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Friday, June 5, 2015

Throwback to 2009 when the Fisher Farm became a Cree hunt camp for a weekend

Our documentary team travelled to James Bay to capture the spring goose hunt activities on film last April. While we were there, I mentioned to our hosts that the goose hunt took place in the fall in Eastern Ontario. The next thing I knew, a Cree contingent was planning a November trip to Grenville County.
In the last weeks of summer, I attempted to organize this cross-cultural hunting expedition as I would any project, by researching, scheduling, planning and communicating. But I received very little communication from the Cree in return.
They plan their daily activities around hunting and fishing. Their work schedules are normally very accommodating for this purpose. Continuous emails from some woman in Ontario (me) attempting to coordinate a hunting trip, therefore, were going to remain unanswered until the last possible minute.
After receiving no reply to my emails from one potential guest, I decided to try his cell phone. Wireless services arrived in northern Quebec about three years ago and they have been extremely well connected ever since. It took him a while to answer, he explained, because he was busy pulling a moose out of the bush. Well, that’s an excuse you don’t hear every day.
I had suggested the second week of November for the hunt, because there are normally a fair number of geese at that time, as well as an abundance of wild turkey and deer. A letter of permission was acquired from the local Algonquin and Mohawk Indian Chiefs – more of a courtesy than a regulation – and the Ministry of Natural Resources was informed that we would have a visiting delegation of Crees coming to harvest on our property. The Crees informed me that they were only interested in hunting geese. So we planned to take them to the St. Lawrence River. They could comfortably stay at the McIntosh Inn, in Morrisburg.
As the first of November approached, I began to worry. I hadn’t received final confirmation on the number of hunters. Finally, I received an email explaining that the men of the Salt family in Waskaganish, whom I had met last April, were indeed coming to hunt. In addition, they would be bringing their wives, their elderly parents and some children. And, oh yeah – they had decided that they would like to stay at our farm instead of at the Inn.
Well, I had extended the invitation. Back when I thought it would be four or five hunters coming to join my hunter-gatherer’s party. I had been planning this event for weeks, if not months. I could hardly turn back now.
I cancelled the seven rooms I had booked at the Inn, and began hauling boat and camper mattresses out of our basement storage. I farmed all the girls out to relatives for the weekend, and set up our very own hunt camp at the farm. Who would have guessed we can sleep 15??
When I broke the news to my hunter-gatherer, he was more than accommodating. After all, he had signed up to spend the weekend hunting with people who had it in their blood. He was pretty excited.
I rushed home from work on Thursday evening, anxious to arrive home before my guests landed after their 12-hour journey. I finished up making beds and waited. And waited. Finally, by 8 pm, the extended Salt family had successfully GPS-ed their way to the Fisher farm. And they were hungry. After introductions were made I dished out some of the Farmer’s homemade mac-and-cheese and settled down to get acquainted.
Within minutes our guests were conversing enthusiastically in Cree, interspersed with the occasional English word and peals of giggles.
At 3:30 the next morning, the Farmer and I rose to prepare breakfast for the hunters. We went through 5 dozen eggs, 5 pounds of bacon, four loaves of bread and a kilo of coffee this weekend. The bannock that I made myself remained uneaten. I believe the dog is sniffing at it now, and wondering what sin he committed to receive that surprise in his bowl.
The men, including 70-something-year-old Johnny Weistche and 12-year-old Riley Salt, headed out to the St. Lawrence at 5 am. There they met up with my hunter-gatherer’s party, who were very excited to learn goose hunting from the pros.
Unfortunately, with our unseasonably warm fall thus far, the geese were not exactly abundant. The men followed tradition and allowed young Riley to take the first goose, which he did with ease. He performed a perfect goose call with his mouth that was so realistic the local men thought he was using a calling device. The elder Johnny took the second goose, and that was it for the day. The second day was even worse. As the temperature rose to a nice Cree summer day, the geese went elsewhere. But despite driving 12 hours to hunt and then coming up empty handed, we didn’t hear one word of complaint or discouragement from this group. Always positive, often giggling, they just took the day as it came. The men swapped hunting stories and compared notes. They bonded over a shore lunch cooked on an open fire.
On Saturday evening, we stood outside the barn watching the horses as a flock of geese began to approach. Riley did his call a few times, and I watched amazed as the geese made a slight change in direction to fly right over our heads. Again Sunday morning he called geese in from all directions. He is the Vienna Choir boy of goose callers; hopefully he will be able to keep that high pitch when his voice changes.
By the end of the weekend, I got over my insecurity about being a non-conventional wife who rarely cooks, doesn’t know how pluck her own goose and didn’t personally create the wood carvings that decorate my home. I got to know the Cree women fairly well during our short time together, and I admire so many things about their culture. They were very good at taking care of their elders. The families are all very close, and the men take their women, children and parents along with them to hunt camp. Everyone plays a role in the smooth operations of the hunt.
Back in April, I met the grandmother Clymie while she was stitching together a pair of moosehide and beaver fur slippers. This weekend I was presented with my own pair. They are so beautiful I almost don’t want to wear them.
I am looking forward to the spring, when the Salt family promises to return, and the Fisher farm turns into a hunt camp again. The introduction to this fascinating native Canadian culture is worth every bit of effort.

p.s 2015: It wasn't until after they had left that we were told a relative of the Grand Chief Billy Diamond was in our hunting party. Over the next few years we had random visits by Cree hunters who would harvest geese and bring back to their village to share with other residents. Word travels fast when hunting is good. When people we could not identify or communicate with started showing up, we had to put a polite end to the Fisher Farm hunt camp. Here is the link to the documentary film I was working on when we met the Crees:

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