Cultural projects at Waswanipi reflect a strong relationship with the local Elders council, and Elders in general, who suggest projects and “detail them out.” The relationship is fostered through the cultural coordinator's office and the Elders' log cabin both being located at the culture village, by the bank of the river. “We work with other groups in the community as well,” said Diane Cooper, the cultural coordinator, “like the Head Start for Brighter Futures People and the youth council. Sometimes it's hard to attract young people, but they come when we work with the youth council.”
“Ancestors Day is at the beginning of June. The idea for it came from the Elders who wanted to pay their respects at the burial site across the river from the cultural village,” said Diane. Arrangements are made for boats for elders and families to cross the river. They clean and hang tobacco at the graves, and afterwards some families have a feast.
On June 10th the community celebrates the anniversary of “new” Waswanipi with activities geared to all age-groups: walking-out and first-kill ceremonies, traditional and modern games, and an outdoor dance and concert, as well as yard sales.
“Traditional wood-carving projects are very popular,” said Diane. “Everything in our culture was based on wood: the drum, paddles, snowshoes, shovels, rattles, the titknakin for babies.... Different trees were used for different things.” Twice a year (July and February), in order to pass on Cree knowledge about the forest and trees, and about wood-working techniques, Elders teach anyone who wants to learn traditional wood carving. Once they have decided what they will be making, they “go to the bush to see where you find the right trees. They are taught how to choose or select the specific tree for what they are making. After that they are taught how to cut the tree; then they take it from there. Carving. Painting. Girls and boys are involved, but the Elders often find the girls are more careful!” said Diane.
Chiiwetaau - Gathering at Old Waswanipi Post
During the last two weeks of July, the community gathers at Old Waswanipi Post “to celebrate and remember where we came from.” Chiiwetaau (“Going Home”) is the name of this gathering. And, according to Diane, “it’s getting bigger and bigger every year. We have to slash bush to make room for everyone now. I even get contacted by people in France about it! All the departments in Waswanipi are involved. It's a great success. ” The arrival of the annual canoe brigade is celebrated at the gathering. We encourage cultural exchanges with people from the neighbouring communities of Obidjewan, Waskaganish, Nemaska and Mistissini.This is when we have the wood carving project. We have a day camp for children, and there are walking-out ceremonies.
Canoe Brigade with Elders and Youth
The arrival of the canoe brigade is timed to coincide with the annual gathering at Old Waswanipi Post so the participants can be welcomed home by the people at the gathering. Youth - males and females - between the ages of 12 and 30 are the main participants. Each year the Elders determine the route, some years choosing the old fur brigade route between Waswanipi and Waskaganish, other years choosing the main routes the people took to other communities.
Traditionally the fall hunting season was opened with a feast. The Waswanipi fall feast and moose antler contest is held in October in conjunction with the local Cree Trappers Association. Men bring their moose from the hunt to the cultural village where they clean and prepare it.
Elders Wood-Cutting Project
“This program has been going on for a long time, maybe 20 years,” said Diane. Between September or October and March, depending on the availability of monies from the Elders’ fund and the cultural heritage fund, local wood-cutters provide Elders with firewood. The project was created “to employ young people and to encourage them to get to know and visit the Elders in their camps.”
Elders Christmas Supper
The Christmas Supper is held to recognize and honour the Elders and their contribution to the community. The activity includes supper, a visit and gifts from Santa, as well as “awards for Elders who have contributed to the many programs and projects in the community.”
Family Culture Week
Family culture week, during which elders teach parents the “traditions and morals of Cree culture as lived and believed long ago,” is in mid-March. Workshops are held about a number of subjects: family issues and wellness; child rearing and upbringing; traditional medicine; and sewing for ceremonies and hunting, including discussions about the meaning of certain colours.
Organized in conjunction with the youth council and chief’s office, the gun-shell program serves a dual purpose: “Usually just before Goose Break we have a feast. At the feast we invite the men and the hunters to line up to be given shells,” said Diane Cooper, the cultural coordinator. “A box of shells is given to each family for the spring goose hunt with the understanding that the families will provide the culture department with a goose or a duck. Some of the geese and ducks are given to the Elders, while others are saved for feasts. Its other purpose is to encourage young men who don’t have a father or an Elder with whom to hunt, by teaming them up with hunters who are interested in being “mentors, something along the lines of the Big Brother organization.”
Traditional Skills Workshops
- Net-making, smoking fish, moose-hide tanning
Child Rearing and Wellness Workshops
Exhibition for the Thirtieth Anniversary of Waswanipi
Cultural coordinator: Diane Cooper
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