Our time left in community is short. The holidays are upon us, and we’ll be heading to Montreal soon to be with family. We want to enjoy the rest of our time and experience as much as we can. After February, our new home will be Whapmagoostui, on Hudson’s Bay. It will be a new experience. The community shares space with the Inuit settlement of Kuujjuarapik.
We hadn’t been to Murray’s Lodge since last winter. There were a few attempts, but either the lodge was closed for the season, or another time, an elder had passed away and the lodge was closed for the funeral.
This time, when we arrived, the lodges were brightly lit and elders along with their trainers and helpers, were at work in the sewing and woodcarving lodges. At the medicine lodge, we picked up birch tea for Andy’s arthritis and Labrador tea, simply because I like the woodsy, slightly bitter taste.
A visit to the tanning lodge left us choking from the smoke. A caribou hide and moose hide were suspended and formed into long cylinders. The bottom of the tube opened on top of a metal pail of burning embers.
After our walk-around, we headed towards the dining lodge. Seasonal decorations of a birch log and greens adorned each table top.
An opening prayer was offered and people began to line up. We had placed ourselves near the back of the room and prepared ourselves to wait until the line had shortened.
Some of the people standing in line turned around to look at us and appeared to be waiting.
“No, you go,” a young man said, pointing to the front of the line.
“It’s OK, let the elders go first,” Andy told him.
I know you don’t become an elder because you are old. In the community, an elder is someone who can pass on knowledge of Cree culture and wisdom, as well as traditional knowledge of woodcarving, snowshoe making, cooking, sewing and sinew weaving.
“No, No, you go!” the young man replied.
“Andy, they think WE are elders,” I whisper.
We rise and a man came forward and introduced himself as the coordinator. He indicated to some of the people near the front of the line to make room for us and insisted that we take a plate and begin serving ourselves.
I ladled caribou stew into a paper bowl and filled a plate with moose steak, macaroni casserole and generous servings of Indian donuts (fry bread) and bannock. I also plucked a cube of what looked like turkey breast on my plate, but found out after that it was a cube of bear fat, a Cree delicacy.
The coordinator came to us again and introduced his wife.
“How were the ribs?” he asked Andy.
“Great!” Andy said.
He explained that they had used a new recipe for the moose ribs using soy sauce. We thanked him and kitchen workers for their delicious preparation.
And then he told us that it is tradition for honoured guests to go first in line, especially their first time at the lodge.
I was very relieved. I thought we were sent to the front of the line because we were considered old. There was a new spring in my stride as we walked towards the car to head home.