It was a beautiful day to visit Mattagami First Nation April 24 to check out the annual Beaverfest celebration in the community.
The purpose of the event is to celebrate the traditional hunting and trapping culture of the Mattagami people.
“We are trying to show the kids some of our traditional ways of how we did it in the past,” said Leonard Naveau, coordinator of Beaverfest. “I used to catch the beaver with my dad 45 years ago.”
There were two separate fires for cooking beavers and geese. The first fire had five beaver slowly being cooked. Each beaver weighed about twelve pounds and were said to be little ones. Naveau said it would take about four to five hours to roast them.
A second fire was in a tipi where three geese, one beaver, and bannock on a stick were being prepared for the feast.
Having been an urban Anishinabe-Kwe for half of my life, I have never witnessed geese and beaver being roasted outdoors. I naively asked, “How long does it take you to skin a goose?”
Elder Aggy Corston of Moose Factory laughed and good-naturedly answered.
“I can skin a goose in less than ten minutes,” Corston said.
She then gently corrected me that ‘you pluck a goose.’ I am very impressed at how quickly she plucks the geese.
“One time my grandson timed me, and it took me three minutes to pluck a freshly killed goose,” Corston said.
Sakapwan (meat roasted on a string) cooked over a fire is new to the festivities this year.
“It’s the first time we are roasting goose with the beaver. It’s nice with the Elders here. It might get bigger next year,” Naveau said.
Cortson was one of 23 Elders on a bus from Timmins attending the festival. Gary Martin, traditional coordinator from Misiway Milopemahtesewin Community Health Centre, organized the trip for the Elders. Misiway and the Timmins Native Friendship Centre Lifelong Care Program teamed up to hire a bus for the Elders.
“That’s the importance of inter-agency partnership,” said Martin.
Cliff Naveau, an Elder originally from Mattagami, now lives in Timmins for health reasons.
“It reminds me of when I was younger. So far I am enjoying it. The weather is nice and the cooking looks nice,” Naveau said.
There were also activities taking place in the community’s recreation complex. Numerous exhibitors were set up. On one table was a humongous beaver, unlike the ones being roasted outside.
Donald Beauchamp was holding a beaver-weighing contest. Competitors paid $2 to guess the weight and were allowed to lift the beaver.
Being curious by nature, I had to lift the beaver. Boy, it sure was heavy. Once again I felt humbled when I could not lift it off the table. If I had played the guessing game, I would have said 68.3 pounds.
After the contest was over, Beauchamp said the beaver weighed 58.7 pounds. The closest guess was that of 58.1 made by a female who took home a hunting knife set.
From a small festival that originally started in Gogama with one beaver, the festival continues to grow each year.
“The first time we started, I cooked two (beavers), and every year, it’s getting bigger and bigger,” Naveau said.
As First Nation people, I know most of us worry about development on our lands by companies in mining, forestry, hydro and other resource sectors. We come...