Unexpected Goose Break holiday a joy for Cree elder and her family

Mary Couchees Iserhoff, 94 (or is it 96?) thought last year would be her last time at the family's goose camp — but when the season came, she showed up on her snowmobile the same as years past.

'I like to help while I can still use my hands,' says 94-(or maybe more)-year-old

Mary Couchees Iserhoff sits with her 1985 semi-automatic 12-gauge rifle 'just in case,' says her son-in-law Kenny Blacksmith. (Submitted by Louise Iserhoff Blacksmith)

Mary Couchees Iserhoff thinks she might be 96-years-old, two years older than what's on her official identification.

Whether she's 94 or 96, being fit enough to spend Goose Break at the family bush camp, hold her semi-automatic rifle "just in case" and pluck and clean the harvested geese, is a gift. 

"I am happy when I see the goose are harvested. I like to help while I can still use my hands," she said in Cree.

Couchees Iserhoff grew up on Oujé-Bougoumou territory in northern Quebec and now lives in Mistissini, the second largest of the Cree communities located about 800 kilometres north of Montreal.

She thought last year would be the last Goose Break she could enjoy at camp, according to her son-in-law Kenny Blacksmith.

Blacksmith shared a post on Facebook saying Couchees Iserhoff wasn't expecting to be able to join the family this year for the annual Goose Break holiday, where Quebec Cree families head to their bush camps to hunt returning geese. 

"My mother-in-law came in a few hours ago on a skidoo on the ice. She thought last year was going to be her last time at our goose camp but here she is," wrote Blacksmith, adding she ate half a fried sucker fish and then rested. 

"But she decided she should sit on the porch overlooking the water — with her 1985 semi-automatic 12-gauge [Benelli] ... just in case."

Couchees Iserhoff likes to help out at the camp by plucking and cleaning the harvest birds. (Submitted by Louise Iserhoff Blacksmith)

Couchees Iserhoff travelled by snowmobile with the help of her grandson Julien, and enjoys plucking and cleaning the geese and walking the land with the help of her cane. 

"I love to walk too but am not so steady," she said.

When she was younger, Couchees Iserhoff remembered, her grandmother would share stories of Cree families not having enough to eat and of starvation. 

"That's when my grandmother taught me never to throw anything [away and] ... clean every part of the geese," she said. "I clean everything. I keep everything ... even the intestines."

Couchees Iserhoff remembers learning important safety lessons from her husband, about being careful about the ice conditions during spring and how to recognize different colours of ice. 

"This spring, the ice melts fast, and it's the first time that I see, the spring is very fast," she said.