A group of youth ventured through the Winisk River, paddling from Nibinamik First Nation (Summer Beaver) to Webequie First Nation from July 19 to August 1, 2017, as part of a Matwawa Learning Centre summer canoe trip.
Marten Falls First Nation Band Councillor, Alex Aggamaway, travelled as a chaperone for the youth, along with experienced guides from Boreal River Tours.
“The purpose of the trip was to engage the youth in the knowledge of their land. That’s what I get from it. How far our indigenous youth were aware of the land and the uses of that land,” Aggamaway said.
Aggamaway said the team picked up several youth from other Matawa First Nations to join the expedition. He said everything felt “rushed” and he felt that more time should have went into planning the trip. He, however, said he was happy with the way things turned out.
“It began in Summer Beaver. We assembled the group by picking up students from Fort Hope. I suppose there was Landsdowne and few [citizens from] other communities.”
The group travelled from Nibinamik to Webequie, traversing fast currents and different classes of rapids and portaging when it was necessary. Aggamaway feels that everyone benefitted from the experience.
“I think it was important because we can confirm with the students and the younger generation of our people to sit there and be on their own out there. They benefitted by what they knew and what they were taught,” he said. “They’re bush smart.”
It took eight boats to accommodate the group through the Winisk River. Citizens had all their belongings kept in water resistant travelling bags. They also kept their food sealed up in blue plastic barrels to be kept dry and away from bears.
The team made several stops along the way and took advantage of the leisure time that they had. They fished and did training workshops. The youth were always kept busy when they stopped to set up camp for the night.
“We stayed in one spot for two days, which the kids enjoyed. We didn’t have to get up in the morning and get going again. It was kind of like a rest day for them . They caught fish and everything they enjoyed. They did some training while they were sitting in camp. That’s what took up their time while they were in camp,” he said.
“The fishing was phenomenal. Every time I put my hook in the water not five minutes after I put in it I would have a two- or three-pound walleye on there. So two- or three-pound walleye is a good average size to pick up on the river because you’re feeding eleven other people. So thinking about a two- or three-pound walleye that would feed one person for the evening,” he said.
Aggamaway recognized that the youth were familiar with the bush and the land and this alleviated some worry about the students’ safety.
“Their attachment to the land, you know Nishnaabe people, that’s their home. I was very impressed to sit there and see that today’s youth are very knowledgeable about the bush. I guess growing up on a reserve is like that. You have that hands-on experience. A lot of our youth were knowledgeable about camping and it made for a very easy trip.”
Aggamaway said they paddled down the Winisk River most of the time. They passed through several lakes and portages. He said there were days when the weather favoured them and there were days when it did not. Aggamaway said he liked the challenges they faced out there in the bush.
“The environment was good. The weather was give or take. Some days were nice and some days weren’t so nice. We were travelling in thirty-two above [temperature]. One afternoon I got seriously burnt on my knees. The other days were cold. Wet. We had to portage in wet weather. It gives you a challenge. I was happy with the challenge.”
There was not much wildlife to look at, he said. He figured the team was probably much too loud and scared all wildlife away. Aggamaway said they saw quite a few eagles flying around and some seemed to be following them.
“We didn’t see much by way of bears or anything. I think everything must’ve heard us coming. We saw eagles and that chased us for two days. There is a good healthy population of eagles along the Winisk River.”
Aggamaway said that elders should start putting a little more confidence in the youth. He said the young people of today are intelligent and that they should recognize this and take more initiative in their lives.
“Us elders, should trust our youth, our younger minds more because they are quite knowledgeable of the ways of the world and mother earth and the stuff that are in the bush. I give a lot of credit to the young people of today because they are very smart. The younger people should get up and lead.”
Aggamaway said he thought the youth handled themselves pretty well out there in the bush. He said they were able to resolve any issues that arose.
“I think they learned how to assert themselves where they needed to. Situations did arise in the bush. Issues do come up in the bush that you have to address. I think the youth were very knowledgeable about their rights as humans and as Nishnawbe people. They can differentiate the difference between the two cultures and their styles and their methods. I was impressed by the way they were able to adjust their attitudes even though they were challenged at times.”
“There was a few Boreal [River Tours] experts, or survivalists, who were chosen because they had done the trip before.” Aggamaway said their expedition was led by Joey Miller, “Boreal uses him for tours like that because he’s familiar with that river. He’s been on that river before. I got lost a few times but he knew where he was going. That was our trustee guide,” he said. “I’ve seen photos of him going down rivers with white water. I imagine if he can go down those big rapids then these rapids that were on the Winisk was probably nothing to him”
Aggamaway said that they should have more expeditions into the bush and on the river like this. He said that trips like these may help the youth reconnect to the land, to their culture and their identity as First Nations Peoples.