Wes-kutch (long time ago), the Elders say, families along the James Bay coast would emerge from their winter traplines and spring goose hunting camps to gather in traditional areas in the summer to reunite with families and friends.
In their reunion, the Mushkegowuk people take part in traditional and square dancing, powwows, feasts, storytelling, and games. The festivities would last a month, when the families had to prepare for the upcoming goose and moose hunts in the fall.
But after decades of a dwindling fur trade, the enforcement of the Indian Act, the establishment of the reservation system, and the implementation of the residential school policy, the tradition of the regional annual gathering declined. Some gatherings continued or reemerged at a community level, but the scale of the gatherings from wes-kutch disappeared.
Then 10 years ago, a group of Elders decided that the regional gathering needed to be brought back. Under their guidance, the Mushkegowuk Tribal Council organized the first Creefest in 2003. In true community spirit that existed wes-kutch, Moose Cree First Nation hosted the first Creefest alongside their own community gathering, the Gathering of Our People (GOOP). In celebrating the 10th annual Creefest, Moose Cree is again hosting the event along with GOOP.
As a member of Attawapiskat with strong family ties to Fort Albany, I grew up in Moosonee with what I felt was a strong sense of culture. My father taught my siblings and I to hunt and trap while my mother taught my sisters to bead and sew. She used to make me moosehide hats, mittens, and moccasins and knitted scarves. This made me complacent in my cultural knowledge. After all, most kids at school did not have parents who taught them traditional activities.
Then, after my first year of college, I attended my first Creefest in Attawapiskat as a student reporter. My first steps on the ground as I disembarked the plane were significant for me because it was my first time visiting the community where my grandfather grew up. The notion that this is the land of my ancestors humbled me.
I walked to the riverbank where the Attawapiskat River flowed and the main stage was set up. I met the community chief at the time, Mike Carpenter, whom I discovered is my second cousin. Standing there, he told me this spot was where the gatherings from wes-kutch took place.
Every year, the Creefest and GOOP offer workshops on various traditional activities and that year in Attawapiskat, I initially attended them out of a job duty than genuine interest. But with each one I attended, I gained an increasing sense of the Mushkegowuk culture and traditions. I learned storytelling and myths from Louis Bird of Peawanuck, drawing and sketching Aboriginal art from the late Gordon Goodwin of Kashechewan, and clog dancing from a group from Missinabie Cree.
The gatherings invite visitors from afar as well. I attended a workshop at GOOP where Rick Lightning, a Plains Cree from Hobbema, Alta., shared prophecies from his late father. Later, I participated in my first sweat lodge ceremony led by Lightning.
And it was inspiring to see the music acts from local communities and afar. Like hip-hop artists Shibastik of Moose Cree and 30-30 from Fort Albany, and rock band Mainline from Six Nations. One of my favourite interviews was when I chatted with blues-rock musician George Leach in the dressing room as he changed his guitar strings prior to taking the stage.
For the Creefest in Kashechewan, I saw two popular First Nations performers: Ernest Moonias and Don Burnstick.
But it is not only the teachings and performances that make Creefest and GOOP what it is. I have made many friends and reconnected with others during my attendances at the Creefests, both with those living in the region and the visitors from down south or out west.
And quite often, an Elder will ask who my parents are and when I tell them, sometimes they will say, “Gah, ne-sken-den ke-mama/papa (Oh, I know your mom/dad).” It’s a reconnection for them too.
My past Creefest experiences enhanced my sense of pride and being. The 10th annual Creefest and GOOP will be my first Cree summer gathering in four years, as employment and college have prevented me from attending. Having lived in Thunder Bay for three years - and being so far away from my homeland - I am looking forward to reconnecting with my Mushkegowuk culture and celebrating the traditions from wes-kutch. Hope to see you there.
National Indigenous Peoples Day which takes place on June 21 and the wider National Indigenous History Month in June is a significant time for Indigenous...