We were invited to a feast at the Traditional Cree Fishing & Chisheinuu Chiskutamaachewin Project, also known as Murray’s Lodge, named after its director. This is where elders of the community pass down cultural knowledge and skills to members of the community. The feast was a celebration of the upcoming festive season.
Skidoos and trucks were parked alongside the road, the lodges were brightly lit and warmed by wood stoves on that cold evening. In the dining lodge, people were squeezed together on benches at tables covered with bright plastic tablecloths.
One of Andy’s students, Robie, recognized us and waved us over and indicated a space across from him. The man beside me introduced himself as Matthew. Two towering plates heaped with several sorts of meat were placed in front of us. The dark meat on my plate appeared to be propped up by an orangey-yellow object. I tapped it with my finger. It definitely a beaver’s tooth.
Matthew showed me a piece of meat he was chewing.
“Guess what this is?” he asked.
“Looks like beaver tail,” I tell him. He appeared quite impressed by my answer and was happy to converse with me for the rest of the meal.
Soon foot-long moose ribs were passed around.
“Looks like at the Flintstones,” Andy whispered to me.
How long could I hold out before confessing my inclination towards vegetarianism?
“I don’t eat much meat,” I tell Robie. “Would you like my beaver?”
“Sure!” he said, and grabbed a good chunk.
Suddenly a large grinning bear head on a platter appeared in front of me. At first I thought it was a boar head, as depicted at medieval feasts, but there wasn’t an apple in its mouth.
“You can’t take a piece,” Robie told me. “A man, like your husband, has to cut some for you.”
“It’s OK sweetie,” I tell Andy. “You have some.”
I grab my third Indian donut and another blueberry fritter. “Bannock, I think originated in Scotland,” I asked Robie, my mouth stuffed with bread.
“Oh, no,” he said. “We’ve always had bannock, from times way, way before.”
Robie questioned some elders sitting at our table. The conversation was in Cree, so he translated for us and explained that traditional bannock was made from dried fish meal and fish eggs.
The food stopped coming and someone appeared with a large roll of tinfoil, so the heaped plates of leftovers could be taken home. I grab another Indian donut.
I began to gather plates and bones, but was told to leave them.
“The bones will be taken outside,” Robie explained.
“For the dogs?”
“No, for respect” he said. “If we don’t do this, there will be no more hunt.
The bear’s head will go up in a tree.”