Archie Smith, Chipewyan Elder, Fort Smith, NWT
A: Hello boys.
C: So I’m just going to put this microphone on you.
R: (to Archie) Microphone
C: Can I just put this microphone on you?
A: Are you going to put it on my ear or what?
R: Onto your shirt!
C: Clip it on your shirt.
A: Clip it on my nose! (laughter) What language we use? Just straight English or what?
R: You can use whatever you want. Cree?
A: I’m not Cree.
R: Oh nice! Wow!
A: But you guys don’t understand though you’ll think I’ll talk about you right in front of me.
K: That’s what we’re hoping to do is help revitalize interest in aboriginal languages. So, if we asked you a question … cause I don’t speak Chip. I don’t speak Cree really either.
A: You do I don’t. Only one word I know of in Cree is how to say excuse me after 43 years of (inaudible) Cree.
R: How do you say ‘excuse me’?
A: ‘Oops.’ (laughing) That’s quite a hard word after 43 years to learn.
K: I figure that’s the biggest lesson after marriage that you learn is. So, but yeah if we were to ask you questions in English and because you speak Chip, if you wanted to answer in Chip.
A: Don’t matter. English might be a bit better for everybody to understand me.
K: Well, we can work to translate it after if … in fact we might prefer it a little bit if you were to speak Chip.
A: I don’t feel comfortable when people don’t understand Chip. I feel comfortable with what language that they understand.
R: Uh huh …
A: Some words I could … be saying something different and people try to listen to it and “oh hey that’s what he said wrong, he shouldn’t be saying that.” (laugh)
K: Oh, everyone’s got their own different …
A: Well you know how people are just … an then I give them all the directions and you don’t expect them …
K: And everyone’s right.
A: Well, they’re right when they’re explaining what …
R: Archie where were you born?
A: A little settlement they call the Rocher River or Russie River by Great Slave Lake, just about 2 miles upstream from about Great Slave Lake. I was born there and raised.
R: What year were you born?
R: How many people lived there in that camp?
A: At that time, it was a trapper’s town eh? Just I’m sure 150 or 200 people maybe? Maybe, maybe I’m over doing it cause when we were kids we didn’t keep track of how many adults were in the population we only kept track of how many kids were playing around with us. That’s the only thing we were interested in, never mind when we see some family we know they’re there. Didn’t really pay attention how many could have been around there. I remember they are a trappers town anyways. They had two stores at one time, they had a Hudson Bay Company it was called, now it’s Northern Store but back then it was Hudson Bay Company then it was general store like Kaeser’s, the old couple running it. Ed Dumont and Rose Delmont. Fur trader, they were fur traders. People trapped there all winter from the fall. They would trap all winter till Christmas and then after, just a few days ago after Christmas then everybody, well some stayed in Russian River some used to go to Fort Resolution cause they’re all families Fort Resolution not that quite far apart. We usually go by dog team, no skidoos back then so we use, everybody used dog team. Sometimes you go by the lakeshore, or as later on they made that cross country cutoff maybe about 20-30 miles, that road instead of going around the Great Slave Lake. That’s how they used to live. And just before Christmas then or first freeze up we’d get a whole herd of caribou there. One day my dad used to stand right outside the door, the cabin there, we used to shoot caribous by water hole there on the river there. That’s how much caribous there was around there didn’t have to go very far. Whole bunch, the river used to be just packed with caribou and he’d just pick out what he’d need not slaughter a whole bunch … he’d take about three or four like that, that’s enough for a family and everyone else was doing the same … you don’t … and then when they do need more meat they go hunting a little bit, they go out a little bit out away so they have caribou meat all winter … they had lots of meat. It was good trappin’ then I imagine I was a little bit young later on I started trapping myself. I didn’t do it that well. Not like the other people, I think. Always trapping with my brother in law, Ray Beck his name was. We’d go up Taltson, Deskenatlata Lake all that we hit or you call Pontas (Found Fish) River used to be "Pontas" now they call it Rutledge River so I’m lost if I go there, they changed the name.
A: We used to travel by dog team follow that river all the way up. Where do you call the Rontas lake used to be Hontas lake before I don’t know when they changed it. I noticed after I got to Fort Smith here that they changed the name.
R: How long have you lived in Fort Smith?
A: Well to start off with I was working at Thompson Hydro dam. I put 18 months in there and I come to the fort on the long weekend 1964. You know it was still the long weekend here.
R: Wow. And do you still love Fort Smith after all these years.
A: Well yeah I seem to be comfortable here cause people are friendly I got used to it in here when you settle down in here …
(police scanner or radio)
R: Was that the police scanner?
A: My wife, look after this I don’t …
R: oh …
A: I know … I came here the long weekend in Fort Smith. Stayed here … I hardly went to school myself. I was brought up in Rocher River, hard little settlement I didn’t leave there till I was about 20 I imagine. Back and forth to Resolution and didn’t get to learn to talk (inaudible) till I was about 15 or 16 years of age. Come to work at Taltson Dam when I was about 22 and I started to work construction group, all different construction that’s where I pick up my language and also at the bar where you learn. There’s lots of different languages there. Some, for earlier I started using those languages I used in the bar but I realized it was a different language than what you’d want to use than the bar. (?) So I hardly used that false language they use around bars or parties.
R: That’s right. Didn’t George Kurszewski used to live in this house?
A: Well he was born and raised here
A: I didn’t see him till he was a young fellow after I got to Fort Smith. I know his mother and dad, well his mother is still alive but his dad’s gone, he’s got his brothers and sisters here.
R: Isn’t this their old house? The Kurszewskis?
A: Yeah it’s right across from the MacDougall Centre
R: Oh okay.
A: That’s right where I know. I think Kurszewski, George’s nephew stays there now.
R: But didn’t George used to live in this house with his dogs?
A: Not in this one.
A: I built this one myself.
R: Oh you built this one. Where did George live with his dog team?
A: Just two doors down.
R: Oh two doors down.
A: Yes, you can’t see but it’s behind this other building ….
A: See? Top of the building … the roof?
R: Yes! I used to deliver papers. Slave River Journal, Edmonton Journal and I was always afraid of his dogs cause I was afraid they were gunna bite me.
A: Yeah, no.
R: Yeah, they’re tough dogs!
A: Well, maybe they think you’re going there to feed ‘em.
(laughter; that’s funny actually lol)
R: Every Thursday this guy comes to feed us! He’s getting cheap he never does, let’s bite him.
A: Yeah that’s the only time the dogs usually bark when they’re hungry and somebody coming eh? Figure they’re gunna get fed. These racing dogs are not mean like ordinary pet dogs. Those are the more dangerous ones. But not this one I have here. But one I had before, quite dangerous had to get … put him down. (inaudible but 11:20 - 11:28 talks about reasons he had to have his dog put down) … Pretty dangerous, so I had to get rid of him. He was a good watchdog though, nobody would get out of their vehicle till I’m there, he was too dangerous.
K: So you brought up languages before and uh, how you’ve kind of shift between languages at different times. (sorry I’ll speak to you … *aside to Archie I think) … You brought up languages and how sometimes at different times of your life you’ve had to shift to a different language and learn different ways like when you were in your teenage years or in your twenties when you went to work in construction you learned English from the construction side of things. I’m curious. When you’re not thinking in English, when you’re thinking in Chipewyan, how er, uh does it affect how you view the world maybe? Uh, in English you might be thinking one way but if you were to perceive the world with the Chipewyan mentality, is it different?
A: Well not much cause I work with people that talk Chip and English as well, that’s much older than me. I wasn’t uh, I don’t know the meaning in English I ask them how to say, ask them how to pronounce a word that I want to know. That’s how I catch on, even when I’m working by myself, I repeat myself saying this word over and over and over till I pronounce it right. I think anyway. So from there on I learned how to talk in English So …
K: Why did you have to learn English?
A: This is mostly, wherever I work most people talk English. Just the odd people talk Chipewyan with me … just around town here a few people talk Chip but not very often they use their language, just the odd ones they get around they start talking Chip and the other people give us dirty looks and think we’re talking about them therefore it just kind of threw us off. Off our language, we feel kinda guilty when we talk our own language. We never talk about anybody, we just talk about things: what we done and what happened to us … something we did wrong or … that’s how we, and we start laughing sometimes with the jokes or what we done seems to be funny and then people give us dirty looks figurin’ we’re laughing at … cause they didn’t understand what we’re talking about. Therefore people talk and don’t understand English or anything I’d hate to … I don’t talk Chipewyan very often.
A: Just, just the older people.
K: No youth? You don’t know of any youth that speak? Any young people that speak Chipewyan?
A: Well, some do but they don’t want to talk it, it’s just a few words they don’t understand.
K: Why? Why don’t they want to talk it do you think?
A: I don’t know. Chipewyan is a hard language to learn. When you finish one sentence in English you start from there backwards seems like it. Backwards, our English is backwards I don’t know which is backwards.
A: It’s like, and you gotta twist your tongue around when you talk and you don’t pronounce your words right you’re completely saying something different. (laughing)
K: I heard you need a lot of spit when you speak Chip.
A: No but you need several on your tongue. So your tongue could coil around. (laughing)
K: Do you think it’s important for the younger generations to keep up with these languages and this culture from …
A: Yeah they should, they should cause … I try to talk to them in Chip they just all laugh at me … they said “you sound funny”. It’s not that I sound funny it’s just I’m trying to direct them back to where they came from, where their parents and everybody else come from. But the younger generation, they don’t see it that way. And after I got to the force (divorced? hard to tell) a lot of people talk in Chip back then. And some, most of them would talk in Cree around us we don’t understand them and then they’d be talking amongst themselves and then the rest of us we’d stand there and they’d look at us talking away and “what are you talking about us or, or maybe they’re saying something good about us, something bad maybe. We don’t seem to pay attention to so then we tell them “oh we’re not Cree we can’t understand Dené” they giggle and say “sorry” then they start to talk our language. ‘We figure you’d understand' that’s why they start talking, that’s the way a lot of people are.
R: What makes the Chipewyan different from other groups around here? What are the different beliefs that they carry that’s different from the Crees?
A: I think they all do just about equal things. Nothing much different just their languages they do a little bit different. They explain things a little bit different you know in Cree, I dunno, when they go trapping they do everything all equal, all the same as what Chipewyan people do so nothing much different of living, trapping or living off of land.
R: Like, did you ever encounter being on the land and there might be fish or medicines that a Cree would use that a Chipewyan would never use? Did you ever encounter that?
A: No not really. My grandfather used to use a lot of medicine but I never got into it you know he was gunna teach me but never have time, too busy playing, not interested in … so later on I said “I should have done that,” it was too late then. Grandfather was too old to do, get out there, he tried to explain to me but I couldn’t understand what kind of things to take. I don’t, You don’t want to poison anybody, myself or anybody, I never did try.
R: How long did you have a dog team for?
A: Till ’64
R: Mmm. And what’s the secret to raising a good dog team?
A: I don’t know it wasn’t a secret. Just that you give them good food and feed ‘em steady not half starve, then they go good. You talk to them just like you’re talking to your family and you understand well. When I used to have dogs, we used to have five or six dogs and … oh a straight harness! Not like side by side like horses now. That’s how they call racing dogs but then they have straight harness back then. So when I start hooking up my dogs I’d go from lead dog first. I. I guess what they do, is I train my dogs good I go along, I untie them they’re all running loose and when I get to the harness I call them by name they come there. I put them in harness they sit there and wait till, till I put the last one in then they’re ready to go. One time I had dogs that couldn’t wait … was that second year I think it was? I’d started trapping with my brother Ray (?) Ray still had young dogs. Ray was uh, had big dogs just when I put my last dog in they keep jumping I couldn’t, didn’t give me time to untie my toboggan there. I had to chop the line with my knife and take off. Go out like that. For the first few, I don’t know three or four miles we hardly slowed down first few (inaudible) … they didn’t want to stop, they kept going that’s how lively they are in there, a lot of caribous run too and sometimes they can go get on the lake whole bunch of caribous there, the dogs go crazy just grab your rifle and jump off and let em go. The first caribou you shoot and they all bunch up there and they’re all tangled they don’t go nowhere else after that. They don’t all fight at once like some say they do they just try to jump on that caribou that’s down (inaudible sorry R, really thick accent 21:07 mark) so then we shoot what we need and we come back and we straighten out our dogs. And then they all wait for us there. When you train your dogs well it’s good they listen to you. A few times when we’re going across to the bush there, what you call the portage, crossing to the lake. One time I got out close to the lake, I was checking my trap all of a sudden my dogs they took off on me. They left me behind I run to the lake I start whistling at them that lead dog heard me and made a big circle and come back, come back to me and then we started back out again where we were headin’. That’s how I guess I trained my dogs. I think a few people did the same as well, they would train their dogs like that. They’d look after you when you were travelling with dogs. You know where, you know where the traps are set, you be going, going and then you’re dead stopped … the trap’s right there. You gotta make sure there’s an animal caught in there, you take it out and you threw it in the toboggan right away and jump on that toboggan and just unleash and leave it behind until the next trap and do the same again.
R: What’s a good bait for lynx?
A: Lynx, well we make our own bait. We use lynx guts.
R: What do you use?
A: Lynx guts, yeah. Out of lynx, yeah you gotta catch lynx first.
R: Oh and you use guts? Their own guts?
R: And the lynx are drawn to the smell of the guts of other lynx?
A: Yeah well you take some parts or cuts, what you use.
R: Wow. Cause I was told rotten wash (?) is really good for lynx.
R: No? How about peanut butter and catnip?
A: It would be good for squirrels I guess. (laughing)
R: (laughing) Okay! Well what about uh Aqua Velva? They put Aqua Velva on the trap, the lynx they love it.
A: I don’t know some people they put it on their face so they don’t freeze their face.
R: Yes I bet. I bet.
A: We use that, that’s where you use cat nip.
A: Cat nips some … like this. This is a harpoon bow, smell like peppermint that’s what they use. We used to call it cat nip. Put a few drops in your bait, mix it. If you put too much that lynx will start rollin’ before you get to your trap. You gotta put it just so because get closer, can sense it before you’re getting to the trap. The first time I didn’t know, I put too much and could see where the link had been rolling around before the trap, before I got too close to the trap. I told my brother, I asked my brother in law “how come the link won’t go to my trap?” He said “let me smell your bait,” he did, smelled it. He said “oh you put too much cat nip.” I didn’t realize I put too much of it, just put a few little drops in there.
A: He had some made that wasn’t mixed yet. He gave me some of that I mixed it then it wasn’t as strong as it was. Then you start catching the odd link. ____ (?) is the best bait for all animals I think. (couldn’t catch the name, it’s driven me nuts).
R: Rotten conie.
A: Well, we used to hang them.
A: For our dogs as well in the winter time, in the fall and we all used to hang fish. White fish and conies. We used to take ‘em out, use them for bait and feed our dogs as well. We’d go through lotta good sized lakes as well for good fishing. And haul somewhere like Rotless (?) River it used to be called. Hontas is it, it doesn’t freeze.
A: Hey! Get over here!
A: That river don’t freeze, you had to hug your shore most of the time, just odd place there you can cross the river or … used to catch a lot of lynx. At that time lynx are … wasn’t quite that much in price. Top price, sixty dollars maybe?
A: Back then the lynx are only about twelve dollars, we never hardly trapped ‘em. Lynx are about the best. We used to go for link most of the time. Fox was only worth what … two dollars. Sometimes not even worth skinning it.
R: They’re saying this is the big year for wolverine, hey? Wolverine, there’s lots of them now.
A: There is yeah. Well, it used to be a few wolverine over there too but not all that many. Hard animals to catch. If you do catch them, wherever you can reach them they’re good to hunt. One time I caught a wolverine, had a couple of big traps on the paw. One in front and one in the back and I caught it. Small little trap double spring, number 3 I think it was? Trap. That’s how I caught it. He stayed, I don’t know how he stayed he couldn’t fight no more he had a trap on the front paw and the back where the front paw was caught in the trap that’s where in the trap he got caught. So I guess I was just lucky I guess it was like getting two excellent traps.
R: Wow. Wow, so he dragged those two traps from somebody else’s line?
A: Had to be. I don’t know, there’s trap lines all along, all around and I don’t know how far they go or the traps on the pond. I guess they had to be pretty hungry though … cause he can’t get any big trap on the pond … ( a bit hard to decipher I think the last part is right.)
R: I wanted to ask you, were you given any teachings on the northern lights? When you were a little kid? Did they ever tell you anything about the northern lights?
A: Not really but we used to monkey around with it.
R: Mmhmm, call them?
A: Yeah or we’d click our fingernails like that …
A: Whistle like that’s all that comes down to it. You could hear it, it’s just like a crumpling of a plastic bag or something (rustles bag heh neat). Sounds something like this … and it comes down close to you. When it gets closer, us kids we’d all run to the house and get scared (laughter) and the old people would tell us “one of these nights they’re gunna take you away!” So we’d stay in the house for the rest of the evening. Till the next day we’d forget again, try again.
R: Were you ever given any teachings about animals warning you about someone getting ready to pass away?
A: Not really
R: No? Like you remember Irene Sanderson, hey? Like one day she was getting ready to play Bingo and a raven came outside of her window and started to talk and that was her Dad coming to say good-bye … her Dad had passed away. But that’s how her family said goodbye was a raven would always come outside her window.
A: The ravens oh yeah I understand too. The ravens they squawk after dark and they bring you bad news. Even the squirrel if you hear a squirrel chattering after dark it means something is not right. That’s the only two (inaudible) I know of. The raven and the squirrel. And the other one uh, not sure ‘bout the only thing I know about that.
K: So what we’re doing with the book and the movie that we’re creating is we’re hoping to share a lot of the stories and their traditional teachings and we’re hoping to pass down a lot of these learnings. And so, what Richard had asked too, in our last interview was maybe if there was some traditional indigenous teachings that you had that had been taught growing up, if there was anything that you would like to share so that the people watching or reading would be able to maybe listen and live by some suggestions?
A: Well in the springtime after open water I do lots of culture of salt river like I do dry fish cutting where you get meat. I show the students how to cut dry meat and plus beaver hunting or uh, muskrats, ducks, whatever you can get in spring. I show them how to prepare it. How to cook it, what you do with the ducks, you make duck soup. Or the beavers, you just boil it or roast it whole over a fire. I never heard about anybody making a beaver soup. (laughing) That’s how you make a muskrat soup you just either boil it or roast it lever a fire or inside a little stove, cook stove if you have. But back then, there was no cook stoves out on the land. They used to have this drum well they used to call it they put it on the stove pipe it’s sort of like a ten gallon barrel hooked onto a stove pipe. Set it up there hooked on a little door that’s called a drum oven as they used to call it.
R: Pretty smart.
A: Yeah we used to cook our bannock in there, our roast meat whatever you want that’s the way we used to cook our bannock on the road, otherwise you had to cook it on the stove or else open fire when you were out on spring hunting you don’t carry a stove. You make fire out on the rocks or so, then you cook your bannock on open fire. For your meat first you get set a frying pan on the coals but not flaming just hot coals you put your frying pan on, then the bottom of your bannock is cooked then you stand it up on the sides then the heat from the fire cooks them from the outside. That’s how we used to cook our bannock. I hardly see anybody do that now. Springtime I get a bunch of students, clubs of students at camp and I try to teach them how to do it. Some would say “oh you get some ashes in there” … little bit of ash won’t hurt. (laughing) Anyways, when I’m not there they put it on top of the grill, like on top of the stove that’s how they make their bannock not from standing up from the heat of the camp fire. The Kinnet (? wow I just butchered something maybe the word for bannock?) looks just like it’s baked in an oven when you do that.
R: Do you remember Dave King?
A: Yeah I used to go with him down the Salt River when I first came to Smith
R: Yeah, what a great cook hey? He was a good bush cook …
R: Out at Tsu Lake?
A: Yeah that time I come to Smith he was down there well, he was in and out of there had steady work. His brother had a cabin there (inaudible) his cabin’s still up there. You know where that Walter, Walter house? Next building, that old building? That’s Dave King’s old brother. Suze they call him, Suze King’s old building that’s where he used to stay. Just about year round I think we get to go down there in springtime and see them. Well in the spring time there’s people all along the Salt River in little camps here and there cutting dry fish and we used to go around helping them. Like getting fire wood for them, pull their fish out of the net, hack fish up for them. Then there used to be a little water hole back quite a few, oh a mile back and it was muskeg water. That’s where we used to haul drinking water for them. We used to go all along from camp to camp and after I’d do all my chores I’d get a big pay though. One bowl of soup and a piece of bannock and tea (laughing) that was my pay! I didn’t ask for any pay but that’s how they … watch how they cut dry fish and everything. They didn’t have no table to work on, they all had a little cardboard box they had on the ground and the old ladies would be sitting down just cuttin’ away. When it’s time to hang it over a rock on over the fire they just spring right up and hang up … their legs were never crumpled up or nothing. I tried that later, I tried sitting on the ground and cuttin’ oh I have a hard time to get up. (laughing) Oh finally I rigged myself up a table to work on that way I don’t have to sit on the ground to work. Well the old people used to watch just sitting on the ground they’re much healthier than I am I guess.
R: Do you ever harvest rat root?
A: My sister did yeah.
R: What about bear root? No?
A: No. And I never tried like that. There’s two different types of rat root one’s poison and one's a regular one. So I don’t know which is which so I don’t want to bother. You know if I need rat root I go see my sister and give me some from russia or up where they collect rat root or that’s where they used to collect. Around here I don’t know where they find any but people find some here too. I don’t know what area they go to but I’ll never do that. That kind. Only medicine I know is root gum (?) when you get cut or something I take this sticky one. Real pine use you put it on your finger or wherever you get cut, put it on the wound and wrap it up. Leave it like that for a few days and … about three or four days finally could feel it floatin’ or floppin’ around you take that out and just see a little scar that’s it. It doesn’t get infected either, draws all that poison out that’s the only medicine I know. We used to get this hard Swiss gum kinda pinkish colour we used to chew that, cure a throat and everything. That was our bubblegum, sorry bubblegum I guess that’s the last time I ever chewed gum when I was younger never bothered chewing gum after.
R: Archie, did you ever see a UFO?
A: Never did.
R: Did you speak to people who have seen UFOs?
A: Yeah the ones that have smoked their tobacco, I guess.
R: You’ve never spoken to anybody who’s seen a UFO?
A: Don’t know some people have tried to explain things. They’ve seen some they’ve said.
A: I never did see it
A: One time I did stay in Salt River above my cabin there. I think people down the road from me. every night they see odd object, UFO. I don’t know what they say. People ask me what I see if I seen any light like that. Only thing I ever see is the northern lights but nothing else.
R: Mmhmm. Have you ever seen the little people?
A: Never did see anything.
R: No? But you did hear lots of stories about them?
A: Lots of them but I think they’re just faerie tales.
A: That’s what I think. And people go for little joy rides here see cougar down the highway. My wife and I we go all directions every day when she’s not working and if she’s working then I’m on my own on the highway. Never see a cougar or nothing.
A: No never did run across anything. I see a lot of bears, odd little scrubby fox. But I never did see a cougar or anything. So that’s what I don’t believe is people see cougar. People say “just go for a ride down on this bypass here, by Eldon’s road there? Somebody run into a cougar there. I said, “I go there every half hour my wife and I every noon.” You won’t see it. And they’ll drive around till they burn a whole tank of gas and a (inaudible) sometimes every season we rescue some people, some people be laying on the sidewalk and get the RCMP to check them out and they’re okay they’re just passin’ out. Seen somebody stuck in a snow bank one time on a ski doo trail we rescued that person. His boots were full of snow he got drunk, couldn’t get up so we had to haul him over to (inaudible 41:21) we did somebody good there that night. So that’s why we most of the time just to drive around just to see if anybody needs any help like that.
K: I think a lot of this, a lot of what we’re doing has to do with sharing stories of different ways of living off the land. I was wondering if you had a story that really, really rings with you that you think other people might be able to learn from. Um if you might want to share that story with us so we could …
A: Well, like culture work would be good. Like I said when I first come to Smith everybody had camped down Salt River and each spring I’m the only one that do most of the dry fish making and sometimes the students come and I try to share with them so I’ll teach them how it’s done. To cut fish or whatever it is to beavers or whatever we get there. Share with them every spring. And show them how to cook on a open fire not like cooking on the range like this. So, a lot of different ways of cookin’. That’s what they should be, should be continuing doing. Some students are interested in doing that work some don’t seems like they’re not interested but when I first come to Smith everybody did that, did just for their own use. but now just teaching to keep their culture going so I’d like to see more people get on the land and do things like that. There is hardly anybody setting up now. Set a net and everybody come asking for fish off me and I say “help yourself in the net are you scared to go in the boat or no?” I enjoy living on the land it’s the best life, you got no boss. The only boss there is is yourself. If you don’t get anything done there’s nothing done therefore you have to do everything. You’ll be busy all day struggling, struggling, night comes you did what you done and your’e busy all day and you don’t see nothing done but it’s a good life.
K: So why do you think it is that uh, like you said the younger people or people these days they kind of don’t uphold that tradition of living off the land um, why do you think it is that that is happening. That there’s that disconnect?
A: Well, they’re having too much of an easy time now. They can’t get away from tv and they gotta have that remote sitting there, play games and if they’re hungry the welfare will give them something to eat. Besides that if they could live off the land I dunno. Sometimes I used to take some people out on the land two days or the most they stayed they had to get to town. They had a welfare appointment or something. They had to get back to town with some excuse, a couple of arm lengths of excuse to get to town so … I don’t know. I’d rather be in the bush than be in the town. People say there’s dangers out in the bush, I think it’s more dangerous in town than out in the land. I feel safe when I’m out there.
K: So with the land as your teacher right? Cause you almost learn about yourself living on the land, I’m wonder what do you’ve learned on the land that you wouldn’t have learned in town?
A: Well, like surviving in town an getting different kind of food. All that instead of going to Kaeser’s or Northern Store to get some meat or canned meat. You use wild meat, you can eat chickens, ducks you use things like that. Rabbit, rats and beavers. I know there’s a lot of students that come out and I cook a pot of beaver meat or something “I wouldn’t eat that!” Cause they never did try it. I ask them “did you try it?” “I don’t like it!” “why you tried some?” and said “no” “well how you know if you don’t like it if you didn’t try it” so keep trying until I notice they start eating it when I’m not watching they start to spit it out. I know but I don’t say nothing and just tell them “if you want to live off the land you have to eat all this kind of food from the land otherwise you’ll starve.” And I tell them if you run out of meat you can’t run to the northern or Kaeser’s store to get chunk of meat. You have to hunt for yourself. Hunt rabbits or chickens whatever, ducks; well chickens are a lot easier birds to get not like ducks. Ducks are kind of wild anytime you get ducks it’s springtime. But chickens are all over the place and fish is the easiest thing to catch too. Fish you just string your net out or if you have a hook, just toss your line to out there and you catch a fish anytime. You gotta know how to prepare it that’s what I tell them. Like moose are the hardest thing you have to hunt for … buffalo they’re not gunna be waiting for you there. So fish is the easiest thing for you to get so fish is good for you. “I don’t like fish!” They say some kids. I tell them “fish is a brain food” Some kids you couldn't make a point to them to eat fish I keep telling them a little fairytale. I tell them when I was born I had no brains till I started eating fish and then I got brains.
A: They all look at one another and then whispering and finally you could see some trying to eat fish now. (laughing) Then you hear “oh too much bones!” and then you tell them “bones are alright everything have bones” you just gotta be careful and when you eat fish, like my grandpa always told me, when you eat fish you think about otter when you swallow that bone you think about otter … bone dissolve, seems like it.
R: Wow I’ve never heard that before.
A: Yeah that’s what grandfather was telling me so I keep telling that to the kids and some white kids. I don't know if it’ll work for white kids or orange or other kids but I keep telling them it seems to work for me sometimes when I eat fish I accidentally swallow a little bone, feel it down my throat then I think about otter then I eat bannock or something, bread, something dry and somewhere the bones dissolves. I don’t if that bannock takes it away or just that otter idea (laughing). But I tell them eat, otters live on fish all their lives they eat fish and bones they don't get choked. That’s what my grandfather told me.
A: Yeah. Try that one day.
R: Okay I will. I’ll teach that to my son
A: Don’t eat bones on purpose though. By accident then you’ll probably swallow a bone but the collars those are the ‘y’ bones, little fine bones that’s one that gets stuck in your throat.
R: Thigh bones?
A: Y bones
R: Y bones oh ‘y’ …
A: You know the one goes like this? They are straight like a ‘y’ bone is what they call them. That’s all along the backbone that part. You come down to my cabin in springtime I’ll show you how to filet them and dry fish and everything.
R: When can we come? April?
A: In May after open water. First part in May okay?
R: Okay, we'll come to your camp.
A: The camp’s down there you know where the old gas bar used to be?
A: Well you know where Danny MacDonald had camp?
R: What about Maria Brown is that where Maria Brown’s cabin is?
A: No no this highway
R: Oh okay
A: Remember where Danny Macdonald had a house? That same location.
R: Oh okay!
A: Danny and ___ ’s house I got that lot. So I built my own cabin. It’s easy to find you follow that old road there’s two roads there but if you follow the new road right where that new gas bar is there’s a road branching off to the left on the way down. And you head down that road there my camp’s across it. I’m the only person with a roadside mailbox so you can’t miss it. (awe heehee I love his story)
R: Oh! Okay May we’ll go … May!
A: May around … people usually go around 8th of May to the 20th around there. I guess. So if you come into my camp I have a big tipi standing there. Got a smokehouse and there’s a sign there where my niece carved out the Beavers, Beaver’s hideaway with our name on there (is this the name of the camp? Might have heard wrong sorry 21:00) and on our mailbox I put Smith and Smith. Easy to find, but people go on the other road they can’t find my camp. I accidently run into it now, it’s closer to the river that’s why. Well there’s two roads side by side you know, right where the gas bar used to be you just go past that you know towards the river that’s where my camp will be. I have a long driveway though from here. Far from here to the fence across it it’s far from off the road (?) it’s quite a drive … drive way there.
R: Do you like the Bible in the Moose? (Uh, I’m not sure i heard this right either 20:00)
A: Yeah I like everything under it I take. That’s what they call guts, some people call it inside. That’s when they kill a moose or caribou only thing that’s left is stomach. That’s all that’s left I take everything else.
R: Wow, who taught you to be such a great hunter?
A: I learned by myself but to start off with till I started going with my, getting out trappin’ with my brother in law Ray Beck. He been trapping since he was a kid. I guess a lot older than I was
A: He taught a lot of things to the white man right? Where he lived, just like those natives there. And they didn’t like store meat or anything they’d get meat from the land that’s all they ever live on. There was no turkey on with the kids. Christmastime my mother used to cook a caribou head or a moose head and all the good parts of the moose or caribou that was sour Christmas dinner. Just lately I start seeing turkey. First time when I was a kid I forgot that old store manager he brought in some turkey. My Dad got one, cook it. We didn’t like the taste of it, it was too dry. Not like wild meat, moist, juicy like. But this turkey was too dry, we didn’t go for it. We didn’t like it that much but we still ate, we ate some other wild meat at the same time. It’s the first time I’ve seen turkey, was I don’t know how old I was 12 years old maybe.
R: When you had dogs, are there any poisons around that dogs had to be careful of? Any sleigh dogs?
A: No never noticed any poison.
R: No? Like mushrooms that could make them sick or anything?
A: They don’t eat that kind. The only thing they eat is fish, fish or meat. They don’t eat no other kind.
R: I had heard there’s a medicine for dogs and that’s sulfur. if a dog’s ever sick you put sulfur on the inside of their mouth.
A: I don’t know I never heard that.
A: Our dogs were never sick they were healthy and ate off the land. And their skin used to be just, their hair used to just be shiny. Just like it was spruced up and always healthy. Sometimes we, not too often we’d feed caribou meat to the dogs mostly bones like back bones, neck bones they hardly any problem. But any kind of meat we hardly fed to our dogs. Mostly fish cause we’d get a lot of fish in Taltson River. People used to hang fish off until the the fall, they had fish stages down by the … (Kyle offers tea, nice ;) ) People have fish hangin’ all along the shore and somebody else run short of dog food, they’d ask their neighbour or whoever ‘got fish’ and you get a couple sticks of fish for the dogs. Sure was no problem, nobody stealing anything then. It’s all ___ out there by the river people ask before they take it. Nobody ever steals anything just “go ahead and take it” only then they’d go and tell them which stage your fish was hanging on. Nobody thought about stealing anything. You going down the trap line, you see an animal caught in someone else’s trap you either hang it for them or if you know who’s trap line it is you carry that fur between the trails, you meet ‘em again you give it back “just pick up this fur from a certain trap”. That way people got along good. But nowadays you go someplace people borrow it and they don’t tell you who borrowed. So it’s hard to … (small laugh)
R: So question for uh, what do you like to use when you’re drying meat?
A: Poplar is the best.
R: Rotting Poplar?
A: Half green and then they smolder.
R: Oh I didn’t know that.
A: Well when you, you wanna make a fast fire you use willows. But willows they spark too much. Sparks would be flying all over if you use that for drying meat or your clothes would be catching fire and you don’t want that to be happening. You use poplar and they just smolder and they don’t flame up either. Just enough to make smudge.
R: Wow. And when you make your bannock how do you like your bannock fried or baked?
A: Well both ways.
A: Well, that time you have to be careful what you use. You can’t use too much lard because you’re out on the land. You run out of lard you have no lard to make bannock with. Just use enough lard to mix bannock and sometimes you fry meat with your lard but you don’t want use too much. Once you start cooking you add a little bit of water just, you always try to save. But when you’re out in my culture camp there like that we use a lot of fried bannock. You have a good run to town, in town we can get lard or order a grease or whatever we need so, not bad. But if you hafta get out of land someplace out in the way to get in you take you two or three days strongly before you get to town with dogs so then you have to save whatever you could. And make sure you have matches and a dry spot that’s the main thing.
Look after your axe. Your axe is the main tool when you’re out there. You break a axe handle and you have no way of chopping there until you start to make an axe handle and it’ll take a little while. But now when I travel I carry a extra axe all the time. Sometimes I take somebody with me and if they aren’t a little careful they come back with a broken axe handle. So you gotta watch all that. Be careful how you swing that axe. Sometimes you hit your frozen log and comes down it’ll get your foot. Foot get in the way and you damage your feet you won’t be able to do much. You gotta be careful with all that you do. When you do carry a gun you don’t carry a loaded one not even in a magazine er, not one in the chamber. I used to put em in the magazine then when I come to a camp I take my rifle out I check see if there’s no shell in the barrel then you’d put it on the side. Well that’s what you gotta be careful on rifle or gun, any kind of gun. You never point to anybody, never point your gun to a dog or anything. Yes, make sure. You point your gun away from people and if you want to check your gun you point it up in the air and check. Sometimes you have a lever, some bolt action, some have pump but you gotta be careful. Like a shotgun 12 gauge shotgun before you fire a shot you make sure you put a stick or something a rod if you have. I used to use a willow put it in the barrel. One time one guy didn’t do that there was a dead mouse in there in the barrel and just about shot himself so that’s why I’m always careful with firearms. And you don’t start shooting targets for nothing and you make sure every shot counts. At one time I used to be a good shot but now there’s lots of vibration I can’t shoot very straight. Sometimes it takes me what two or three shots before I get what I want but before every shot used to count.
K: So what’s the biggest lesson that you think younger people need to learn that you feel you have to share? Or what piece of information do you have that you think is the most valuable for people to hear?
A: Well to get out on the land you gotta know what you need. You gotta have a good sleeping bag, good footwear and good axe, knife, knives, guns … then you gotta go for, you gotta tell someone where you’re going, where you wanna go. Which direction you’re going, how long you’re gunna be, are you going by yourself or two people? But they have skidoos nowadays so most of the time they go with the machine. Some people they break down on the land and you have to walk back. In certain times when it was time for you, time you were supposed to be home you’re not there so somebody will go looking for you. If you don’t tell no one where you’re going nobody knows where you are then they don’t know when you’ll be back. So that’s what you should learn first to tell your friend or family what direction you’re going, how long you’re going to be and certain day you’re coming back. If they’re not back on certain day somebody go check them out.
K: When you went with your dogsled team that was uh, you used to go for months at a time.
A: Well yeah with dogs you … well dogs they don’t get lost not like ski doo. Ski doos don’t swim either but dogs does. So if you go through ice, long as your lead dog, lead dog and second and third they’re on the ice they pull the rest of the team out till they pull you out as well. So that’s they only thing that they know. When you’re getting on that lake they know when there’s not much ice on the lake. The dogs will hesitate to go even though they’re taking your orders. You’d call them one way they don’t wanna go that means there’s something not right so they just go where the dog will go and then you check your ice and then most of the time there’s hardly any ice. That’s where the dogs are coming in good. But ski doo you don’t see the ice looks like it’s solid you go in there all of a sudden you’re in the drink there. Before in the early fall like that people would get out their ski doo some people they “oh it’s good the ice it froze early.” They go out there and just … *whomp. Before they get out on the ice they should go out there to check how much ice there is first before they get onto the ice. And the axe which you use you hit the ice with one swing and if the axe go through the ice there that means it’s still not safe for you to go on and if you give it a good whack and the axe don’t go through the ice then it’s okay with about two inches of ice. With ice you gotta be careful. When you go on the lake, the narrows there, a dangerous spot little current there always weak ice or around the point where you always gotta be careful, worst place to go. Go down later on in wintertime that’s when the ice buildup is okay but always be careful in the narrows. Might be good one day you go, next time you come back might be wide open again. So that’s where people might be mistaken. When you’re chasing caribous, caribous only go in on maybe an inch of ice, they won’t fall through I don’t know why. This one time my brother in law and I, by our main camp, there were a bunch of caribou on the lake there, we shot a couple there. We went all there and we start to see uh water was coming over the ice we drug that caribou back we check the ice, only a little bit of ice on the lake there.
K: The whole herd of caribou?
A: Yeah a few caribou running around we caught a couple out of it. Then when we got there the ice was cracking a little bit so we got one caribou and we drug it, then the caribou go through the ice at least caribou was floating like our life jacket that’s what I figured so we managed to make it to the shore then we went back out to see how much ice. There was only a little bit of ice where the caribous were, they didn’t go through or nothing they just running around there like solid ice. Gotta be very careful when you’re hunting caribou. People think ‘oh caribou gone over there there’ll be a lot of ice’ that’s not the point. Caribou’s I dunno, I don’t know why they don’t go through ice not very often anyway.
R: Maybe just the way their hooves are.
A: Probably or just separate, maybe they spread out. Maybe I dunno how they, hard to say.
R: Wow, well I was wondering if I could take your picture? Is that okay?
A: I guess it’ll be alright
R: Yeah? I’m wondering really quickly if I could take your picture outside because I have a really nice camera but it only works when there’s a light behind somebody and I’ll be really quick.
A: Mmhmm yeah?
R: Yeah … does that sound okay? I’d really love to take your picture today.
R: So do you think your wife is gunna win money today?
A: I don’t, well it’s hard to say.
R: Mmmhmm were her palms burning? Were her palms itching? You heard about that eh? When somebody’s palms are really itchy it means they’re gunna win money.
Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)