On one of my hunting trips during the goose break, I was reminded of one of my earliest memories of my grandfather, George Bobbish. This spring we were on the river going by Goat Island on the north side. As we made our way downriver, I saw the area where my late grandfather used to get his firewood. It is directly across Fort George where the original community is.

I was a very young boy when I joined him on his day trips across the river. The two of us would make our way across the frozen river. Mighty sled dogs pulled the flat-bed sled to our destination. He would check the snares that he hung along the way and around our old fires from previous tea breaks. He used to lay trees in a circle around where the old fires were, blocking access for the rabbits except where his snares hung. For some reason, rabbits are drawn to the burned-out embers.

I’m sure I wasn’t much help during the gathering of the fire wood. I guess I just went along to keep my grandfather company. I can just barely remember our crossings. I would lie on my stomach on the sled and he ran along the sled and sometimes jumped on when the going was easy. I fought with my hat as it would slide down to my eyes. Pulling it up, again and again, I would catch a glimpse of the sled bouncing along and of the dogs’ legs running across the snow and ice.

I have heard people say that my grandfather had the best dog team around. He always lent out some dogs to people who needed them. With the introduction of the snowmobile, dog teams were used less and less. As an older boy, I remember the remants of his team, tied up by his house. Within a couple of years his team was no more. As a young man I asked about his team once. He said dogs were good workers and hunters. Many times they quietly waited for him as he hunted seals out on the ice in the bay.

And he said it’s hard to get lost with dogs, even in a blinding blizzard. Many times he traveled back to the community in storms which, on a snowmobile, even someone with experience would be incapable of finding
their way in. He said the dogs knew exactly where they were going. Even in a white-out the dogs would pick up speed as they got closer to the community, finally running at full speed home. He said there was no stopping them when they got that way.

So you had to make sure you stayed on the sled. Keeping a dog team requires skill and patience and a knowledge about the way they work. I heard a tape once at the Chisasibi Radio Station in which an Elder told of how to care for the dogs and performed the commands given to the dog team. One person who started a dog team is David Bosum. He runs Nuuhchimi Wiinuu Tours, in Ouje-Bougoumou, which offers dog-team tours as part of its tourism package. The revival of such traditions is very encouraging given that many tools that were needed in the past are no longer in use.

Marking time
My grandfather used a dog team because he had to. As new tools arrive they serve as markers for an end of an era. Many Elders’ stories have referred to the times “when dogs were still used.” I think I know what marker our generation will have… tents. That’s right, tents.

Again, as a young boy, we always used tents when we went for goose break. Both in the spring and fall. A handful of tents erected on traditional hunting grounds dating back eons. The tents gave way to tent frames which naturally evolved to the cabins we now have today. So when our generation tells stories of yesteryear, we will refer to the times when we “still used tents.”

Granted, tents are still used for short trips into the bush, but they aren’t really used any more for longer-term hunting trips. Sometimes the adoption of these new tools causes immeasurable effects.

On one of the last hunting trips my grandfather made to Seal River, I asked him about the time when they still used sails on their canoes. On a good day, with a motor, you can make it to Seal River in about three and a half or four hours, depending on conditions and motor. He said one time they tried to go to Seal River, but a fierce north wind blew so they couldn’t leave.

Then suddenly it shifted to a south wind, but equally as strong. They debated whether to go. Just before noon he said they decided to go. They were in the water by half past noon. He said that they made it to Seal before five. They were fortunate because the following day he said the wind again shifted to the north and blew for weeks.

As he finished his story, Charlie walked in for a visit. Adding to the story, they said their generation is partially responsible for the decline of the Arctic Char in the river. Nowadays you only catch them once in a while. Never have I sensed the seriousness in their tone before; they said because they embraced the outboard motor when it first came around, the char have declined from the river.

“You will now know one of the reasons why there are no char here,” they said – “because we were so quick to take the outboard motor.” “Akudaa haa?” With that, we went outside to see if the geese were flying.