Community freezer program provides meat, lessons for Samson Cree Nation

The program teaches Indigenous hunting practices and distributes the meat in the community.

Participants learn Indigenous hunting practices, how to use every part of the animal

In a photo taken before the COVID-19 pandemic, youth at Samson Cree Nation learn how to use every part of an animal. (Submitted by Kacey Yellowbird)

As a young boy, Kacey Yellowbird of Samson Cree Nation in Maskwacis, Alta., saw his grandfather bring the whole family together after a hunting trip to help him harvest the kill.

"We'd just sit around, you know, in a big room and put the meat on the tarp right in the middle of the room, make some tea and then everybody would do their part," the 41-year-old told CBC Radio's Edmonton AM on Tuesday. 

Before he died, Yellowbird's grandfather advised him to continue to learn how to hunt and share the tools with others. 

Eleven years ago he did just that. 

In his role as the manager of the Samson youth and sport development department, Yellowbird created a community freezer program.

At least twice a month, from September through February, Yellowbird goes hunting for elk, moose or deer with a group of young men, ages 18 and up.

"I'm not just hunting, but I'm also teaching these young men how to be self-sustainable for their own families," he said. 

We hear about a community freezer initiative that's taken off near Maskwacis. 8:05

He teaches them how to kill the animal using Indigenous protocols that include an offering of tobacco and prayer.  

Yellowbird also manages a youth centre where he invites youth, ages seven to 17, to watch them butcher the animals after the hunt. Before the pandemic, about 20 kids would attend each time.

He said he is teaching them "how to properly cut [the meat] up and how to bring it back and how to use most of the parts to give back to our community."

Once the meat is cut, a call goes out on social media. Members of the community — especially elders and low- to middle-income families — drop by to grab bags of one or two pieces of meat per family. 

The program has continued during the pandemic, but Yellowbird has been joined on hunts only by three other family members. They made videos of cutting up the meat and posted them on social media for young people to watch.

When COVID restrictions are lifted, Yellowbird hopes to have some of the young people involved in the hunting part of the program. Safety protocols are being developed, he said.

"I asked them if they would support the program even further if we brought them on a hunt and it was unanimous," he said.

"They're just so excited."

Maskwacis is 100 kilometres south of Edmonton.