“Baba was kind of funny” Remembering Lawrence Shecapio

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He left this life where he began it: on the land he loved. Oujé-Bougoumou Elder Lawrence Shecapio passed away at his hunting camp Saturday, January 16, at the official age of 79 years, eight months.

“Official,” because birth records for those born in the bush during the 1930s are often unreliable, and an older friend had told him he was convinced they were born in the same year, which would have made him as old as 84.

young Lawrence Shecapio

A young Lawrence Shecapio

Whatever his real age, Shecapio refused to slow down despite accumulating health problems. The day before his death, he had driven to his camp in biting cold, as the temperature dipped to minus-35. His truck stuck in the snow, he had hiked the final 200 metres to the camp. After morning phone calls went unanswered, Oujé Fire Chief James Wapachee travelled to the camp and discovered his body in his cabin.

It’s the kind of cheerful and tough determination that Shecapio was known for. Hunting on his trapline three years previously, he suffered a broken neck in an ATV accident.

Blood gushing from cuts to his face and forehead, he called a friend, Oujé band councillor Sam R. Bosum, for help on his cellphone, then hiked several kilometres to a main road before being discovered by his son Roy. It wasn’t until he’d been transported to a Montreal hospital that doctors discovered he had actually broken two neck vertebrae in the accident.

Lawrence Shecapio was predeceased in 2013 by his wife, Nancy Mianscum, and by four of his 14 children. He and Nancy raised nine other children. In all, they also had 39 grandchildren and 27 great-grandchildren. The next generations were important to Shecapio. “They are all our children,” he would say of Cree youth, the reason his funeral service was held at the Oujé Youth Centre on January 22.

Those who knew him revelled in his sense of humour and delight in life. Quick with a joke and optimistic even during difficult times, Shecapio would turn a challenging situation into a prank.

IMG_4756 copyLawrence Shecapio 2Lawrence Shecapio 3

This spirit extended to his cat-and-mouse manoeuvres with Quebec game wardens during the time Cree hunting rights on traditional territories were unrecognized. According to his daughter Kathy, he would play with the wardens. “He could see a person’s spirit and he would play with them,” she said.

Heading to a hunting ground during Goose Break one year with a young Matthew Coon Come, Shecapio was stopped on the road by a game warden. The warden informed them that the territory was now a park and hunting was forbidden. Using the future Grand Chief as his translator, Shecapio replied, “Can you tell this young man I’ve been hunting here since before he was in diapers?”

The game wardens followed the pair to a lake, where Shecapio and Coon Come canoed to an island and started shooting geese in full view of the wardens across the lake.

“He knew they had no boat,” Kathy Shecapio recounted. “They could see the game wardens across the lake. But they hunted and then sat there plucking the geese. Matthew told me that Baba said, ‘Watch this – they didn’t even bring their lunch. They’re going to go home for lunch, then we can leave.’

“Baba was kind of funny,” she added. “He had this sovereign state of mind. He always knew his truth in life. The way he would look at people around him, the changes coming in and how they affected everyone.”

He knew that the changes coming to Eeyou Istchee would impact him negatively as a trapper, his daughter explained. “But he didn’t fight them because he knew the agreements would feed future generations. The trappers knew they had to make sacrifices.”

Kathy and Lawrence Shecapio

Lawrence with daughter Kathy

As tallyman of his large hunting territory south of Oujé-Bougoumou, he saw those changes first-hand. Much of the land has been clear-cut, leaving ever-smaller habitats for moose and other prey. Negotiations with local logging companies were a constant battle. Even to the point of reforestation: the industry prefers to tree plant using a Jackpine species, not the Black Spruce that is native to the region and preferred by the moose.

But the wisdom of a lifetime on the land through times of famine and starvation gave him a vision few others possess, Kathy Shecapio insisted.

“He could see your spirit,” she said. “He could see who you are. He would speak to your heart. Growing up, he would never make decisions for me. He would sit down and discuss things with me and get my consent.”

The same gift extended to his legendary prowess as a hunter. The difficulty of his early life gave him a sort of second vision, she explained. “Living a simple, hard life, these gifts come to you.”

Lawrence killed his first moose when he was eight years old, at a time food was difficult to obtain. “He would always ask permission from life,” Kathy recounted. “He would ask and life would give it to him with the signs he recognized, which allowed him to harvest.”

One time, Lawrence explained to Kathy why he always seemed to know where to find a moose, which came from knowing every inch of his territory after having criss-crossed the forest all his life.

“He told me, ‘I can go inside the spirit of the moose and look through its eyes, and through its eyes I can see the landscape where it is standing. That is how I know where he is.’”

A full life, well-lived. Rest in peace, Lawrence Shecapio.

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