The sun was just beginning to set as our convoy arrived at Kisipanakak Camp, lighting up the sky above the lake with pinks and purples and making it a beautiful sight to behold. The camp was quiet, the majority of the students and mentors were still out in the goose blinds, trying to get the last few geese before it was too late to hunt.
We rode out to the annual Mikisew School goose camp with Ronnie, an avid hunter and trapper and first time mentor out at the camp. The rest of the group had arrived the day before, travelling across the lake while the ice was still solid. But the past day had seen an unprecedentedly quick melting of the ice, and a new route to the camp had to be found. Not an experienced skidoo rider myself, I was nervous about the conditions, but after riding with Ronnie for a few minutes he put my mind at ease. When he wasn’t preoccupied with navigating the tricky patches, he filled me in on the day and how much he was enjoying being out there with the students. He was excited to share stories about Chloe and Justin, two of the students he’d been mentoring that day who had each both shot their first ever goose (and even had it caught on camera by visiting CBC reporters)!
Sitting out in the blind after arriving, Kerry (Mikisew’s Cultural Awareness Class teacher and Goose camp coordinator) and Ronnie swapped stories about their time on the land, while the students and I listened and asked the occasional question. There weren’t many geese flying and I inquired if we should pack it in.
“We’ll wait 10 more minutes” said Kerry “there’ll be a few more yet.”
As predicted, a lone goose came into earshot within a few minutes. Ronnie and Chloe got ready to shoot as the goose approached. “Ready…. now” called Kerry. Chloe fired and just missed, but luckily Ronnie was ready and hit it on his shot. The goose fell into the open water just off the shoreline, resulting in a tricky retrieval using a canoe to get across the unstable ice. With that final success, it was time to pack it in for the night and we gathered our goose and the supplies from the blind and carried them back up to camp.
The camp building was cozy and buzzing with activity. All the hunting groups were back from their blinds and getting ready to sit down for supper. The table was quiet as everyone dug in, hungry and exhausted from the long day outside. The staff and mentors talked and joked in Cree, occasionally translating for the benefit of me and the students. Cree is still fluently spoken by many adults in the community, but it is being lost amongst the youth. The camp is a unique opportunity to get them away from the English media they are bombarded with and immerse them in not only in the culture and traditions of the community, but also the language which holds so much of that knowledge and identity.
Before turning in for the night, I stepped outside one last time to enjoy the fresh air and amazing stars. Sitting on the balcony with Marlene, another of the mentors out at the camp, she reminisced about her many years attending the camp and her great memories of all the youth she has gotten to know.
“It’s so special here” she said “I wish we never had to go home.”
CBC The National: Hunting geese to help the youth in Cross Lake
“Every spring Kerry Muswagon takes his grade 8 class to hunt geese. His hope is that these trips will help prevent suicides in the Cross Lake, Manitoba.”