North

In Northern Quebec, Goose Break holiday connects Cree youth with culture

As a way to teach traditional ways and strengthen community ties, a few towns in the James Bay region of Quebec are putting a new spin on one of the oldest and most important holidays on the Cree calendar — Goose Break.

'Once you expose them to the things they will learn, they will remember it for a long time'

Every spring, several Cree communities in Northern Quebec all but close down for a few weeks while people head out on the land to hunt returning geese and spend time with family and friends. (Brendan Forward)

As a way to teach traditional ways and strengthen community ties, a few towns in the James Bay region of Quebec are putting a new spin on one of the oldest and most important holidays on the Cree calendar — Goose Break. 

Goose Break is a centuries old tradition practiced by Cree in northern Quebec, where communities all but close down for a few weeks each Spring, usually in May. During Goose Break, people head out on the land to hunt returning geese and spend time with family and friends. 

This year, the inland community of Oujé-Bougoumou — about 700 kilometres north of Montreal — is launching a program for youth who might otherwise not be able to celebrate Goose Break out on the land. About 16 young boys and girls are currently out with elders until May 13.

Roasted geese hang in a tent - the sign of a successful hunt. (CBC)
Among them are Jennifer Pepabano's three sons, ages 10, 14 and 15. It's their first on-the-land Goose Break since their father passed away in 2013.

"He would always take them out on the land," said Pepabano. "But ever since he's been gone, my boys wanted to keep doing that, going out, especially on Goose Break."

It's something that Pepabano, as a single mother, hasn't been able to do.

"Their dad always talked to them about where they would always find healing to be out there." 

The elders are teaching the boys and others skills like hunting safety tips, how to make a goose call, spending time in a goose blind and how to clean their own kill.

"This is a good experience for the youth," said Anna Bosum, one of the volunteers. "Once you expose them to the things they will learn, they will remember it for a long time. Even the storytelling at camp, they will also learn from."

A feast for all the youth taking part is scheduled during Ouje-Bougoumous's Meuskum Eetowin, a celebration held at the end of the goose hunt in June.
Geese take off from a lake in Northern Quebec. The annual hunt occurs in early May each year. (submitted by Brendan Forward)

'We want people to live together in harmony'

In the community of Chisasibi, at the end of the James Bay Highway about 1,000 kilometres north of Oujé-Bougoumou, the local youth council has come up with a different way to encourage more young people to get out for Goose Break.

It has launched "Adopt a Youth for Goose Break," a program where families can sign up to bring an extra young person or two — aged 13 to 35 — out on the land with them.

A Whapmagoostui youth holding his first goose in May of 2014. (CBC)
Young people who want to take part are invited to sign up or are referred by Chisasibi's social services department.

In the past, it was commonplace for a family to bring a extra person or two out with them for Goose Break. 

"That is part of Cree culture, back in the day people would always tag along with other people to their traplines," said Paula Napash, Chisasibi's youth chief.

"We want people to live together in harmony and to hang out (together)."

For Napash, the project is a chance to teach youth about Cree language, culture, skills and values, as well as a chance for youth to learn to respect the land and animals.

"I would always stay with my grandparents and would learn so much at my aunt's," she said.

Goose Break, a centuries old tradition practiced by Cree in northern Quebec, is traditionally a place for youth to learn on-the-land skills and customs. (Roger Orr)

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