My grandfather and I used to get up at the crack of dawn and got home at nightfall most days to check our snares and traps. We had been getting some good luck on the rabbit snaring but we noticed our rabbits started to go missing. “awīyak awa ika kimotit ki wāposoma” – Somebody is stealing your rabbits.
As a boy of about 6-7 years of age, it got me thinking of many scenarios of what might be stealing our rabbits, which totally impeded our intake of rabbit soup. I loved dipping my thick crumbly bannock that nimosōm used to make, into the salty, peppery, “pahkwīsikanapoy” – flour soup. What could have been taking our rabbits? I thought maybe an ōhō – owl or mahkīsīs – fox.
I imagined ōhō perched on a branch, looking side by side and then noticing a rabbit, free for the taking. I thought maybe mahkīsīs would be snooping around, stalking its next prey and finding our rabbits, frozen on the ground like they were placed there for them (they kind of were I guess).
I am sure my late grandfather knew what was eating our rabbits, but I had no idea because as young as I was, I didn’t notice the tracks and only listened to the part about “awiyaK” – somebody. It sounded ominous to me at the time because it sounded like it could be anybody or anything that might be deemed evil, like a creature of some kind.
It was late fall, early freeze-up at time and there was not much snow. I remember we may have been walking along the icy shore where it was thick enough to hold us. If we went too far, the ice would start cracking. This was a risk many families had to make to survive. My grandfather had enough experience and knowledge, that we were relatively safe out in the wild.
One morning, when we got to “maskīkohk” – to the muskeg, nimosōm went up ahead to take a piss first but quickly came sneaking back, “awayak awa niwapamaw” – I see somebody. He took his gun that was resting on a tree truck and he loaded it before he went back.
I was completely freaked out, what could he have seen? The look he gave me, was one of excitement when he saw something. I was scared to think of what it might have been. As he loaded up the gun, I went up a bit to see what it was.
I saw some movement where our first snares had been and saw the biggest cat I have ever seen in real life. Having little knowledge of the more diverse animals in the north, I thought it was a cougar. Like the kind I would see on TV in town. This cat looked straight at me for awhile and made a face, I was very amazed and fascinated at the sight of the cat. I stepped back to my original position as nimosōm aimed his gun and shot the “pisiw” – lynx, right between the eyes. The cat dropped instantly, surrounded by rabbit fur and blood. The mystery was solved.
Chances are, my grandfather knew it was a lynx all along, he just wanted to entertain me by sounding frightening in a way. He would have a bit of smile when he mentioned the mysterious thief. It was all in good fun and I fondly remember the many times he told me the tales of wīsahkīcāhk and wihtikō for late evening entertainment. His facial expressions and hand gestures, were gold, in the storytelling process.
Going back to my blog about my grandfather and uncle tracking a wihtikō (NIMOSŌM AND MY UNCLE TRACK THE WIHTIKŌ), I received many comments and reactions on Facebook which is always good for website views and acknowledgement. I appreciate all comments and find them all interesting but the one that interested me the most, was the theory that it might be a Bigfoot.
Over the years, I have heard stories where huge rocks would be thrown at people on the side of a road when they were hitchhiking. Near my home reserve, there had been a sighting of a hairy, human shaped creature eating at the shore of a lake or river. One comment I read was that of a creature being seen in NWT that may have been a wihtikō but is a wihtikō sighting feasible?
From the descriptions I have read online, a wihtikō is more of a spiritual creature, an evil entity. It is the transformation of a starving human being into a crazy, evil creature that cannibalizes other humans to satisfy itself. I think that if a human turned into a crazy cannibal, then it could not be a monster.
Is it more likely that a Bigfoot could exist? It is hard for me to say. I have seen many videos on YouTube that show some type of hairy creature and many accounts of people who have seen it. The sightings all have similarities in their descriptions. It is hard for me to believe because I think many sightings can be explained. I also think that if I wanted to perpetrate such a hoax, I could do a good enough job to convince and fool many people.
Of course, I would not go about to try and pull a hoax because I don’t want to get shot. When I used to go out hunting ptarmigans and partridges with my bow and arrow or my 22 cal, I would have shot a strange creature, unless I completely freaked out and ran away, but anyway it would not be safe to go out pretending to be a Bigfoot.
On the outskirts of the reserve I lived in, there would be trees crisscrossed in weird ways that looked like it was on purpose. Since I was by myself during this time, I started to freak out a bit but convinced myself that it was trappers or mushroom pickers marking a good spot of some kind. The last thing I wanted, was to be alone with a creature from the woods, being an imaginative 12-year-old will do that. I had a straight-bow and some homemade arrows that had chipped deer boned tips, but I doubt that would have stopped a wihtikō or Sasquatch.
I wish I could have seen tracks or even a glimpse of something in the woods. I would gone out to investigate some more and would have done the research needed to try and get a picture or video to show the world. Tracks would be great to see, strange tracks that do not resemble any known animal. Maybe even tufts of hair that do not belong to any of the many rez dogs running around the bushes near my home reserve.
This summer, I plan on going to some familiar spots of when I was a kid with a bow and arrow. I hope the deforestation isn’t too bad.
Happy New Year to all my readers out there, here’s hoping for a great year in stories and Cree blogs.
After Christmas, it was back to the old grind for the family in the trapline. We needed to check out traps, nets and snares for food and the weather did not always cooperate with us. Nimosōm was going to check anyway because like he would say: “namwāc wītha nītha nika kipihtinikon kīkway, kīyām ithikohk kātahkāyāk.” (Nothing is going to stop me, no matter how cold it is).
So off he went to check the traps and I hoped he would trap a “wacaskos” – muskrat. I loved boiled muskrat with napatākwa – potatoes, the “pahkwīsikanapoy” – flour soup, afterward would really hit the spot. If it was all mixed into one pot, even better. The supper that day was great, “kwayask nimitho micison” – I ate well.
ocīmikīsikāw (literally ‘kissing day’) New Years Day was like the rest of January, we said our greetings of Happy New Year and then went on with our day. During the month, we did much of our fishing not far from camp, of course as it is with all fishermen, we tried many spots and even made the lake look like a slice of swish cheese, holes of many sizes but none too big to fall into. “niki mohcikihtān kākī kwaskwīpicikiyān” – I had fun when I was fishing.
“ocīmikīsikāw” (literally ‘kissing day’) – New Years Day
As a boy, I remember only one Christmas that we spend in the trapline. Other Christmases we would spend on reserve, whether at my parent’s house or my maternal grandparents house in town. The Christmas in trapline was very different.
On the days leading up to Christmas, my grandparents would talk about their other family members that I don’t think I ever met. It was always fascinating to me when they would sit and talk, occasionally laughing or sympathizing. It was a time of reminiscing old times and old friends.
When a certain person had done something crazy: “wahwāy, nanātohk māna ikī itahkamikiso” (Oh boy he used to do all kinds of things).
If there was a tragic story: “tāpwī māna nikī kitimakinawaw“(I would feel so sorry for her).
If nimosōm or nōhkom mentioned an old rival of my grandfather (actually a good friend of his), he would energize up a bit and say: “Ha, nikī mākwihāw māna kākī māsīhitowahk” (Boy did I ever give him a difficult time when we wrestled). At this time, my grandfather would look at me and gesture with his hands how he held them up before a wrestling match.
On Christmas day, my parents gave us gifts that we usually received every Christmas. At my grandfathers’ cabin, where I showed up every day before daylight, they were saying their Christmas greetings “mithomakōsīwikanisi” to each other and giving each other gifts they had at hand. They were not wrapped or neat, but it would be appreciated and accepted with a “tīniki” or “kinanāskomotin.”
Things were a bit more serious as giving was important and should be done, but not at the expense of surviving the long cold winter, by giving away your boots or mukluks (maskisina). The thankfulness shown seemed very genuine to me, it was an important lesson to learn. That afternoon, our auntie took us sliding “īsōskocowīyahk” on a very steep hill, it was a great time.
All that was different to me because my maternal grandparents in town, on the reserve, would do the whole Christmas thing. Great feasts and happy faces and gift giving that I loved very much as a child. The main language used was English with some Cree thrown in by my maternal grandparents. Those were happy, carefree memories that I cherish to this day.
Santa Clause was called wīsahkīcāhk and that is where I first heard the term. “wīsahkīcāhk kiwī kīyokākonow tipiskāki” (Santa Clause is going to come visit us tonight).
At the cabin when my paternal grandfather mentioned wīsahkīcāhk in his stories, I imagined Santa Clause as the main character. It was weird but funny when I think about it now. It was not until later that I found out about the Cree legend, possibly from Sesame Street, but I am not sure, it was so long ago.
The Christmas on the reserve was in stark contrast with the Christmas at the trapline but I am happy to have experienced both. I can only imagine now, how a Christmas would be for a modern family from the reserve today. No technology after the batteries have died, and even then, there would be no Internet access. The videos and audio files would be there but there would be little time enjoy such things when you need to go out and get your own food from the land. There is also getting your own water from the lake and getting your own wood and chopping it for firewood.
On the plus side, there is an abundance of trees in the forest you can take home to decorate, with whatever you can find. I know it doesn’t seem glamorous, but it needs to be done when you are out there. Relaxing in bed, is so much better after a long hard day, you won’t feel like climbing a tree to get a signal.
nimosōm – my grandfather
nōhkom – my grandmother
maskisina – footwear
īsōskocōwīyahk – we are sliding
tīniki – thank you
kinanāskomitin = I thank you/I am thankful for you/I am grateful for you (#CreeSimonSays).
To two or more people
mitho-makosīkīsikanisik – Have a good Christmas
To one person
mitho-makosīkīsikanisi – Have a good Christmas
iskocīsa – batteries
nīhithaw ātathōhkan – Cree Legend
makōsīwikanimistik – Christmas Tree
(I made up this descriptive word, if there is a proper way to say it, I would be happy to hear from you)
A big thank you goes out to Cynthia Cook, a former colleague of mine.I used to call her office, “The Lions Den” before I submitted a new webpage on the Gift of Language and Culture website – http://giftoflanguageandculture.ca/
I fondly remember growing up the trapline around this season when I was a boy. My grandfather went out one time, just before freeze- up (mikiskāw) and told me that he was going to go check out a couple of places that needed his attention. I wanted to go with him but I could tell from his body language that he didn’t want me coming along. I wanted to go so badly but I didn’t ask, he went off and was on his way using the old rickety canoe that we used on so many duck hunting outings.
That evening, I waited patiently at my parents cabin for his imminent return as I noticed the weather changing drastically. The temperature dropped very noticeably and we all knew there would be ice the next day. He did not come back the next day and I missed the evening Cree story telling I enjoyed in the early nightfall. I was getting worried about him as the camp felt empty to me, without him.
On the second day, the ice was already getting thick, as there was very little wind to break the newly formed ice. I went to the shore again to see if he was coming home. It must have been my third trip to the shore that day. It was nearing about 4:00 PM, or somewhere around there, when I saw a familiar speck across the lake where the ice must have been thinner.
As he came closer, I could tell he was starting to need to put more effort into his paddling. The ice near the shore was at least an inch thick but my grandfather, wanting to show the man he is, broke through at a snails pace to get to shore. I was so happy to have him back home, and with him, was a couple of ducks that didn’t make it down south.
That evening, I read out some Archie comics (in Cree) to him as he sat listening intently, to another Archie vs Reggie adventure.
I completed my final class project and I thought I would share the video I narrated with memories from when I was a little boy, I wrote it in the present tense. Travelling across the lake to our trapline with my father paddling us. It’s more a slide show than anything, along with text.
It is a counter-narrative in that it is an example of going out on the lake as an underprivileged family that does not have the riches to use a big boat or take huge supplies with only what we have.