Goose hunting in the Cree community of Waswanipi far from disappearing

Most children of Eeyou Istchee – James Bay learn to call geese at a young age.

They even compete at it during celebrations.

That’s because In James Bay, the Cree Nation still survives from hunting harvests as much as they can.

Spring is the season for goose hunting break and it’s not only a few weeks off in the school calendar, it’s also the celebration of a spring tradition for Crees.

Many say the hunting seasons are more important than Christmas to them.

(Winnie Gull Saganash with her grandsons at the end of the goose break. Photo courtesy: Don Saganash)

Most families will leave the community to go hunt at their cabin in the bush on their hunting grounds.

Don Saganash says with a lot of pride, ‘’everybody goes to their camps [during the goose break], they go hunting and the community of Waswanipi is going to look like a ghost town,” he said.

Johnny Cooper is an Elder from Waswanipi.

He was the official translator for the Peace of the Brave negotiations.

Cooper spends 240 days a year at his camp located 60km north of Waswanipi, and on the trap line he is responsible for.

He said it wasn’t always about hunting geese.

Spending time with relatives and showing the cultural Cree way of life to descendants is just as important for most.

‘’ To have my grandchildren around with me, take them and show them how to hunt for goose break, show them everything, what I can do, go for boat rides and kills some ducks too, ‘’ mentions Don Saganash when asked what his favorite part of goose break is.

(Victor Saganash with the geese taken during the break. Photo courtesy: Don Saganash)

If the Goose break is very significant today, it wasn’t always the case in Eeyou Istchee.

‘’The main activity was any fur bearing animal. Because at that time Hudson Bay and the different associations that were buying furs were after, so that was the main activity of the Crees at that time, ‘’ said Cooper.

The Elder also explained that goose break was not a set date.

It’s used to be whenever people saw them – that’s when they went hunting.

But children started going to school and the goose break was born.

“Goose break was initiated in the calendar of the Crees when they began to have their own schools, that’s how goose break came about, ’’ said Cooper.

Traditionally, in the Cree lifestyle, the ladies cook and the men start to hunt at quite a young age.

(Goose is cooked slowly over an open for hours. Photo courtesy: Stanley Saganash)

It isn’t rare to see elderly women that never shot a gun and men that have started to shoot since 9 years old.

In 2019, the roles can change.

Don Saganash wanted to show his daughter to be autonomous in the bush.

‘’My daughter, she really likes to hunt, anything, when she kills something she’s, she’s going to butch it. Once I show her how to do it, she is going to do it.

“She doesn’t need a man, ‘’ he said laughing.

Goose meat is cooked slowly over an open fire with the sigabon traditional technique for at least six hours.

“By the fire, rope and around the stove like, we twist it around like that, because we didn’t have no oven stove, we had to cook them around the fire, ‘’ said Winnie Gull Saganash.

The goose and moose hunting, as well as fishing are not close to go extinct according to the community members.

“We still hunt and trap a lot, for those who say that’s dying off, I don’t think it’s dying, I don’t think people are just going to stop fishing one day and not eat fish, ’’ said Cooper with a big smile.



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