Our traditional way of life is very important to us. We thank our elders for the values and knowledge they have given us. Recently, cultural programs in the community have focused on the transmission of the knowledge, values and skills that were part of the Cree way of life. The primary participants in the programs have been youth. In fact, young people participate in such numbers that sometimes people have to be turned away. “The goal now,” said Jamie Moses, cultural coordinator, “is to attract more adults, especially for the winter walk. But a lot of people don’t have their own gear, snowshoes, moccasins ...”
Our “cultural village” is used for traditional gatherings and meetings, and for teaching purposes. It consists of the Wellness Department's healing lodge and a large, open area for outside activities like the goose dance. And, as the need arises, there's room to set up a shaapuhtuwaan.
“We’re really happy about our new cultural centre, which was inaugurated in the winter of 2006. It houses the culture department, the office of the elders coordinator and the office of the youth council. Its large lobby accommodates feasts and healing circles, while its kitchen is equipped for preparing bush food and cooking traditional feasts,” said Jamie Moses.
Youth and Elders Gathering
The Youth Council in conjunction with the Elders Council organizes the Youth and Elders Gathering at which the participants discuss a range of issues that are relevant to the community. The gathering also provides an opportunity for elders to transmit traditional knowledge to the youth.
Canoe Brigades for Youth and Elders
Canoe brigades are held in the summer to give participants the opportunity to live on the land as their ancestors did long ago.
In 2005, eight youths, one elder and a couple with their child were involved in the Farewell Eastmain River Canoe Brigade, organized to honour the Eastmain River and those who traveled it. “They wanted to enjoy the land as much as possible before the gates of the reservoir of EM-I [hydroelectric project on the Eastmain River] were closed. As it turned out, they were the last people to paddle the Eastmain River before the gates were closed. Even though this was the first canoe trip for the youth, they were expected to do their share of the work: cooking, setting up camp at night, paddling.... They had to learn about canoing and water safety. Along the way, they talked about their interests, about what they would like to see for their community, and tried to heal. By the end of the trip they were very proud of their accomplishments. One day they paddled as much as 33 kilometres,” said Jamie Moses.
The participants and their families were welcomed back to the community with a feast. Slides of the trip were shown and lots of stories told. Then the youth chief, both organizer and participant of the canoe brigade, made a few comments about each of the participants, about his or her positive qualities and about changes he had seen in the person over the course of the trip.
After the gates closed on the Eastmain River, the canoe brigade has paddled from Old Factory Lake to the coast, then south along the coast to Eastmain. The canoe brigades, however, have been temporarily interrupted because of equipment problems: The culture department needs to replace its canoes with canoes that are built to handle whitewater and, at present, it doesn't have the budget to do so.
Lately, the route of this ten-day walk in March has had to be altered because of mild weather. Before leaving on the walk, elders talk to the participants about traveling on snowshoes, about the work involved in setting up camps, about the need to keep their clothes dry and make their camps warm. The importance of taking good physical care of themselves is also stressed. This is often the first time the youth have been on a long snowshoe walk so they feel muscles they didn’t know they had and learn about endurance. Other elders visit from their camps at night, but the onus is on the youth participants to be responsible for all aspects of camp life. Nobody is hired to cook or take care of the camps. A special event, involving a feast, is organized for the arrival of the group in the community.
In order to make it more interesting to the participants, the duration of the trip has been extended from 10 days to 20 days. “The youth are getting more mature,” said Jamie, “so we wanted to make it more challenging for them. But you don't have to do the whole thing. Our trail will reach the road in three places. At any of those points of access, people can join or leave the group. For those who do the whole thing, we'll head inland, then go north, then over to the coast and, finally, south to Eastmain - 300 kilometres.”
The school likes these programs and encourages some of the students to participate. As Jamie explained, “They find that students who have been involved in these programs make more of an effort at school: They show up and do real work; some became more involved in the student council, others on organizing activities for their fellow youth.”
Program in which Youth Live on the Land with Elders
The school board had two programs in which youth live on the land with elders: one was a weekend program that permitted students - boys and girls- to spend two or three nights at the bush camps of elders; the other was geared towards students who were having difficulties in school. In the case of the latter, students went into the bush with their school work “but they had to finish their school work before doing activities on the land,” said Jamie. Neither programs exist now. Instead, the Cree School Board offers Cree culture classes, in the classroom.
Each year Culture Day in Eastmain is organized in conjunction with the Cree School Board. The communities take turns hosting the regional Culture Day. In preparation for the local celebration, men and boys construct traditional dwellings, while the women and girls collect boughs for the floors. Girls are also taught how to make the canvas for tepees. Walking-out ceremonies take place, and traditional and modern games are played. Traditional feasts where women, men and youth are taught how to cook are also held. On display are crooked knifes, sleds and other things from the Cree culture classes. “It is a time of fellowship and learning,” commented one participant.
Fish Harvesting Project
Elders teach youth how to make and set fish nets, as well as how to catch, clean and smoke fish.
Eastmain is well known for its talented square dancers. Its square dancing group, consisting of youth and adults, won regional square dancing championships. “It was big, but interest seems to be on the decline. Teenagers don't seem to be that interested. Eastmain hasn’t sponsored any competitions for a couple of years. We used to do different styles of dancing, traditional and modern. We liked to create new choreographies for competitions.
“Until recently, there were still a few square dancing evenings, with a fiddler, but this seems to be fading away. Still, in the coastal tradition, there is square dancing on certain occasions, like after the weddings, at the feast,” said Jamie Moses.
Cultural coordinator: Jamie Moses
Visit our website: Cree Nation of Eastmain