The many faces of Eeyou Istchee

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Just like people, cities, towns and villages all have their own personalities, strengths, weaknesses and peculiar habits.

Montreal is a wild child who likes to stay up late and have lots of fun. Toronto is more serious and tedious but can once in a while be persuaded to let its hair down. He still sports a thin moustache and a mullet though; business in front, party in the back. Ottawa is the next-door neighbour who should be avoided and not spoken to in the building’s elevator. Los Angeles is the poseur. The beautiful angel has the intellectual strength of Paris Hilton; which is an insult to the lovely Paris Hilton hotel in Paris, France. New York…well…New York will be New York.

There are, of course, the lesser New Yorks of the world.

Waskaganish, my place of birth, is like your middle brother who’s kind of goofy, almost bright, and friendly to the point of being annoying for addressing everyone in their path as “buddy.” He is also one of the most devout of the family who will attempt to “save” you even if you’ve already found salvation in some other higher power.

Fact. At one time, the Skag (cool nickname!) hosted a Catholic, an Anglican, a Pentecostal, a tiny Baptist congregation, a Muslim couple and another pair who worshipped one of those strange characters from somewhere in India who insist that you wear a medallion bearing their likeness and dress in silly orange robes. He’s the mayor of the Cree Jerusalem, in other words.

Eastmain is the runt of the litter but talks the toughest. The small-man syndrome is expressed in a unique manner that must be heard to be believed. As an amateur psychiatrist, I call it the Napoleon Complex. On the plus side, Eastmain is possibly the most entertaining in the family and by far the best dancer.

Nemaska comes off as your overly friendly twin siblings who were separated during a turbulent time in the family’s history. Their slight inferiority complex is due to being the first to be dispossessed of their original home by the Man’s power projects. They now reside side by side in one of the most beautiful pads in Creedom, complete with indoor pool and bowling alley!

Waswanipi is the one brother who speaks Cree, French and English and is thus supremely confident. Again, he’s another of the clan forced from his birthplace on Lake Waswanipi. Now he lives in a van by the highway down by the river, which I believe flows into the lake. To this day he looks yonder on clear nights and can still see the light in the water and recalls the best smoked sturgeon the world had on offer.

Chisasibi is the fiery, idealistic activist who’s still angry over being forced to move to another crib when his basement was flooded. Back when he was still called George, however, he was the first to get hip to rock ‘n’ roll. A huge plus. Yuge! Anger is energy and that’s where the best rock music is conceived.

Whapmagoostui is the most trusting, welcoming and generous. Also the most isolated of the 10 siblings. It’s also the most multi-cultural, having lived with the Inuit for generations, having hosted the US Armed Forces, and now the French, English and God knows whom else. Years ago he reported a UFO sighting. Black helicopters showed up and NASA denied any involvement until this magazine proved them otherwise. Because of the gullibility factor, the others think he’s a tad slow. In fact, that’s the way he talks. Suh-lowww. But his is actually the best-preserved tongue.

Mistissini is the Donald Trump of the Cree family, minus the racism. As his name suggests, he thinks of himself as the strongest, the best, scores the prettiest women and is the most sophisticated and intellectually gifted because of his size and proximity to an actual town less than an hour away. He also claims the largest body of water in the whole of the province. Likewise the most precious diamonds and the most dangerous of chemical elements. He needs to be humoured due to his power, but threats to build a wall to keep younger brother Oujé-Bougoumou from crashing the party should he be disregarded as an excess of hot air.

Oujé-Bougoumou. You try and spell that name on a long cold, lonely night. It’s complicated. After years of wandering the desert like Moses, he finally found his way back to where he left it, which had by then become thought of as Mistissini’s and Waswanipi’s backyard. He hired the hottest Blackfoot architect and decorator before going on to win an international award for living in the most fabulous and best environmentally pad. Sadly he/she never made the cover of Architectural Digest.

Wemindji is confident possibly because he straddles the north and south ends of his family – even his dialect incorporates the distant strands of the family. Back in the day Wemindji was the art supplier of the tribe when red was their favourite colour –hence the English name Paint Hills. He’s funny, likable yet a bit touchy at times. I have a soft spot for him because – HUGE REVEAL HERE – I lost my precious virginity to one of his daughters. Which was nice.

Washaw Sibi is the prodigal son who was forgotten for many years and is slowly coming back into the fold. He seems a bit reticent and unsure on his feet. The others don’t seem to know too much about him. Which is not a bad thing when you think about it. A little mystery never hurt anyone.

Together, these siblings make for a wonderful, still growing and sometimes slightly dysfunctional family. That gang known for its land, Eeyou Istchee. We’re fun and friendly, just don’t provoke us into a bar fight.

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