. He said, “I’ll carry this part and you’ll carry the rest.” We walked home.
We hadn’t gone that far and it became dark again. This was the third night and we didn’t sleep that night again because it was so cold outside. We stayed the night. That night, my uncle told me not to give up when I wanted to accomplish something. “You’ll eventually succeed if you try,” he said. “This is the fourth night we pursued the bear. At first, we couldn’t track it down because it had crossed the river. A person will eventually accomplish what he wants to do. If he gives up early, he won’t be able to get what he wants.” I simply agreed because I didn’t talk back to my uncle’s advice.

What my uncle said was true. I later realized this, because I didn’t really listen to what he said at first since I was still young. I took his advice and didn’t quit at what I wanted to accomplish. Eventually, I was able to do it. The young people don’t realize how it was for us older people. I’ll be 65 this summer. We are the last generation who saw that lifestyle of hard work and determination to accomplish our tasks.

I’ll give you an example of three animals – the caribou, bear and moose. They all have four legs. Even when the bear was not wounded yet and there was no snow in its way as it ran away, I caught up to it when I ran after it. I also caught up with caribou. It wasn’t able to defeat me. I once pursued a caribou for two days when the snow was a bit high. I eventually caught up to it. The caribou runs very fast and it left me behind at first but I walked to where it had gone and caught up to it. I did the same with the moose in the winter when the snow wasn’t that high. I still caught up to it wearing only my snowshoes. The story I’m telling you is that I wasn’t lazy. My uncle was the same when he was still determined to do
something. I learned by watching my uncle. I don’t seem to remember my father but I guess he was the same.

For the young people, don’t give up when you want to accomplish something. You’ll eventually succeed. This was what my uncle said. There were times when my uncle didn’t come home at night when we were in the bush. I was frightened the first time I realized he wasn’t coming home. My aunt reassured me that my uncle must have seen signs of an otter. She said, “Forget about him. He won’t come home tonight.” My uncle usually returned the next evening. He was determined to harvest fur because this was his only way to have money from trading. He didn’t work at any job. There were times when he brought back three otters.

It was not too long ago when my uncle passed away. Our family tried to claim his money after he passed away. When we were finally able to get it, there was about $60,000. But he didn’t work at any job. It was only furs that my uncle harvested. This was his money that was left over. He used to buy vehicles, skidoos, outboard motors and canoes. It was because of his determination he was able to get these things. For the young people, you should not give up at what you’re trying to accomplish.

Translated and transcribed by Brian Webb.
This story is the first in a series of the Voices of the Elders: made possible with the assistance of the Canada Council.