By Xavier Kataquapit
It is that time of the year when the Niska—the Canada Goose—are flying north and the traditional hunt of we Cree happens out on the land. This is something my people on the James Bay coast have been doing forever. We consider this time of the year as a way to walk in the trail of our ancestors and to spend some time out on our traditional lands.
None of this is easy but most of my family and friends these days are well prepared with modern luxury snowmobiles, all kinds of supplies and great camps on the land on the shore of the salt water James Bay. This time of the year the ice and snow is slowly melting and although we can still venture out to hunt we have to be careful as there are many dangers on our way.
The hunt these days is really an adventure for everyone however there are so many dangers and it takes skilled and experienced hunters to make sure that everyone out on the land for this activity is safe. It is important to know where to go when out on the vast ice surface of James Bay or travelling the tundra. Storms can come up quickly and trap people in blinding blizzards. There is a lot of melting, so water becomes a problem for safe operation of a snowmobile and often hunters get wet which is a serious danger in freezing temperatures. There are also Polar Bears out and about on their own hunt.
These days there is also transportation by helicopter for hunters so that they are delivered to their camps at various remote and inaccessible spots along the coast. People also stay in touch with cell and satellite phones. Hunters are given some support for their hunt so that they can continue this important traditional and cultural pursuit and introduce new generations to this activity.
In the old days the hunt was all about survival. The coming of the geese meant our people would have food. These days it is more of an annual cultural tradition as we rely less on hunts and gathering for our survival. Of course, this is a good thing as most of us don’t really want to return to such hard lives and cycles of feast and famine that was the reality of our ancestors. People actually starved to death back in those days from time to time. There was much more appreciation for the land, the animals and all life as we were directly connected to our world for survival. We knew that and we honoured that reality.
The spring arrival of the geese and a good hunt back then meant life and death for my people. Sometimes geese arrived early, or late, or changed their travelling routes or landing locations. Sometimes late winter storms prevented people from travelling or early thaws made heading out impossible.
This time on the land for the hunt also means a break for many from the confines of communities, all the rules, regulations and stresses we feel. We deal with a lot of addiction problems and this time on the land is a good break from situations that are depressing, painful and sad. When we are out on the land there is a feeling of freedom. We feel the spirit of the hunt. We spend hours and days sitting in hidden blinds waiting for the geese to arrive. Everyone appreciates the silence of the land, the natural orchestra of the sounds of melting ice and snow while the geese sing their honking voices to herald their arrival. This experience out on the land is the very best thing we can do for our mental health. We find ourselves again on the land and in the wake of many hundreds of years of hunters that went before us.
I recall how enlightening it was for me as a boy and then a young man to be out on the land for the goose hunt. It was easy for me to grasp just how beautiful our planet is. Out there in a blind under a never-ending northern sky, vast land and water stretching forever and the company of so many creatures. These days here in the south I am reminded every day how fragile and precious Mother Earth is. Constantly I witness through news media how the leaders of so many countries, heads of huge corporations and all the billionaires in charge are out of their minds and continually finding ways to wage war, cause pollution that is wounding our planet and threatening us all with the loss of our wonderful world, just to make money and have power. How did it ever come to this?