For as long as I can remember, I had been making my own bows and arrows. On the rez in Hall Lake, I would use mīcosis – a small popular tree for bows and I would use the blue rope used for fish nets. The arrows would be made from popular trees and it would be heavy wood. When the bow and arrows dried up, they would be warped, which was fine for the bow, the arrows not so much. However, the bow would become too hard to pull and when I did pull as hard as I could, they would break.
I started using waskwāsak- small birch trees for the bows and they worked so much better. I started using cut-up 2X4s for the arrows, and they worked better because they were already dry and stayed straight. I must have been eight years old at the time.
My family would go to La Ronge for long visits and sometimes I would get bored. I had friends from school, but I usually spent time by myself. 101 reserve was our home community in La Ronge before we got a house in Hall Lake, so I was familiar with the area. There were many small birch trees to cut down and use.
I had an older cousin, Johnny Venne, who was one of the cooler athletic types. He seemed a bit obnoxious to me and seemed to bug our other cousins on purpose by teasing them and running away. One time, we were around several of our older cousins and they were smoking cigarettes and he would tell them, “You should be like me. Don’t smoke.”
I rarely hung with him because I was 3-4 years younger and he had many friends his own age, who were so much cooler than I was. One day, he came by nohkomonān owāskihikan – our grandmother’s house, to visit and he noticed I had a bow and some arrows.
He was checking it out and he was asking me who made it for me, and I told him that I made it for myself. I was giddy to get my cousin’s attention, here was my cool cuz conversing with me about something I do. So of course, I offered to show him how to make one.
We spend a good afternoon in the bush with knives we took from somewhere, I cannot remember, but anyway, we found some good size birch and scrounged up some rope. We made our bows and arrows and we had fun shooting at targets, not targets from the store, but old cans and beer bottles that were all over the rez.
Johnny, being as cool as he was, got bored of just shooting at random objects, he wanted some action. 101 reserve is beside Highway 2, and the road curves around the rez to get from the village of Air Ronge to the town of La Ronge. It was late evening in the summer, and many vehicles use the road. It is the only major highway linking the tri-community of LLRIB, La Ronge and Air Ronge. My cool cousin had a wild idea.
He suggested we go to the brush on the side of the road and shoot at the vehicles driving by. I remember thinking it was a bad idea that only bad kids did that sort of thing, but I wanted to stay in the good graces of my cuz who I looked up to. I hesitantly agreed against my better judgement and off we went.
Our first attempt at shooting vehicles, we did not even get to the roadside. Our uncle, who lived in a small cabin near the highway, saw what we were going to do, and he broke our bows in half. I felt so ashamed of myself and wondered if he would tell my parents what we were trying to do. So, Johnny figured we should try again the next day, and I nodded yes.
The brush was tall around the roadside so it would be difficult to be seen by the unsuspecting, innocent drivers. The first few shoots dropped on the pavement. We heard a couple of arrows thumping onto a car or two, but they kept driving. Then there was this big truck, it looked like a U-Haul moving truck. It was getting dark, so we were well hidden. Johnny took a shot, and we heard the arrow loud and clear when it fell on top of the truck. The truck stopped. We froze and looked at each-other for a split-second, and then we ran as fast as we could.
Me, being younger, chubby, and not as athletic, my cuz Johnny was way ahead of me. We ran across the main rez road and I saw him run behind the water well. I finally caught up to him and hid with him. Our hearts were pounding, and I was scared out of my mind, sweat running down my plumpness. While my cuz looked frightened at first, he seemed fine, I think he might have been enjoying the rush of getting away with something.
The next day, I went to the same place where we were shooting the vehicles and he had his posse with him. He had taught them how to make bows and arrows and they were shooting at the vehicles and running away. I did not join them this time. I went back to my usually routine of spending time with myself. My family eventually had to go back to Hall Lake.
Just a note on my cousin Johnny Venne, I told him that I would be writing this blog. I planned on just using “cuz” or “cousin,” but he gave me permission to use his name. Johnny is still athletic and still has abs. He is still the cool kid to me.
I remember I was about 10 years old that I was curious about smoking a cigarette. Many of my family had been smoking for as long as I could remember. My parents did not smoke cigarettes. My father did chew snuff, but I never saw him smoke.
Both nimosōmak smoked cigarettes and nōhkomak chewed snuff, their brand of chewing tobacco was Copenhagen. The snuff boxes were made of cardboard. I used to collect the snuff boxes and stack them together and I distinctly remember wanting to make a balancing scale with them and attempting to use them wheels to make a kind of wagon. I failed at the attempts, but it was fun imagining what I could do, and it kept me busy. We did not have game consoles at the time.
I was about twelve when I first started puffing on cigarettes. It was from peer pressure; I was convinced that it was cool to do so. I did that for a while, īpīhtwāhkāsowān – pretended to smoke, for a few months. Then on a cool crisp autumn day, I took a real drag. I got such a big head rush; I almost fell to my knees. I was so dizzy; I told my friends that I did not feel well and that I might have been getting sick. They looked at me blankly and just nodded. Something told me that they knew what had just happened to me.
From there, my tolerance increased and then I became addicted enough to pick and smoke stubs from the ground. I sometimes searched far and wide to get my next drag and so did my friends. I told myself it was a bad thing to smoke. One day I got an almost full pack, I threw the pack on the side of the road. Much later, I went back to get them, they were damp, but nothing a little heat could not fix.
I remember as a teen, my friends and I went to a restaurant and one of them pulled out a pack of smokes. They provided little aluminum ashtrays at the time and we all happily smoked our cigarettes like we were adults. The restaurant owners did not send us out, they must have been glad to have customers, as we were the only ones sitting around. We thought we were so cool (we must have looked stupid).
In my twenties, I smoked like a chimney whenever I was partying. They did not even have to be my smokes; I would bum one after the other if I could. Of course, after a while, the one with the smokes would start rationing the smokes and giving the rest of us bums, one smoke to share and not all the time. Sometimes he would smoke one halfway and give us the other half to share. Great times (not).
Many of my family had smoked or chewed tobacco when I was a kid. Today, some of them have quit. Tobacco is not as popular anymore, but there are many youngsters today smoking cigarettes like they could afford them.
I have a difficult time quitting. Correction, I have an easy time quitting, I just cannot seem to stay away from smoking. I must have quit seven times last year. Some spanning a day, and others for a week or two. One of these days, I need to put more effort into staying away from smoking. With all the restrictions these days on where you can smoke, you would think it would easy, but it is not.
I remember the many nights I would be outside my home in La Ronge and watching the night sky. My auntie and I were great friends that time and we would venture out to see if we would see UFOs and shooting stars.
I remember seeing my first satellite and thinking it was more than a star, it had to be a flying saucer. Of course, later, my other aunties had to kill it on me by telling me that what we saw were satellites. They were built by the rocket scientists who made the rockets for space travel. I remember not wanting to believe what they said.
In the trapline, when the night sky was clear, the stars would be very vibrant. It was like you could see every star with the naked eye. Shooting stars were few and far between but satellites would be cruising across the sky and I would wonder if they would collide with the stars (I was about 5-6 years old).
In Hall Lake, I saw a shooting star break into two pieces (it was August that time when the meteor shower would be active). I could never make a wish in time during a streaking star and I do not remember I wished for (maybe they came true).
Some of the static bright stars were more of a mystery because we did not know they were planets. As far as I was concerned, it could have been a stationed UFO hanging in the sky. Now I know the planets make their appearances during certain times of the year.
My cousin and I saw a long streaking comet near the Montreal River bridge in La Ronge. It streaked almost the whole length of the sky. It was awesome. It was in 1986, when Halley’s Comet was due to streak within view of the earth. We wondered if that was what we saw.
On July 1st of 2015, Canada Day, my wife was walking back to our apartment from town, when she saw three lights in the sky. They looked peculiar because the lights did not look or behave like stars or anything else, she had ever seen. She looked on at the lights as they seem to move on their own. She looked down to her shoes for a second and when she looked back up, the lights were gone.
At the time, I was skeptical of her story and her recollection of the lights behaving the way they did. It was not until recently that I watched a trailer of a documentary called “Close Encounters of the Fifth Kind,” that I noticed the lights were like the ones my wife described. I called her to the room, and she told me that the lights were very similar to what she saw. Incidentally, the video I showed her was recorded on June 21, 2015, ten-days before she saw the lights on July 1st.
I have done some online research on the lights for that year and there seems to be no real explanation. I wish I could see something like that. I really do not have the patience to stand outside and stare at the sky, maybe in the summertime I will (probably not).
kāpahkisīhk acāhkos – meteor
kīsik – sky
kōsōt acāhkos – comet
machi-pimithākan – bad flying device or object, UFO, flying saucer
It is a cold day today and I am glad I was provided with a teacherage to bring my family together. The girls have their rooms, and my wife does not have to deal young people coming in and out of our oldest daughters house.
It is 15 ᴼC, 23 with the windchill. My daughter and I were staying at the cabin while my wife and other daughter stayed at our oldest daughter’s house. Right now, I would be busy keeping the cabin warm for my daughter by making sure the fire was going. Having those thoughts reminds me of the struggles (my struggles) at the cabin we lived in at the trapline when I was a child.
The mornings were always cold, even if nimosōm put a fresh birch log in the stove to slowly burn through the night, it would be cold. There would be the odd time when the weather would be nice, but those days were few and far between. It was better than living in a tent, which we had done before the cabin was built, so it was good. A cabin beats an old canvas-tent anytime.
I was too young to make the fire at the time, but many times the fire would already be going by the time I got up. It was a nice surprise to wake up to. Nimosōm was already getting pretty old at the time but his pride would not stop him from being the man and taking care of what needed to be done. My father was the same way, when we moved into the house in Hall Lake, he made sure we always had firewood.
He would use his skidoo to get wood. Later as I got older, he would set up the wood in the bush and have me make the trips to haul the logs back to the house. Those were fun times because I got to use the snow machine. A few times I had to take my little brother because he was a King or something.
I am not sure what kind of chores my sisters did. I am not even sure if they did anything. I would ask, but I am sure they have some tall tales about how much work they did. Besides, I am sure they did not know what kind of chores I had to do, which included hauling water from the lake and chopping wood. I love my sisters of course, and I am sure they had much work to do, I just did not pay attention.
It is windy outside right now and maybe that is what is reminding me of the past. The crisp-cold air and icy wind would easily freeze the nose and earlobes. We always had plenty of knitted mitts and toques so we would be good and warm as long as we remembered to take them along. It would be easy to forget when it was not so cold and being excited to go sliding. It would not take long to realize we had to run and get the toques we needed and run right back to the hill for more fun sliding.
I remember my earlobes would freeze and later swell twice the thickness they were before and were quite tender. My mom would tell me I should have learned by then that I should remember the toque, at least I always remembered my mitts.
Today is November 11, 2020, Remembrance Day. A day to remember our veterans. Have a great day.
my grandfather – nimosōm
nimāmā (the way we say it here, northern sask)
nipāpā (the way we say it here, northern sask)
My younger sister and my younger brother (one term for both) – nisīmis
This is a video entry for the 2020 National Firefighting Competition. For more details, visit https://indigenousfiresafety.ca/2020-… Actors: Jr. Firefighters Jack Halkett and Orlen Halkett. Written and narrated by Deputy Fire Chief Leonard Halkett, Directed and edited by Clarence Morin
Common Cree words from the video entry:
otāstawīhikīw – fire fighter
otāstawīhikīwak – fire fighters
piminawasowikamikos – kitchen
kotawānāpisk – stove
sāsīskihkwān – frying pan
piminawasow – cook
mīciwin – food
pimiy – lard/oil (grease)
nākatāpahta kipiminawasowin – take care of your cooking/look after your cooking