CTA to launch trapping course for Cree youth

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From animal sounds and bird calls to constructing a permanent all-year campsite, Cree youth may soon have better opportunities to learn the slowly dwindling art of their trapping culture.

“Twenty-five per cent of Cree are under 20 years old,” Fred Tomatuk, President of Cree Trappers Association (CTA), told the Nation, adding that many are dislocated from traditional Cree culture. “The youth population don’t have a parent who is raised in the bush and a whole load of people don’t have a trapline,” he said.

To reverse the trend, Tomatuk has devised a 900-hour, one-year vocational certificate recognized by the Quebec Education Ministry that is now awaiting final approval from the General Assembly of the CTA. Cégep de Saint-Félicien in the Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean area has also helped devise the syllabus proposal and will be accrediting the course to National Vocational Qualification, 80% of which will be field-based, with only 180 hours in the classroom.

Tomatuk expects to start a two-week trial and test run in February 2019 with 10 to 15 students who would concentrate on trapping fur-bearing animals such as moose, rabbit, fox, marten and possibly caribou.

“They will learn how to skin and how to prepare the fur… skinning the proper way. Younger hunters don’t prepare the skin very well so don’t receive the best value for it,” Tomatuk was keen to point out.

Indeed, the trapping cycle proposed by the new course would closely follow the seasons. “Spring is the goose hunt. In March we start the preparation with a cooking teepee, so you’d learn which wood you use for smoking, how to make the decoys, vines and make the hunt and which wood to use for cooking so you can eat it. There’s no one method of cooking,” explained Tomatuk.

While March to June is oriented to trapping water fowl, the summer season is about fishing and autumn about the berry season.

One aspect of the course that particularly excites Tomatuk is building the permanent camp site.

“You’ll be learning how to build a traditional permanent campsite,” said Tomatuk. “This will take 10 days to two weeks and by this I mean using natural resources – we won’t be using nails – and it will accommodate four families and last about 40 years.

“You’ll have to learn about location. How do you determine the best spot? Do you have a supply of wood? Is there a windbreak from the north? Do you have sand and moss? The toilet will be a teepee outside of the camp but you have to look at whether it can be degraded and not go into the creek,” he added.

Building temporary camp sites will also be included but the permanent camp would be for year-round use.

Tomatuk expects the course to reconnect Cree youth with their culture, especially Cree language and its different wildlife descriptions. Cree culture will take 75 hours of the total course but will not cover the spiritual aspects of Cree culture, such as shaking tents, goose and bear dances. Other cultural activities will last 60 hours, such as learning about medicinal herbs.

Traditional cooking will occupy 45 hours. Crafting and tool instruction – such as making snowshoes, and sharpening knives and chisels – will take a further 75 hours.

Stewardship and survival will form a strong part of the course. Survival outings will last 10 days to two weeks.

Understanding the inventory system, in which each of the 10 territories has its steward to help regulate good stewardship and inventory management, is another important aspect of the course. This including enforcing the traplines within each territory’s internal boundaries. If there are 40 beaver lodges, for example, they ensure that no more than two beavers from each lodge are trapped. Recognizing sick animals such as whether a moose, beaver or rabbit is sick how to adapt will also be part of their learning process.

Tomatuk is especially proud of his weather forecasting skills which he describes as “more accurate than the internet.” He recounted a tale about his son, a policeman, proposing a fishing trip as the internet reported a positive forecast.

“No, in the afternoon it will rain and the wind will whip up,” Tomatuk informed his son.

However, he was happy that he took his son fishing. “I was miserably cold and wet,” he said. “But I was smiling inside knowing that I had showed my son I was right. No scientist should be able to distract us from this ability to forecast our local weather.”

Also, in reconnecting with their habitat and culture, students will learn bird calls and animal noises. “You don’t shout out, ‘Hey Danny, don’t come over here,’” said Tomatuk. “Instead you make an appropriate noise. You’ll also learn other things such as not to sharpen an ice chisel during the day while the beaver is sleeping; do it at night when he is too busy to notice.”

There is not yet funding for people to take the course. However, the Cree Regional Authority’s Department of Economic Development is making financial provisions to ensure that the days spent taking the course will be recognized by the Cree Hunters and Trappers Insecurity Program under the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement.

“Next week is the final presentation to the General Assembly (of the CTA) after which we expect to have approval so that in October we’ll start looking to hire teachers,” Tomatuk concluded.


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