Trapping Beaver in the Winter

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Told by Elsie Duff, Chisasibi
Translated and transcribed by Brian Webb

As far as you can remember, did your family move camp almost every day during the winter?

Sometimes we did.

During autumn, we settled down to wait for winter to set in. When the days grew longer after Christmas, this was when people moved their winter camps.

Even if the entire camp did not make the move, sometimes only the man would go off hunting for beaver. The men would move away from the camp hunting for beaver or other game.

One time, my father, my brother Stuart and I moved away from our camp to go hunt for beaver. I had already finished going to residential school. My mother was taking care of my brother David’s young children at the time. This was when Ellen was in the hospital.

I suppose this was why my mom didn’t go on the move. The children were still very young.

My late father told Stuart and I that we would go away from the camp to hunt beaver. I suppose they had already set their beaver traps before.

We went on our excursion. We eventually reached the place where we’d stay. I wondered why my father did this. I suppose he was teaching us.

We finally reached our new campsite. My dad began shoveling the snow where our lodge was to stand. He asked me if I could build the lodge. I told him that I could.

After he shoveled away the snow, he chopped off branches from the trees that we’d be using for poles around the spot where our lodge would be. After the branches were hacked off, the poles were used to frame the lodge. This way, the lodge frame was made quickly. After doing this, my dad and brother left.

He asked again if I would be able to build the lodge. I answered, “Of course.” I began building our lodge by myself.

It was late in the evening. I think they went to go check their traps. They had already set those traps ahead of time.

After building the lodge, I chopped firewood and fetched water. I settled inside the lodge. It was already dark when I heard them coming. My outside chores were already done. They brought back beaver. I don’t know how many.

I think they brought four back. They also brought a porcupine. Fortunately, one of the beaver was not frozen yet. Only the surface of it was frozen. I skinned one of the beaver.

My late mother always cleaned the game animals as soon as they were brought back to camp. In the past, women and girls always got firewood ready to scorch porcupine because porcupine were bountiful back then. I had chopped my porcupine firewood and was ready in case a porcupine had been caught.

I remember that night to be bitterly cold. I told Stuart that I would singe the porcupine that night. I think it was already 11 at night when I began scorching the quills off the porcupine. Our fishnet was also set beneath the ice. I was truly contented doing these tasks. I think Stuart helped me.

I don’t know how many days we were out there. I think we stayed there for a week. My father and brother caught many beaver. We had also set a fishnet beneath the ice.

This was at the end of February. This happened to coincide with Stuart’s birthday. His birthday is on February 29.

I would go and check our fishnet too. The fish we caught were huge, some big pike too. We caught all sorts of fish. I went to go check the fishnet on the day Stuart had his birthday. As I checked the fishnet, there was a massive pike caught in the net.

I used to cook their meals too. I decided to cook the pike head for my brother. I wonder why I had done this.

They returned late in the evening. They did bring back more game but I don’t remember what it was. I gave him the pike head that I cooked for him. I told him, “Happy Birthday.” I had cooked the pike head just for his birthday. I wondered why I hadn’t cooked the rest of the pike for him to eat.

He mentioned this to me on his birthday because there is February 29 this year. He called me that morning from LG-2. He asked me if I remembered his birthday. I told him, “Of course I do. Happy birthday.” He had mentioned to his wife Jane that he was hoping that I wouldn’t cook a pike head for him.

This was how it was for us. I really enjoyed this particular time, even though my mom did not come with us. In the past, women would go off hunting around the camp after they had finished their chores. I would go off looking for porcupine also. There were times when I found porcupine or ptarmigan.

I occasionally reminisce about those days. Today, I am so frail. Those were really good times.

When we moved back to our main camp, I don’t know how many beaver we brought back. I stretched and dried some of the pelts myself.

This was what I did.

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