Lessons learned and traditions shared in Peawanuck First Nation

Campers gather for a group photo before returning home
Campers gather for a group photo before returning home

Campers gather for a group photo before returning home
Campers gather for a group photo before returning home

Students make the most of a camping trip to Hudson Bay before returning south for school

Peawanuck First Nation – A youth fishing trip to the mouth of Hudson Bay along the Winisk River was a great way for students from Peawanuck to mark the end of summer before returning to school down south. Camp was buzzing with 34 Weenusk First Nation members – from children to elders – spending the Aug. 28 weekend out on the land, learning and teaching.

Along with youth and elders, a handful of community members volunteered their time, equipment and knowledge for the trip, including a group of three who left a day early to pitch up tents for the youth, collect firewood, set a fish net and prepare the camp.

Friday started with a promising sunrise. Nine youth accompanied by Randy Hunter, Brighter Futures Youth Coordinator, paddled their way down the river on five canoes, flowing with the current towards the bay. The youth made good time, taking approximately five hours to reach camp. On the way they did some fishing and Hunter even spotted a caribou.

Youth, along with Randy Hunter, prepare to set off towards Hudson Bay.
Youth, along with Randy Hunter, prepare to set off towards Hudson Bay.

By late afternoon the main body of youth and volunteers set off to join their canoeist counterparts at camp. It takes about an hour and a half by boat to reach the mouth of the river from Peawanuck, depending on the horsepower of your motor. After arriving at the bay the group made a big fire and pitched up their prospector and dome tents.

(from left to right) Elmer Mack, Brandi Hunter, Jared Bird and Daylan Chookomolin learn from elders Laura Koostachin and Annie Wabano how to prepare fish for frying or smoking.
(from left to right) Elmer Mack, Brandi Hunter, Jared Bird and Daylan Chookomolin learn from elders Laura Koostachin and Annie Wabano how to prepare fish for frying or smoking.
Volunteer Steve Berry fries up some fresh whitefish
Volunteer Steve Berry fries up some fresh whitefish

Volunteer Steve Berry was chefing up some white fish when my group of four arrived. After walking our gear up to the camp and setting up our humble abode, we sat down and enjoyed some fresh-caught fish for supper.

Mary Jane Wabano, Renee Hunter and Kaitlyn Hunter fry up fresh fish for lunch.
Mary Jane Wabano, Renee Hunter and Kaitlyn Hunter fry up fresh fish for lunch.

The night was beautiful with the full moon out and endless pots of tea. We sat around the fire enjoying each other’s company, sharing jokes and stories.

Saturday was a day filled with teachings. Elder Mike Hunter took a group of youth to check the fish nets and came back with another bin load – mostly fresh whitefish.

Elders Laura Koostachin and Annie Wabano set up a station to teach the youth how to prep and cut fish for either frying or smoking. They also collected the fish eggs and guts to fry up later.

(from left to right) Elmer Mack, Jared Bird, Renee Hunter and Joey Hunter prepare goose wings for an afternoon snack.
(from left to right) Elmer Mack, Jared Bird, Renee Hunter and Joey Hunter prepare goose wings for an afternoon snack.

After a quick snack of goose wings, the youth rolled up their sleeves, put on some gloves, and proceeded to follow the elders directions. Once cut up, they fried some of the fish to feed everyone for lunch.

Elders Mike Peechapman and Mike Hunter provided different examples of cooking fish over the fire, including cooking fish on a stick as well as wrapping one filleted pike in tin foil.

Later that day the youth had a friendly competition plucking geese. Peechapman put up $20 dollars to the fastest plucker. Theran Chookomoolin claimed the prize, coming in first place.

Wakotaski Pimatisiwin vice president Matthew Gull set up a range for a target shooting competition. The blast from the .303 rifles was loud, echoing through the camp. Of the youth, Renee Hunter was the best shot.

During down time most of the youth went out for hikes along the coast and inland through the mushkeg, hunting for fowl. At night they would hang out by the fire telling riddles and jokes. The youth tried to stay up until sunrise and played a few pranks on each other. Katie Hunter and Daylan Chookomolin were both asleep in their sleeping bags when they were dragged out of their tents by their fellow campers – in the rain no less.

With the rain coming down and trip wrapping up on Sunday, we had our last camp breakfast with scrambled/boiled eggs, slab bacon, hashbrowns, oatmeal with apples, oatmeal with goose, sausages and tea. We filled up our bellies for the ride home against the strong current. While everyone was finishing their breakfast, they all sang happy birthday to Laura Koostachin, who turned 76.

Elders, adults and youth stop at the old settlement of Winisk to say a prayer at the old cemetery before continuing home.
Elders, adults and youth stop at the old settlement of Winisk to say a prayer at the old cemetery before continuing home.

The elders requested we take the youth to the old settlement of Winisk on the way home to pray at the old cemetery where some of the crosses were still up despite the flood of 1986 that resulted in the relocation of the community to Peawanuck. Elders Laura Koostachin and Mike Hunter led the group in a prayer in Cree and everyone paid their respects. Koostachin still recalls whose crosses were still up and pointed them out to family members. It was a great way to finish the trip.

More than just a fishing trip, the lessons passed down from the elders and paying respects to our relatives gone long ago, brought tradition, knowledge and culture to the next generation.

The group, along with some of the parents that arrived at camp to pick up their kids and give them a ride home set off as a convoy of 10 boats travelling upriver, back to the village of Peawanuck.

Many thanks to all the people that participated, volunteered and made the trip happen. It was an awesome weekend to share with the youth before they return to further their education. And a huge thank you to Wakotaski Pimatisiwin Director Christopher Hunter who secured sponsorship and funding from the Moosonee Lions Club to make the trip a reality.

By Pam Chookomoolin