Winter Journey and Cultural Awareness Week
In conjunction with the youth department, we do a 260-kilometre winter walk called Nashababichju, mostly on snowshoes and in all kinds of weather. “Every Cree should have a chance to walk in the bush following the footsteps of our ancestors,” said Clarence Tomatuk, one of the participants. “When you go on a walk like this and get out in the bush, you can learn practical things that you can't learn in the classroom.”1 Each night the participants - youth and adults - built a traditional dwelling to sleep in. And under the guidance of experienced local trappers, we made the shovels needed to clear the ice and snow, and learned how to eat well and take care of ourselves properly while out on the land in the winter.
The winter journey ends with a cultural awareness week. It includes a walking-on-snowshoes ceremony in which children who are walking on snowshoes for the first time walk out to meet the winter journey group.
National Aboriginal Day
“On Aboriginal Day, in June, we celebrate our aboriginal ancestry, and our cultural and traditional heritage. We focus our games on our traditional roots, and also have a feast. At the end of the day we do a bonfire for the kids, then close it off with stories around the fire,” said Derek Mark, the former cultural coordinator.
Gathering at Old Factory
“The week-long visit to Old Factory in July, where we came from prior to moving to Wemindji, is filled with games, music, dances, harvesting and smoking fish. There are activities for people of all ages. We also hold a remembrance service for the people who passed away there. Between 100 and 200 people participate in this annual event. Everyone from Wemindji comes, and people from Eastmain, too. They use the time to socialize and to catch up with old friends who have come from other communities to remember the old days,” said Derek Mark.
Canoe Brigade with Elders and Youth
In July, following the historic route traveled for generations by our ancestors, Wemindji youth paddle down the Old Factory River from the headwaters of Old Factory Lake to the mouth of the river on James Bay. With elders as guides, youth acquire summer survival skills and learn about their culture.
The music festival, which consists of tribute bands, and local and regional talent, takes place in July.
“Towards the end of August and the beginning of September, we hold a berry festival, which lasts for several days. Its purpose is to promote family activities. We hold different events like a berry-picking contest, a bake-off and our famous pie-eating contest. It is also a time for our elders to tell stories about the importance of berries and how they were used a long time ago,” said Derek Mark.
“Between mid-September and mid-October, we have a fall festival. It includes a big-bull night when people who have harvested bull moose, during the time allowed, display the racks. We also have a cook-off where people bring their best moose dish. We top off the night with a feast, potluck-style, and everyone gets to enjoy everyone else's cooking,” said Derek Mark.
Winter carnival is a week-long event filled with ice-fishing, snowmobile races, wood-cutting competitions and other activities.
Traditionally, bark baskets were used to store food, bear grease, dried fish.... Because they could preserve food for a long time in these containers, our ancestors sometimes even buried the baskets at their camps so they wouldn't have to carry them.
Under a program that provides research grants to study traditional aboriginal art forms, a group of women in Wemindji received a Canada Council grant to study basket making. As part of their research, they are working with some of the elders in the community who are showing them how the baskets were made. In addition, they went to Montreal for a workshop with two birchbark experts, and to the Museum of Civilization in Gatineau to document and photograph the collections there.2
Wemindji's 50th Anniversary Celebrations
We settled at Wemindji, located in the heart of our hunting grounds, in 1959, because conditions at Old Factory – insufficient wood and unsanitary water – had deteriorated. Also, as an elder explained, “The land was growing, making it difficult for supply boats to access the site.” Wemindji's 50th anniversary was acknowledged with a two-week celebration including a music festival, feasts, a re-enactment and a walking-out ceremony for fourteen children. A book was produced to commemorate the people and the place.
Cultural coordinator: Stacy Matches
Visit our website: Cree Nation of Wemindji