The value of Goose Break

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Editor-in-Chief Will Nicholls hunting near Mistissini

Editor-in-Chief Will Nicholls hunting near Mistissini

It had been some time since I took a real Goose Break and it was hard to explain the importance of it to non-Crees. Even my wife looked at it as a vacation rather than what it really was and still is for any Cree. I think it is because many look at hunting as a sport in other cultures. That is not so for the Cree people.

It is a traditional pursuit that is rich in meaning for us. It means the long, lean winter months are coming to an end and springtime has arrived. It is the harbinger of times of plenty. The land is becoming fruitful and the geese are the first signs of that. It is such an important time and part of our lives that schools close down, and band offices and other organizations follow suit. In a community with almost 5,000 residents you are lucky to see 600 of them still roaming the streets.

Outside of Eeyou Istchee this would be unconceivable to see a town or city suddenly become almost deserted. The fast pace of life does not allow for this mass activity. In the past Canadian farming communities would see many kids let of school to join in the fall harvest, but that is no more. However, even that does not come close to what Goose Break means to the Crees of Eeyou Istchee.

I work mainly in the south, though with frequent trips back to the territory. For me, the Goose Hunt allows me to fully reconnect with what it means to be Cree. I cannot do that down south as the culture is different and the relationships are not the same. I do not have the extended family support I grew up with that is still so much part of me.

When I arrived in Mistissini I had to get ready for the hunt. That involved winter clothing as snow and ice were still part of the landscape. Spring has to fight to make its presence known in Eeyou Istchee. I hadn’t used the old pump-action 12-gauge in a couple of years so I had to clean it.

My brother had the gun-cleaning kit but it was locked away. My uncle Luke MacLeod said he was feeling a bit bored and to bring it over. I do a pretty good job of taking care of the gun, but Luke was awesome. I don’t think it has ever been cleaned so well. That’s family for you and the welcome I received at the blind by the other hunters was heartwarming and did much to bring me back to myself. Thanks to all and especially to Uncle Don’s daughters for cleaning my geese.

Sharing and helping is part of the traditions that surround the spring Goose Hunt. It is also part of the Cree obligations as stewards and caretakers of Eeyou Istchee, the land and its inhabitants. We are part of the land that shaped us and the Goose Hunt reinforces what it means to be Cree.

And finally, I’m thankful to the nine geese that gave their lives to me.

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