It was a good day for a hunt … Andy and I stood at the shoreline, 12 kilometres out of town, waiting for Charlie to pick us up.
Andy pointed at a small white structure on the Manitounuk Islands across the straight.
“There’s the camp.”
“Don’t point!” I said. “It’s bad luck and will bring the winds.”
Sure enough, moments later, the glass-smooth water roiled up.
We watched as the small dot of Charlie’s wooden boat expanded and became recognizable.
He and his brothers had already set up camp days before. When we arrived, a fire was warming the tent and a large pot of tea was brewing on the crude metal woodstove.
I asked Charlie about seals and other animals, and the lone muskox rumoured to be on the island.
“We don’t hunt seal,” Charlie explained. “The Inuit do. They are very patient.” He demonstrated how an Inuit hunter would stand, harpoon raised at a blow-hole, not moving for hours. One tap of a foot might warn off a seal.
“Our seal is otter. They taste the same,” he said. He also confirmed that there was, indeed, a muskox and that people would boat over to photograph it.
Seals are found on the other end of the island, but are not hunted by the Cree. Perhaps this is why the two communities have existed amicably for so long. They hunt or fish different game.
We packed up our gear and headed to a little lake where decoys had been set up for Canada Geese and Snow Geese. The hunters settled in the blind to wait. Five snow geese had already been taken that morning. While the hunters waited, I wandered about. It was impossible to get lost.
I heard the geese before I saw them and quickly laid down, as instructed, on the barren landscape. I heard shots. When I returned from my ambles, several geese had been taken.
“Did you get one?” I asked Andy.
“First shot, first kill,” he beamed.
The geese are gutted at the camp and brought back home, where the women pluck them. How long? Charlie says it would take him two hours to pluck a bird, but it only takes his wife takes 15 minutes. (I would be a terrible Cree wife. I’d rather be hunting with the men, than plucking geese at home … I just had to add that).
Dark, heavy clouds appeared, and it started to drizzle. All of the eight hunters decided to head home, along with their equipment and weapons. I was a bit worried, but the boat held up surprizingly well.
Charlie said he would speak to his grandfather and there would be a feast to commemorate Andy’s first kill. Andy’s pure white goose would then be cooked and eaten.
Usually it is a boy of 6, 7 or 8 who is honoured for this important event. Andy will probably hold the record for most senior honouree.
The gaggle of hunters
More pictures to be found: