Hockey net helps Cree couple connect with culture
John and Josephine Sam draw on elders teachings to build a traditional ptarmigan net
A Chisasibi couple used a hockey net bought from a sporting goods store in the south to adapt a traditional Cree net used to harvest ptarmigan. They say it is helping them harvest more traditional food and spend more time on the land.
John and Josephine Sam live in the Cree community of Chisasibi, located more than 1,500 kilometres north of Montreal.
"I think it's so important that our people thought of a way to harvest food without using guns, [as] we know that many in the early days did not own any. They found other ways to harvest food using techniques such a piyaauhiipii," said John in Cree, using the East Cree – Northern dialect word meaning "net to catch Ptarmigan".
Now people will know I cheated. I used a white man's hockey net.- John Sam, Chisasibi resident
"Now people will know I cheated. I used a white man's hockey net," he said with a laugh.
A few years ago, John was injured in a boating accident and still has health challenges, mainly with his heart, as a result.
He learned about the technique from local elders in January, when they were sharing their best harvesting and hunting techniques on bush radio. John and Josephine wanted to try it out for themselves to see it in action.
They set the piyaauhiipii near their traditional camp, located east of Chisasibi in January and shared their experience on social media. Several people from the community came to learn and elders Freddy Scipio and Harry Bearskin came to help out and offer advice.
"We were curious. I never saw how it was used. I only heard it explained on the radio by an elder, how it is made, what it is supposed to look like," said John.
"I got five!" said Josephine, in one of the videos shared. "I think one ran out."
"The elder told me to completely remove the bark off the wood pieces that I was going to use for this net," said John, who shared the elder's teaching about how it was an important way of respecting the tool and the environment it was going to be used in.
"The elder told me this way of harvesting ptarmigan is a way of not allowing too much mess on the environment, to keep the feathers from being blown all over the place," said John.
The couple said so many people saw the posts and reached out wanting information about how to build a piyaauhiipii.
"People tell us, they wished they were [with] us ... over here. They like what we are doing out here," said John.
John and Josephine said they had a lot of fun building, adapting and harvesting with the ptarmigan net and will continue to use it at their camp.
He knows that other Cree people were inspired by them and he is happy to share. He also said it is helping him.
"I hope we can all be out in the open, to be on the land. I found this ... helped me [with] my medical problems," John said. "This is where medicine is — on the land."