Sharing the Traditional Ways
In this article, my objective is to share the traditional ways that my family taught me. Shared with me are stories of traditional values taught to another family and how they pass the traditional ways to their children. I will include other traditional ways we, as Aboriginals, have in our community and what community members do to keep the traditional values alive. I will also explore discovering my culture and its relation to my upbringing in Christianity.
I remember going in the boat or the skidoo as a child to go out to our trapline or, as we call it, the Bush. This happened every other weekend or each year when school was out for the summer holidays. Once we got there, we would get the water from the lake and chop wood for fire. Dad would check his net, and I would observe from the side, and the boys would be fussing. Who would do what? Dad would tell them what to do, which was best, but I could not wait to be with Mom, and the girls would cut and clean the fish and cook it with potatoes; fried was the best over the campfire. We picked berries for dessert or jam, and when we got back, we started making bannock.
I remember my mom would say a couple of handfuls of flour, a little bit of salt, this much baking powder, and then enough water to make it stick together. That is all it took. Everything is ready for supper. We also made sure after all the food was prepared, the cabin and campsite were kept clean at the same time, so all we did was eat and then rest.
Dad would go out with the boys and teach them to check and set traps and snares. They would get beavers, muskrats, and rabbits. He taught the boys how to clean and prepare the animals for what they were good for. Every part of an animal has a purpose. He would take some meat home for food, fur for himself, fat for cooking, and guts for bait. I would help Dad stretch the fur and nail it to the boards to let them dry. Dad had to be careful skinning the fur off. It would take hours, but those hours would be cherished and pay off as it provides an income for our family.
The summer season was the busiest. Dad was always hunting for wild meat, as he would freeze so we could never run out. He would ensure it would last for the following seasons or until he had to go again. My parents taught us not to waste anything, especially the animals we ate. We would eat everything: fish eggs, eyes, cheeks, and the brain because it was a delicacy.
As entertainment, snowshoeing was one of the activities I enjoyed best. We will walk around the Bush to look at the animal tracks, and that will tell us what they were. When Dad went out hunting for moose, the boys were allowed to go because it was a larger animal, and they felt they were ready for such a big game. It was a moment for father and son when killing a moose.
The clothes we would wear did not match. It did not matter as long as we were warm. We would wear wraparounds that were like moccasins, made from moose and deer hide. We would get knitted socks, mittens, and scarves from our grandmother before we went. Through cleaning ducks and geese, our parents taught us patience when we cleaned the ducks and geese fast but carefully. We would take the feathers off by hand. Burn them. Get the feathers off deeper, but not them. Scape the chore off the duck. Clean the insides of the duck, then wash.
They would say, “Do not do a messy job. Do it right, and do not rush.” They would say this in Cree, which meant a lot to hear from them. To this day, I use these simple Cree phrases with my children.
Another important traditional way that is alive in our household is the Cree language. The Cree language was used with us mostly on the land due to the fear of banning the language at residential schools. This is one reason we kept traditional ways by going out on the land (the Bush). There, we received many teachings and knowledge about the Cree language and Aboriginal traditions. There are so many words from life in the Bush that we do not really use in the community because we do not use the vocabulary on the reserve as much. When being taught in the Bush, what we heard is what things are really called. Wa pa no – meaning morning in coming, mac che win nik – meaning keeping us alive on the hunting and trapping on the land.
We were also taught a few traditional medicines that were within our land. When we get sick with colds or sore throats, there is a root called “wekas.” It would be boiled just like tea, and we would drink it.
Dandelion flowers, the top part of the flower, boiling to drink like tea, help with inflammation and liver health.
Back then, we had no disposable diapers. Mom said she used moss in the cloth to help with absorption. We lived and used our land respectfully for everything it had to offer us, like shelter, food, water, and peace of mind. I thank God to this day, or I say the creator.
Christianity has been in the household for as long as I can remember. Saying grace in Cree, having house services and singing in Cree. My late grandparents were Christian. I remember always going to United Church up the hill close to my home with them. I never knew about powwows, sweats, and ceremonies until I left for Winnipeg. I met a friend who introduced me to the Friendship Centre and said there was a powwow. I was in love with this. As the years went on, it became part of life to dance powwow, do smudging and go to cultural activities. It has been a blessing for me.
My sister, a mother of six, teaches her children traditional values. She learned that there is value to her, the traditional life, and her life for God.
She says, “By taking my daughters and sons out to the Bush on duck and goose seasons, we always got all the family involved in some way or another during this time. They get to learn to respect and admire nature, to get away from everything else and quality family time, and to do family bonding. As a mother, I still teach girls to make bannock and pick and clean berries. I teach them to make pie and homemade bread. I do this to make sure they have the skills to survive when they grow up and get families on their own. We also teach children to shoot and hunt to sit out in their blinds. They also realized the struggle with nature and the changes of seasons. We fish as a family with rods and fishing Nets. We hunt moose.”
These are some of the things that we, as a community, do to ensure we keep our traditions alive. There is the Fisherman’s CO-OP, the Trapper’s Association, the Northern Store for fur trade, and the schools teach the Cree language. They are also the elders, parents and grandparents who still take and teach the children and their generations how to speak the Cree language and the survival skills.
The Treaty and york boat days and other festivities are some of the traditions of entertainment that live within our community. Despite the economic society that has been established here, the bush life and bush skills are at the heart of the Cree culture and identity.