North

98-year-old returns to traditional Cree hunting camp for Goose Break

For nearly a century Mary Katapatuk and her family have hunted geese at Jack River, along Quebec's James Bay coast. This year's hunt was particularly memorable because two of her great-grandsons celebrated their first kill.

Mary Katapatuk's family has hunted geese at Jack River, along Quebec's James Bay coast, for nearly a century

Mary Katapatuk with her seven-year-old great-grandson Tristan Husky, who's holding his first kill during goose break. (submitted by Norman Katapatuk)

For nearly a century Mary Katapatuk and her family have hunted geese at Jack River, 75 kilometres north of Waskaganish along Quebec's James Bay coast.

This year's goose hunt was particularly memorable because two of her great-grandsons celebrated their first kill.

"Right now I'm plucking the goose heads, refilling them, drying them and then I'll decorate them with beads," said 98-year-old Katapatuk, explaining with pride how a first kill is traditionally celebrated.

Goose heads decorated by Mary Katapatuk, all of which were hunted by her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. (submitted by Mary Ann Katapatuk)

After a family feast, Katapatuk sewed the goose heads to honour the milestone.   

"It has always been the way, to hunt geese, snow geese. It was always our way of life."

During the annual Goose Break, Cree communities close down for a few weeks while families head out to their camps to hunt returning geese and reconnect with tradition.

Katapatuk's late father, Tommy Jacob, taught his family how to hunt and harvest traditional food, especially when the geese migrate North.  

Katapatuk was born and raised at her family's camp at Jack River, and now lives in the village of Waskaganish.

"I remember the past, what my father used to do," she said.

"We would haul our stuff. I would pull the toboggan. We didn't use any dogs. We would pull our toboggans from our bush camp to Waskaganish. We would do so leaving and returning to the community."

When Katapatuk was old enough, she married and had children of her own. They continued to practise the traditional way of life as her late father had taught them.

This spring, Mary Katapatuk returned to Jack River by helicopter to harvest geese with her family. (submitted by Emily Hester)

"Every day I would get firewood. My husband never got the wood. I always got the wood while he was out hunting," said Katapatuk. "That is what I loved to do most, get wood and snare rabbits."

This spring, Katapatuk was happy to return to Jack River by helicopter to harvest geese with her sons and daughter, and two of her great-grandsons.

"It was very special because that's where I killed my first goose when I was six years old," said her grandson Norman Katapatuk, who joined his grandmother for Goose Break this year.

"My son killed his first goose at seven years old at the same camp, and I was happy Granny was there to celebrate the special day."

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