[These interviews with hunters, trappers and other residents of Chisasibi were recorded for the Grand Council of the Crees/CRA, by Douglas Nakashima and Marie Rou?, and published in this Final Report in August 1994. They give the most telling account of the dramatic effects of the James Bay Hydro project on the lives of the Cree people, and also are a treasure-house of information about Cree culture, and Cree attitudes to the land, animals and nature. This document deals with Cree perceptions of the land.]
[Note: The line between paragraphs indicates a new speaker]
When God first made this earth1 he made it so nice. He made good food for the animals to eat. He didn?t put anything in that would poison them. He made everything grow very well. He knew that the Cree people would live on this food that he put on the earth. He put in fish and he made good food for them to eat. He put in a nice habitat for them. Everything that was put here by God was beautiful. This is what he gave us to eat. When the white man came, he didn?t care about how God made this earth. He destroyed it all. There is so much that is not there anymore, that which we are supposed to eat.
Every living thing which is a part of this land, was given a task to perform while living on this earth. Even the smallest living animal was given a task to contribute to this land. And the people of this land took the teachings from the land and animals. And to this day, I feel the animals have not forgotten their purpose and contribution to this land.
How can we stop talking about how we are affected? This is all because of the one who builds dams, everything that has affected us. He has not spared any kind of game. This is why people will not stop talking about this because they want to make a little bit of this land survive, this land that was given to us, the Cree people, as long as the earth remains the earth. We will try to conserve what we can still use while we are still alive. I am always inland. I lived on the road for three years. I can see that so much has been done to the land. He made tributaries on rivers that once had no tributaries. He has harmed even the small game. How can we think that we will ever stop talking about this, to get a little help, concerning the game we hunt?
The Creator put everything here on this land and one of the things that we have to learn is to accept and enjoy what we see around us, the land animals, everything, and try to live close to the land.
The way the river is today, as far as we can see to the west and east, we cannot see where exactly the river used to flow through. I don't like to see this, it makes me unhappy to see what it looks likes now. The one who made this earth had put this land there for the Cree people to hunt on. He did not want this to happen to it. So much land has been ruined....
I think about this when I cross the river at UPICHUUN. The one who made the earth did not want this happen to this river. This is the one who made us and will make the ones who will live in the future. What will the future be like, that is what I think. I think of the children yet to be born, where will they hunt?
The Native people have long been denied land on which to live. It is still the case this day. Even if it is a known fact that this land is land that they had once lived on. They are put on little pieces of land (reservations) without room for a garden. The whiteman is shoving the people off their own land, this is how I see it. He is displacing the people even when the Native people have always been on this land long before he arrived.
Last summer1 when we worked at LAl, there were many of us who were slashing. We worked there for three months. When we first got there, the doors of the dam had not been closed yet. As we drove there, it looked nice because the land was beautiful. Then they told us that they had closed the door, the water filled up so fast because the surface of the land was so flat. Then it looked worse and worse as the trees were sticking out of the water. I thought about what my grandfather and grandmother had told me, that they used to go to the Caniapiscau Lake there.
I will tell you a story about what I asked youth myself, two years ago. They were brought to my hunting territory. They were brought there so they could see what it was like there when a Cree person hunts. I saw those kids say something. Those boys and girls were over 10 years old. They said that it is nice there where I was. They said it was so quiet and peaceful there because it was so silent. They noticed this.
We have been greatly wronged by this, by everything, even the trees we used to use. They are floating around in water now. The trees are made dizzy by floating in this water, they end up in big piles. The land where we used to live on was once so beautiful.
We also cannot see how the river used to flow in this area, today. The rapids are gone too. The rapids always made noise as they flowed, wherever they were. I heard that the sound of rapids told people about certain things. This is how elders of the past knew of certain things. They could predict the future from the sound of rapids. They knew so much themselves about certain things that would befall their people and what the weather would be like. I heard them say that they learned of things this way.
I think all the time, how unhappy I am with what they are doing to the river at UPICHUUN (First Rapids-LGl). So much has been destroyed. It is not nice to look at when we pass by it on the road as this road leads to the bay. So much of the land has been destroyed. So many of the trees are gone now. I know what used to grow there. I know that these things cannot grow so well now as they used to, even the berries. It is the blueberries that grow here in the woods. The flowers used to smell so good and the willows, too. These smelled so good as they began to grow. You really could smell them when you walked by. It was like that for the boughs, too. Today, I know that this good scent is gone from the woods near the road.
In those days people would look forward to the river ice breakup. There used to be a contest to see who would be closest to guessing the breakup, the day and the hour. This person would get a prize. People would look forward to that. Since the river was dammed, it's water temperature has gone up. Now, people can hardly go on the river. There is no more breakup. We miss that. The breakup was very spectacular. If you stood on the river bank, you could just reach down to touch water. That is how much the river level water rose during this time, during the breakup. The ice would block the mouth of the river. They used a helicopter to drop dynamite to unblock the ice. Then it was able to unblock. I took pictures of this. I have this picture of the breakup. It's not the same anymore. I miss this time and we were also still on the island.
The woman stayed at the camp. She set up the camp and looked after her children there, this was before the dam was built. Her children were born there. This area is all flooded now. Many children were born there, when the Cree people were in this hunting territory. Today, this is all under water, this area where children were born. For me, only two of my children were born in the community, in the hospital. The children I had before were all born inland. There was always someone living with the family when the woman was going to have a baby. The men continued to hunt. Other women looked after the pregnant woman. This is what it was liked from what I can remember of the past. The child was not born in the hospital. He was born in the camp. The men hunted and so did the women. They were able to feed the woman who was going to have a child. It was difficult when there was not much to eat. This is what I remember. It was many years before the dam was built. This is what it was like when people lived on the land. The woman did not use medicine when her child was born. This was what it was like. When she was not well, rocks were heated in hot water. This was used as a hot compress. Sphagnum moss was also heated in hot water and pressed to this area when she would bleed too much. This is what the old women said, our grandmothers. This is how things were from what I can remember.
Things started changing when the schools came, when they were built. Our children were in these schools. One day, they said that children were not to be born in the bush. We did not know why they said this. We were told that the children must now be born in the hospital. The Cree woman knew exactly what to do when the child was born before this. There was not such a long wait on the woman when it was time for her baby to be born. The woman did not stop doing her work until her pains became very bad, then she stopped working. She did not have these pains for very long before the child was born. This is how it always was in the past. The child was always born in the hunting territory. Sometimes the baby was born outside, in the past. Look how old your grandfather is, they say he was born outside. This is the father of X. This is how it was.
In the past, I delivered two children who were born inland. I guess I didn't do too much wrong with the children that I took when they were born, since they are both married now. Their daughters are all grown up now. I saw when a woman who was having a baby was told not to get up too soon. She was asked how she felt after the baby was born. When she got up, she had to walk very slowly. People did things very carefully when a child was born in the camp. When a child was born in the bush, the woman would often be very hot. She was not allowed to get a chill from this sweat after the baby was born. Everything was cleaned so carefully but she was not washed or bathed. You know that it can get so cold. When my child was born in the hospital, I was washed all over right away, that evening after she was born. I was washed all over. All the times I saw a baby being born in a camp, I never once saw a woman being washed all over like that. She was cleaned up as best as possible. She had her own pail to drink from and she had her own plate. Her food was also cooked in a separate pot. That was because everything had to be clean for her. They used to give her some broth to drink. If there was any tea, she was given some to drink, after the baby was born. She went on to do her work and only did what she could as she began to grow stronger. She only took care of her baby at the beginning. She was not allowed to put her hands in water to wash clothes. She had to take it easy. When my children were born here at the hospital, I did not have my own things to use. In the past, they knew what to do and they had their reasons why they did things this way. The woman's plate was new. Everything she would use later was kept for her, while she was pregnant. They kept a cup for her too and the small pail for her water was also new. This is what I saw happen to a woman. The mother drank from where the father drank from only after the baby's umbilical cord had dried and fallen off. This is what people did. Someone could know if they wanted to know, why the woman had to be kept so clean. I knew of some instances when the placenta did not come out right away. Sometimes a woman had it inside her for one night or even two nights. I guess it only came when it was ready to come out (when it all came together in one piece), then it came out. In the hospital, I don't really know what they do when a child is born these days. When the woman got dressed and really started walking, she had new clothes to wear, nice clothes to wear. This is what she wore as she took care of her baby. That is what people did. There used to be a small feast (gave others something to drink -is the expression), it was like a feast after the baby was born. Today, someone gives a feast only after the baby has been baptized. This is what they do here, as far as I know. I am invited sometimes. In the past, they had the feast right away, with whatever was available to eat.
(...)I know that when a woman has her baby in the hospital, she starts walking right away. Sometimes they say that she is not doing well. I can't say how things happen and how a baby takes so long to be born. Sometimes a woman has to be flown out before she can have her baby.
The children are the same today. We raise our children much differently today than the way we were raised. Today we tend to raise them like the white men raise their children. Even the way a pregnant woman eats... she doesn't eat the way they used to eat in the past. From the time a woman was pregnant, she was very careful of what she ate. That was the start of good health for the unborn child. The woman only ate fresh meat and broth. That's what made the unborn child healthy and strong. Then after the baby was born, the woman was still very careful of what she ate and drank because she always nursed her baby. And today a woman hardly eats when she is nursing. She doesn't eat the right food, she just eats junk food--chips or pop.
So that's why we, ourselves, were strong because of the way our mothers ate when they were pregnant with us. The good health was with us from the beginning. They always had fresh meat and broth right from the start.
The woman never stopped working when she was at the camp. Even when there were many people at the camp. She cut the wood. She stayed with the children. Some of the women went hunting, when the men were not at the camp. This is what I can remember, what it used to be like. The woman never stopped working and hunting when her husband was gone all day. You know how long the days are. The man was gone all day, he came back when the sun was going down. Some men came home in the night. This was because he was hunting for something for his children to survive on. This was life before the dam. They had nothing when he did not kill anything, the children had only water to drink. They had fish to eat when they could catch some. This fish broth was their tea. People were gone all winter without any of the white men's food. It was difficult to raise children. I often saw near-famine, at my age. I was not raised by my mother. It seems that they tried hard for me to survive. I was practically raised only on fish. I often think about this when people used to travel everywhere looking for food. When people fish at a lake, the fish is soon hard to catch, so they try elsewhere at another lake. This is what it was like. The people could not stay only at one place all the time. Today, it has all changed. We, ourselves still go to the place where we were raised, inland. We don't really care about too much here. Cree people tell the truth when they say they don?t want to lose the way of life they had as they were growing up.
It was hard to survive, it was even hard to get tea to drink. They had tea only when they came back to the community. As soon as the ice went; people would immediately set their nets. Some people had a hard time catching fish in their nets. When someone caught a lot of fish, he would give some to everyone he could. This is what it was like. Today, the woman does not do hard physical work. There is none of the work she used to do, from the past that I can remember. When people came to the site of their camp, the woman would get spruce boughs right away for the floor of the camp. They would also get firewood and carry it back on their backs. The woman tried to keep her children clean, even if she had many children. This is how it was. This was when people lived in camps. People often went out on a canoe to hunt so that their children would survive, before the river was touched.
People were not given anything if they could not pay for it. There was no welfare, as we call it, in those days. This is what I saw in the past. People would continue to fish all the time with nets, when they came to their camp. Winter would come and people had nothing that came from the white man. Some people only had a bit of tea when they could not be given much else. There was not much fur trapped in those days. I was already old enough to do all the work when more fur was discovered further inland. Today there is a lot of activity in this area. Everything there is under water. We were in this area for five years. We were away from the community for a year at a time. This is how we lived. We were further inland than LG-4. To come here, when the Snow was melting, people paddled all day, it was that far. People would sleep outside. The people did not set up a camp, since the nights were short. I saw all this happen. Even if a child was small, he still slept outside at this time. This is how well Cree women could raise healthy children. There were not many things available to keep the children warm. You know that they really worked hard to keep the children safe. The people our age were raised inland and none of us used anything from the white people. No woman ever stopped working. She even helped others with elderly people, to help them keep them clean. She washed clothes or got wood. There were no washing machines in those days. This is how we lived, as we were old enough to do daily work. We helped others with their cleaning. Everything was even more difficult when the woman was pregnant when the Cree people were traveling around hunting. There was a lot to keep her from harm. The child was born without any problem.
I often think of the times when there was not enough food. This happened often. A child would often cry for something and there was nothing that could be given to him. This happened when fish were scarce. Even the ptarmigan was scarce at this time, in the past, it was the same for the rabbit. There was only porcupine. There was beaver, but people were told not to kill the beaver. I thought that it was very cruel for the Cree people.
(...) Women also walked, looking for porcupine, and ptarmigan if a woman knew how to shoot a gun. The women went fishing. A woman brought along her children, even if they were still small. That is how it was then when a woman hunted.
What will we leave to the future generations, the ones yet to be born when we, ourselves, are long gone? What will we leave for them? We could have left the land to them, just as it was done for us. We could have left the land to them if it was still there. Unfortunately now, it is covered by water. Only water all around, water you cannot even drink. We cannot even drink from it because it is no longer fit to drink. We cannot even eat the fish from this water, because of mercury contamination. This is the way it is. The one who did this to our land has left us with absolutely nothing. It is pitiful indeed.
How can we agree with this? Especially when we see our people in chaos and when we see that our elders cannot live peacefully and small children too. This is their land too, the small children. They will not be taught anything at all of where you used to hunt. Your hunting territories are underwater. These children will never see these territories as long as they are alive. Where your children could have hunted is completely destroyed.
This should not happen to the people of Whapmagoostui. Their children should not be made to suffer.
Every living thing which is a part of this land, was given a task to perform while living on this earth. Even the smallest living animal was given a task to contribute to this land. And the people of this land took the teachings from the land and animals. And to this day, I feel the animals have not forgotten their purpose and contribution to this land.
But for us, people, we have lost that purpose, our reason for being on this earth. We are not very careful about what we do and say anymore, for the sake of our children. We did not plan ahead for the future of our children and also our grandchildren. We have to stand up and be accountable for our children's future. We should have thought clearly and hard about this, before we accepted and signed anything. We should have seen what was coming for our children's future. What is going to become of their future? We should have thought hard for our children's children.
Everything is affected, the animals, the fish and all the various birds and fowl. Today we cannot hunt properly and I think about the youth of the future.
This is why we were able to reach this age, because of what was used to help us survive. We want others to know that we think of this. We feel it enough to talk about how it has affected us. Every day, that which we should be teaching is shrinking. We are supposed to be teaching our grandchildren this way of life. It seems that it is disappearing, that it is ruined by outside forces.
When the game tries to come here from there and if we cannot win this fight, where is the game for our grandchildren going to come from, that they would live on in the future? From what I can understand, this is why I was taught the Cree way of hunting, so that it could help me so much when I was being raised.
The river was dammed in the fall, the first time it was dammed. I saw the direct effects of the flooding as it took place, as it became cold. So many animals were killed by this, even the animal that lives in the water. The youth of today and others don't know what this territory looked like before it was flooded. The Cree people of long ago and others now our age found this land to be useful. The youth who don't know anything about this can now know that they will never be able to use this land themselves.
So much of the land has been ruined. So many people have lost so much, it is like that for the children too. Where will they hunt in the future, when they are old enough to hunt? There are many youth who are of the age that they could hunt. The land is under water. Where will they hunt?
A: I told my father that I wanted to live with them when they went inland. I was maybe about 15 years old. They were living close to Fort George at that time because some people didn't go so far inland then. My parents were getting older, so this is why they stayed closer. I thought that I wanted to learn the Cree way of life. I was still young when I last lived with my parents and I didn't know how to do certain things when I first entered residential school. I told him that I didn't want to go further south and I asked them if I could live with them in the bush. At first, he didn't want to let me but I told him I didn't want to fly further south and I told him that I didn't want to go to school. The principal of the school who was here at the time was really trying to convince us to go. I guess I really wanted to go in the bush, so my father finally allowed me to stay and live with them. At first, I didn't know how to do certain things. I still tried hard to do them.
A: It was my mother and my older sister, X. She was the oldest of the ones who were alive. She was the one who taught me and I used to go with her when she walked somewhere to hang rabbit snares and to check the traps. She knew a lot. She was taught by my father, then she taught us.
I have so much to think about. When someone comes here and says he wants to build a dam, it seems that people listen to him because of the money that he talks about. He could build this dam on the Whapmagoostui River and if he finds something else that will make him a lot of money from our land, he will try to do this too. We have to stand firmly together and tell him that we don't want his money, then he will listen to us properly.
I was thinking about it many times. I think that for us natives, we shouldn't go to the table trying to negotiate for money because if we say that we don't want this dam, then Hydro wants to negotiate, they (our leaders) fly over there...we are still going to go through with this even though you don't allow us... and they come back...for me I don't really know this but when they come . . .they talk and they have meetings and then they come back... they say okay we're ready... they say here, once they get here, they say we don't have a choice, they're still going to go through with it. They go back out again and they say, okay, we're ready to talk money. But if you want to stand up for something you believe in so much, you're not going to let anything get in your way, like money.
That's where, like I said, money is everything to a white man and us modern natives, I guess, that's how our leaders see it. They're always thinking about the money but if you really look at it, if they dam the river, like from here to the north, the two main rivers are going to be flooded. All the animals will be like what we see here, with mercury, they will have that disease. If the natives want to maintain how they lived, how they survived through hunting, trapping and they eat those animals. It's just like the natives are going to die with that sickness and health problems because of the mercury. It's not just the mercury, it's the wires, lines that affect human beings. You even see on the news sometimes that the power lines are so close that they affect the people that live there.
How then can we pay for the bills we receive? How can we pay them? The land used to be our bank for the bills we had to pay, from fur trading. Not with employment for wages but with the trading of fur. This was the way of survival for us that did not attend "school". I am now sixty-two years old. I was ten years old when I first harvested the land for fur. Up to now it has been a little over fifty years.
As long as this earth exists so will the reproduction on the land. We must do everything so that it will all survive. You will not like what I will say. The destruction is deliberate and survival on this very land will be extremely difficult. And what I am saying now is not far from the truth. This is the reality and the one who destroyed it must face this reality. It must be in the plans that some monetary compensation will be given for this destruction to support the people whose land has been destroyed for as long as this earth exists. This is what I am saying. This compensation will last as long as the people are living on this land. This will be provided by the one who has destroyed the land. We will not like some of the things we hear. For us elders who speak for the future generations. This is why I say that not all things we hear are pleasant.
The one who has destroyed this land will have fear about what he has done, this land that he has taken without permission. He will now have to work for the people whose land he has taken. I will still be receiving bills that I will be required to pay. How can I do this? What will I pay them with? I cannot trap for fur now. That used to be the only way to pay for the supplies I needed, trading fur. From what land can I continue to do this to pay for those bills I receive?
When we think of the money that we gained the number of years that this is supposed to last is not very long. This money will be all gone by the time they reach the time, in years, that they agreed to. The time period that they were going to give us this money will come to a close. The dams will last as long as this earth does, they will be in operation all that time. We didn?t look at this. This is how they should have worded the agreement they signed, that as long as this earth is earth, that this would benefit the children of the future.
This agreement should not stop benefiting them. It should benefit them as much as the one who "grabbed" our river from us. Why would we agree to just him benefiting from this? Why should it just be good for the governments?
There is almost no Chisasibi hunting territory left. It is almost all water. They were trying to find what they could give us in return. We were then given money in return. This money that was given to us has not helped us at all. I can say this. This money is not as useful as the land was before we lost it.
Maybe there are many people who don't understand what I am trying to say. In the past, from what I can remember, I never took money with me when I went into the bush. I lived off the land. People were still able to return once again to the island we lived on at the time. Today, if I wanted to go there, I would take money with me. There is no way I can get any kind of game there. It is mainly covered in water. We know that mainly fish can live in this water. I don't eat the fish they get from the reservoir. I was told that I have this sickness of the fish (mercury).
I will tell you a story about what I asked youth myself, two years ago. They were brought to my hunting territory. They were brought there so they could see what it was like there when a Cree person hunts. I saw those kids say something. Those boys and girls were over 10 years old. They said that it nice there where I was. They said it was so quiet and peaceful there because it was so silent. They noticed this. I told them that I would ask them something. I told them that they would not always see us older people forever. Looking into the future, see how beautiful this land is, you will be the ones who will speak for yourselves. When you speak for yourselves, you will be asked for something. The white people will give you something you will have to speak about for yourselves. He will ask for land but in the other hand, you will see he is holding something and that will be money. When you speak for yourselves, what will you say? what will you take for yourselves? Every time I asked them this, they said that they would try to keep the land alive. They said the same thing each time, those children who came by plane to where I was. This is what I am telling you about. There are children here who have this way of thinking. Just ask them.
Water is also our life. There is life in our waters, if only we understood what the water stands for. This river, the great river we call "Chisasibi" was the main concern of our people. And this river was used to travel from one hunting ground to another. This was our people's highway. And today we are not able to use this river as much anymore and we cannot drink the water from this river.
A: I don't drink so much of it. I don't drink it. If someone could see what I saw, a person would not think to drink this water either. I saw where this water comes from before the land was flooded. This is from the camps that are inland. They put stuff that looks like blue paint into the water and other colours too... it floats in the water. This is why I can't drink this water. There is so much construction there and there is so much stuff going into the water, it goes into the water. This is why people get sick so often. Some people think that they can get sick from drinking this water. Some don't feel well right away after they drink this water. Some feel pain in their stomachs. This is why so many people can't drink this water. They say that this water is treated but still... They should not have done it this way. They should have first made the water good to drink right away.
The river contained new clean water every day, for the whole year, once the snow melted. This is how it was. The water was pure. Today, this good water is all gone. The good water flowed into the river from a place very far away. Today, we cannot just scoop up the good water. When a child was born, someone would go get clean, new water for the baby to drink. Today, this cannot be done for the new babies. The new mother would also have her own supply of fresh clean water to drink from. This water was given to the baby to drink to flush out what he had in his system while he was still inside his mothers body. The water was always fetched from the flowing river, it was scooped up. The only thing that was done to treat this water was to boil it. After it boiled, it was allowed to cool. Then the baby was given this water to drink. This flushed out his stomach. This was the people used to say and do before there were any doctors here. People knew what to do before there were any doctors here. This is another thing that has been greatly affected. The newborn baby cannot drink from this river water that used to be just scooped up for him to drink. The people made sure that they got this water from a fast-flowing place in the river. This place had to be easy to scoop water out of. When a child was born in the summertime, people always got water from outside for him to drink. This water had to come from a place with fast current, then nothing would float in the water. Then there were no bits of soil floating in the water. When the snow melted, the water level would rise and then pieces of soil would go into the water, as the snow melted. The snow water flowed into the river and then after a while, the water would become very clear. Sometimes at first this water would look white, as the snow melted off the ground. Then, later on it would become very clear. This is what happened with the water.
The Cree people always thought that things were new then, including new vegetation. The Cree people used to say it was new again. It is the same for the water. In the spring, the water level is high and then the water is new again. This is the same for everything. It is the same for the vegetation that grows, it is new again. It is the same for the game.
The other thing is the drinking water, it's fresh water. If you get the drinking water near a rapid, it's very strong and fresh. Stronger and fresher than if you get it from a lake. What I do when I am in the bush is sometimes go to where there is a rapid and get my drinking water from there. Because I remember what I was told, that if you get drinking water from a rapid it is very strong. My children are doing the same thing. Whenever we go out on a camping trip or just out for canoeing, they always want to stop near a rapid. And there we have our lunch and get our drinking water from there.
Water is also our life. There is life in our waters, if only we understood what the water stands for. (...) In the past, our people could just go down by the shore and take a drink from this river, and also carry the water from this river. Whenever they needed water they just had to go down to the river. Whatever use the water was needed for, it was there for our people. In the summer and winter months. This water was also used for cooking, washing and anything else it was needed for.
The people held very high respect for the water which came from the river. Today we call it "nipi" - water, in the past it was called "ii'pii" because of the importance of water and the respect our people had for this water. In the past, the word water was more alive to our people than it is today. This is how I have come to understand how much the river was respected by our people, and the significance of the water which provided for our people. Today we just call it "nipi - water.
When people lived there, they lived very close to the shoreline. Their camps were right near the flat rocks on shore. People could just scoop up water. This is how pure the water was. People would just dip up the water when they needed to boil the tea pail and they also used it for cooking. The person would just scoop up the water without worrying about anything such as bugs and germs. This is how clear and pure the river was. I think about this so often. (...)
...it has been along time since we could drink the water from the river. It has been ruined. It seems it has been poisoned. (...)
There is a lot of things that we don't know, things that go into everything, all the different things they used while they were working on the river. When we cross the river, as we look down, it looks like the rocks are covered with oil. They are covered with black stuff, right where the river is stirred up. This is what it looked like there. When I think about the past and how pure and clear the water was to drink, I remember that it has been a long time since we could drink from the river, even before we came here, when we still lived on the island. This river used to have such clear, pure water.(...)
I think back to the times when we were still living on the island. People were so happy. So many of the elders are gone now. Sometimes my late mother would ask me to get water, we lived right close to the river. She would ask me to fetch water. I would take a small pail that I could carry without trouble, one that would not be heavy. That is what they used to give me, to carry water in, in the evening. I used to scoop up a pail full of water at once. I used to take off my shoes, I guess I had shoes to wear. I used to wade into the water. All the children used to do this. They would wade in the water without their shoes. That is how pure the water that we used to drink from was. People would then boil the pails of water for tea in the morning from water they used to carry.
I think back often to that water, how pure and clear it was to drink. If they had not touched the river, we could still drink from it. If this river had not been destroyed we could still drink the water. This river had the purest water of all the rivers around here. It is called "Chisasibi" (chisa-big or majestic, sibi-river) because it was the largest river. Look at us today; we cannot drink pure water until we go and get it using a truck. We do this even in the winter. People go and get water to drink (from a spring along the road).
One other thing that is difficult for us to think about is that the water used to be so pure to drink. When I came back from the south I would think back to the water there which was yellow, but the water on the Chisasibi River looked so blue. I really noticed how pure it was. The water is not the same as it used to be probably because so many different things go into the water and the water is stirred up when it comes from all different directions. The water of the Eastmain River is yellow. This water there has been diverted.
I remember that when people landed on the island, they would just scoop up water from the river. The water was then very pure and clean. This is how it was before it was dammed. The water used to be so pure and clean. It was very good to drink. (...)
People were told to get drinking water from a fast-flowing creek that has rapids. There are places that contain spring water. Most people know where these places are along the side of the road. There is one past the airport. People cannot get water from it during the winter, though. It freezes shut. We could get water from it if it was fixed to flow in the winter. Some people do get water from lakes.
Q: Do they go far for this water?
A: I saw people get spring water near the LG3 airport. The pipe where the water comes in was fixed up and boxed in.
Q: What about the tap water in the homes, it is good to drink?
A: Many people don't like to drink water from the tap. The river water is always treated. I guess some people don't mind it. The old people are the ones who don't like the taste of the tap water in the homes. When we were still on the island, they had made a place to get drinking water. There used to be little water shacks with taps.
Q: Where did this water come from?
A: It came from the river. It didn't taste of anything strange. It tasted good. The ice used to contain places to get fresh water from.
People used to hunt right here on the river, including ourselves. People used to get food to bring along when they went inland right here at the first dam (LGl). Sometimes they had enough food to bring all the way to Caniapiscau. This was fish that were given to them by the ones who hunted here at the first dam (LGl). When a child was born, there was nothing that could be given to the parents that came from the store. I saw people barely make it to the coast with their young child. They went there because they were almost certain that their child could eat there. When I think about this and that man, he is still alive... what is his name... yes that's him, he was of an age that he could help out his father then. The old man said that he barely made it there with his child, so he could eat. It was like he brought his child back to life. That time, he didn't even know how this child was going to be the next day, if he was going to be alive or not. He barely made it there. "He" had said at that time that this kind of life would never be lost. This is how he is when he says something, he doesn't say the truth.
The Cree people are so severely affected when they think about how people used to survive off the land and how their children survived off the land too. This man had brought his child almost back to life. This was because he couldn't be given anything (from the store). This land was actually given to the Cree people to live on. This is how life was for the people. People used to go the coast and there they could stock up on food (fish), from the ones who were always in the community. Then they also caught the fish when they were going back. This is how it was for them and today they cannot do this at all. People could catch all their fish all at once there, including the inland people. In the middle of where the dams are (LGl) and LG2, our great-fathers and grandfathers got so much food there. There were bears and fish. This is where they also used to go get big game. Today, everything that they lived on and their children lived on has been driven away. Myself, when there was nothing at Caniapiscau, my children often could eat from food caught between these two places. This was where the big game was. Today, there is nothing there. Everything has been driven away by "him". This is what has happened there.
I saw UUPICHUN-LGl, also. I didn't want to cross over to the other side because I was afraid. I had never crossed at a place that looked like that. I was too scared when they wanted to drive across (the dam). We had to turn back. We used to get so much food there. Look at what it looks like now. There used to be so many people there. They pulled in nets (KAKAWPICHAANUCH). You couldn't see the place (where they pulled in the nets) at all when I saw it. People got so many fish there. People dried fish for the winter (NIMAASHTAAKUCH--dried fish). Today, it cannot be done at all, to hunt there. We used to live there for a long time to fish. Today, people cannot do this at all. People used to pound this fish into a powder (for pemmican--a pate of fish and grease or fat) . Today, you cannot go where people used to live. There used to so many people there. Look at what the white man has done.
I thought that I would talk about the area of UPICHUUN, Narrows In A Current (LGl SITE). I go there all the time since the road goes there now and we can now cross there. I have been going there ever since this road was built, to be able to cross there. Today, it looks worse and worse. I thought about it and thought I would also talk about it myself. I wanted to say how unhappy it makes me. At my age, I think about it often. I think about how different it looks from what I remember it used to look like in the past, before the river was touched. I will talk about this.
Long ago, when we still lived on Fort George Island and when my parents were still alive, those are the times I think about when we cross the river at UPICHUUN where the LGl dam is. Across from there is where people used to live long ago. We always tried to go there, too, to catch fish. As long as I can remember, people have always fished there, right where the rapids were. Fish were very numerous there. People used to start paddling there in July, people used to paddle in canoes in those days. I think about this when I look at the river now. The way the river is today, as far as we can see to the west and east, we cannot see where exactly the river used to flow through. I don't like to see this, it makes me unhappy to see what it looks likes now. ...
People used to get fish there, at the rapids, at UPICHUUN. People always got fish there at the rapids by using nets. The fish were pulled in. I always think about this. People used to live downstream from there to be able to catch the fish there in the summer. They used to collect fish for later use too. They made dried fish.
Men used to paddle from Fort George Island to the UPICHUUN rapids to catch fish. Sometimes, it was already night when they came back to the island. They came back with fish. I used to watch them when we lived at the rapids. They always caught so many fish. I used to see them go back in the evening, back to the island, to bring back their fish. People used to go down to the river, when they knew that fish had been brought back. They were given fish. This is how it was. This is how people ate, it was like they survived on this fish at that time.
I think of this very often. When I think about this, I cannot help but have tears in my eyes. I cry about it. I think about the elders, many of whom are gone now, who often went fishing there, at the UPICHUUN rapids. They used to live there and so did we. It was like that for us, when my parents were both still alive. We always lived there when we fished. ...
When I lived apart from my parents and when my children came along and became older, it was the last time we had a camp there. We went there by canoe to catch fish. The minister had asked us for some fish, dried fish for the children in the residential school to eat. That is what he told us. We stayed there for one week. We caught so many fish. It seems we could barely keep up with the cleaning of the fish. That was the last time we lived there at UPICHUUN.
Then the work began there, the work they wanted to do. This place where the fish were caught is now gone forever. It is lost. I wonder where the fish went when their habitat was destroyed. People used to eat from this area. I think about this all the time. The river now looks very pitiful. I think about the people who are no longer alive, those who used to fish there.
People were very happy to live there. People used to cook fish right there, where the fish were pulled ashore. There were many people there cooking for themselves, right where the fish were caught and cleaned. Men were the ones who pulled in the nets with fish. The women did not pull in the full nets. The women would clean the fish. Some people brought back the fish to the community to be cleaned.
When people lived there, they lived very close to the shoreline. Their camps were right near the flat rocks on shore. People could just scoop up water. This is how pure the water was. People would just dip up the water when they needed to boil the tea pail and also for cooking. The person would just scoop up the water without worrying about anything such as bugs and germs. This is how clear and pure the river was. I think about this so often. There was a hill area on the north side. I used to go there all the time to pick berries. The women always picked berries there. They picked blueberries. They ate these along with the fish. I think about this often, since the road passes right there. So much of the ground there has been ruined, right where this nice place was, where berries were plentiful. The road goes right through this area. So much of the land that people lived off has been destroyed. People lived off this fish they caught.
Now LG-4 is a different thing. That's where my father used to take me. The rapids itself is called Little Caribou Rapids. There's a legend behind that, how it got its name. They say that where the rapids are is so narrow that even a small caribou could leap across. On both sides it was so steep. I've seen it myself and up the river, just before they started building the dam itself, I had the pleasure of occupying that area with my father along with X. We made a log cabin across the river, on the north side. A great place, a lot of game, moose, beaver, especially whitebird...especially whitebird. During the wintertime people from our community used to come up just for hunting whitebird, spend time with us, just for the whitebird. It was so great... feeding areas, willows along the river, were so beautiful. Like I said, we built a cabin, a log cabin. That's one of our hunting camps that was really destroyed by the flood. My grandmother was there and my oldest son, he was only a small baby, less than 1 year old. And when I told him about it ... of course he doesn't remember ... I can only tell him about it.
And north from the area that we're talking about was another big lake for fishing, lake trout and even whitebird, there was an area where four different rivers meet and there was a lot of brush, willows, for whitebird. That's completely underwater and the lake I was talking about. There, that was my father's territory.