uranium-walk2014-3It was a beautiful afternoon in Mistissini. The sunrays kept us beaming as we traveled across my Grandpa Iserhoff’s territory. Grandpa Joe is no longer with us but Dad would share a story of their moments while we roamed around the dirt road. Mom would often be smitten by a beautiful spruce tree while my sister busy snapping photo shots of Grandpa’s beautiful land.

It was one of those moments that you knew it was special to be with family. We all laughed and reminisced. Grandpa’s trees are big and healthy but we were sad to see some parts ravaged by loggers.

Josh Iserhoff with the bear and his dog Jojo

Josh Iserhoff with the bear and his dog Jojo

Dad had set out my bear trap along the way several days back. We decided to drive by the spot and, lo and behold, there was a bear desperately trying to break free. My father positioned me to a good spot where I could take the shot with my 30/30 shotgun, which he passed down to me several years back. I shot the bear and down it went.

My father carefully approached the bear while being his shadow. Bear was gone into the animal world. Mom and sister were rejoicing in the back while our curious dog Jojo sat next to the bear in wonderment. I leaned over to the bear and whispered in his ear “Thank you for your sacrifice.” And I gave thanks to God for that tremendous blessing.

You see, the bear is the most respected animal in the Cree world. When killing one, it is treated with the utmost honour. I marvelled at the beautiful coat. It was wonderful and healthy. He was fat and simply majestic. I now was a great hunter! I saw my father face fill with pride and mom’s joy filled our hearts with happiness.

We were ecstatic for we also had named people who we would share the bear with. Another great Cree tradition – sharing! While my dad freed the bear, my mother and my sister went to the beautiful spruce trees and began to collect boughs. I asked my mom why and she answered, “The boughs are for the bear to lay.”

I now see clearly of what it means to keep our Cree tradition and heritage alive. The moment had come to me for what I have always wanted. I hunted with Dad many times and sure, we killed a lot of game, but this time was different. I knew that moment was sacred. I took in every moment and stored as many images as I could as we began to work on the bear. My father showed me how to cut the bear and I think I may need to kill another one to master it. I was learning.

uranium-walk2014-8I was taking in what my father experienced with his father, Grandpa Joe. I knew the moment was a pivotal one for a father and son – that’s how it was done and it’s how one preserves culture and tradition. Father teaching as the son begins to understand. I love that moment.

Several years ago, I was asked what I thought of uranium mining in Eeyou Istchee. I didn’t hear anything from the higher offices and so I didn’t have much to say except for maybe, I’ll comment later. Which means, I have to do some research and asked around. Sure enough, it was bad and the uranium explorations had already began in our backyards.

I dove into websites and watched documentaries and it was about that time that the Cree youth of Mistissini began to voice their concerns. I sat with the youth at our meetings and we decided to issue a communiqué standing with our brothers and sisters in Mistissini: we say no uranium. Since 2012, it is the same word spoken. No to uranium mining/development in Eeyou Istchee.

Months have passed, as have more proceedings, a moratorium and BAPE hearings. It has been a whirlwind for Eeyou Istchee. I think most people thought that once we said no that it was the end. But the fight continues.

The youth began to talk about a walk from Mistissini to Montreal to show the world that we mean business, that we have spoken as people and that we say no to uranium mining in Eeyou Istchee. 

The youngest walker at Mashteuiatsh - Utchimaou and father Jason Coonishish

The youngest walker at Mashteuiatsh – Utchimaou and father Jason Coonishish

This trek was a recurring topic in my board meetings. I sat in on a meeting in Montreal and learned that the walk was happening in a few weeks. I told the members that I would join and be part of the committee and walk for a day or two. Then three days. I thought of my meetings and the cold.

I sat thinking of this walk for days. Before I participate in anything I ask myself this: What is my intention for this? What message will it teach people? For myself? Is my heart in it? Sitting in my comfortable brown leather chair, I began to pray.

I want to be involved in things that I believe in, because if I do people will feel it.

I closed my eyes and as if a dream so real I relived every sacred moment when I killed that bear. I want this feeling and experience to be passed down to my children, my grandchildren, my nephew… I want that tangible connection to earth and its sacredness to live on for generations to come. What my Grandpa Joe had instilled in my father and was now passed on to me – I want that to continue for ages to come.

This bear, looking so healthy in his shiny coat, made me proud of our land. Knowing the bear ate from the land and drank from the waters of Mistissini as do the countless other species that live off the land. I was given this revelation and I cannot let this slide.

And so, I have decided to trek all the way down from Mistissini to Montreal and walk the talk. As mom would say, “Let there be meat on your words – let your words have substance.”