Situated at the bottom of Hudson Bay, Whapmagoostui – meaning, Place of the White Whale - is the most northern Cree community. Our population is about 850.1 Our ancestors were caribou hunters. Caribou nourished us spiritually and physically. Its meat fed us; its hide was used for clothing, dwelling covers and footwear; its bone for tools. We followed the herds for most of the year, then gathered at Whapmagoostui 2 during the summer to harvest whale, trade and socialize.
Over the years the two biggest issues affecting our people were the collapse of the caribou herds at the end of the 1800s and beginning of the 1900s, and, most recently, hydroelectric development. The decline in caribou, our most important resource, had a devastating effect on our people. According to the late Noah Mamianskum, “They had been swept way.”
The caribou herds had started to recover when Quebec announced plans for hydroelectric projects in James Bay. Amongst the rivers slated for development were the Great Whale and Little Whale rivers, two of the main “highways” to our hunting lands. Ninety per cent of their water was to be diverted, reducing them to a trickle. We fought the Great Whale power project and won.
The late Matthew George told stories about other battles our people have fought. Some, like the skirmishes with the kaachiimaahiichaasiuch (singular: kaachiimaahiichaasiu), took place hundreds of years ago. From the Moose and Albany rivers region, the kaachiimaahiichaasiuch went north after the spring goose hunt to hunt and scalp Inuit.3 If they couldn't find any Inuit, some turned their murderous intentions on our ancestors.
The first story below is about an attack by the kaachiimaahiichaasiuch on a group of Inuit. The violence perpetrated by the kaachiimaahiichaasiuch explains why people up and down the coast lived in utter terror of them. The second story is about how the Iiyiyuu resisted a kaachiimaahiichaasiuch attack.
Saakukinaapu Attacks the Inuit
There was a group of kaachiimaahiichaasiuch headed by the kaachiimaahiichaasiu called Saakukinaapu. Saakukinaapu wanted to protect the Iiyiyuu. When canoes of kaachiimaahiichaasiuch travelled in our part of the country, they would try and kill the Iiyiyuu also. Sometimes Saakukinaapu travelled with the kaachiimaahiichaasiuch just to watch them, not to do anything to the Iiyiyuu. He travelled in his own canoe with his group. They were all travelling up north. He was living with only his son-in-law, Ipihshiish....
Soon they came upon a camp of Inuit. There were many Inuit in this camp. They sat through the night to attack at dawn. There was an inlet that went way inland where the camp was situated. Overlooking the camp was a rock hill. Saakukinaapu told his daughter to stay at this hill. He left her with the two guns and the ammunition. He left the ammunition already open so it would be easier for her to reload the guns. He readied the two guns by putting ammunition in them. Although she was hidden from it, she had a view of the whole Inuit camp.
He said to her, “Shoot the Inuit when you see them trying to escape.” Just before sunrise, Saakukinaapu said to Ipihshiish, “Let’s go!” They ran down the hill. When they got within full view of the Inuit camp, they could see many dwellings, close together. When he saw the dwellings, Ipihshiish said, “There sure are a lot of Iischiimaau [Inuit]!”
The next part of the story is Saakukinaapu speaking:
“I ran towards the Inuit village with my war cries. The Inuit poured out of their dwellings. The whole area was swarming with Inuit. We fought the Inuit, just the two of us. While I was doing battle with the Inuit, I thought I heard something. We had already killed many Inuit. I heard my little daughter screaming. ‘I’m going to check on my daughter,’ I said to Ipihshiish. ‘I hear her screaming. I will kill the Iischiimaau who is doing this to my daughter.’
“I ran up the hill and found my daughter flapping her arms like wings. ‘What's wrong?’ I asked her. She said, ‘Nothing. I was worried the Iischiimaau had killed you.’
“’Stay here and look out for the Inuit. Shoot them if you see them running away,’ I said, and went back to the battle. Once in a while I heard my daughter shooting. Ipihshiish was still on his feet. We were only using swords to fight the Inuit. After awhile there were no Inuit to fight. The Inuit blood ran like rivulets down to the bay. Suddenly, I felt faint. I was going to faint. I went to the blood that was streaming down to the bay and drank two handfuls. [Matthew George, the storyteller, comments: “He was going crazy with the ghosts of the Inuit he had just killed.”] After I drank, I started to gain full consciousness.
“‘Let's stop looking for Inuit now,’ I said to Ipihshiish. ‘It’s time to go home.’”
Saakukinaapu had been travelling with his mother but had left her before they entered Inuit territory. He took one dead Inuit boy with him, placing the stiff body of the boy standing up at the bow of his canoe. He reached the camp where he had left his mother. When they arrived, his mother said something to him he didn't like. “What do you mean?” he said to her. “I did kill the Inuit.” Then she saw the body of the Inuk boy standing at the bow of the canoe. Picking up the body, she took it into her dwelling where she started cutting it up.
Storyteller: Matthew George
Iiyiyuu Resist Attack by the Kaachiimaahiichaasiuch
One time two canoes of kaachiimaahiichaasiuch were heading north to look for Inuit to do battle with. They paddled by here. There were eight in each canoe, as usual. They were quoted as saying, “The Waapimaakustuuwiiyiyiu [Great Whale River Iiyiyuu] should be wary of us on our return from the north. We're going to give them something on our way home.” “Woe is us,” the Iiyiyuu said, when they heard the threat. “They're bound to do something terrible.”
Amongst the Iiyiyuu were two old men. In those days, the Iiyiyuu used to camp across the river, near the mouth of the river on top of the bank where there are now many trees. There were no trees at that time. No one lived on this side of the river before the post was built here. They were camped near the stream on top of the riverbank. One day the wind was coming from the west when kaachiimaahiichaasiuch were spotted coming around the point to the north. Their sails were all black. They did this when they wanted to do battle. The old men were sitting at the edge of riverbank. One of them said, “I guess they really want to fight us.” The kaachiimaahiichaasiuch continued around the sandy point at the mouth of the river and landed their canoes.
The lead kaachiimaahiichaasiu from one canoe jumped onto the shore. His canoe was ahead of the other. The kaachiimaahiichaasiu started running towards the riverbank where the camp was. The two kaachiimaahiichaasiuch leaders started running towards the Iiyiyuu. The others followed. The two Iiyiyuu elders were called Pichiskich. The two Pichiskich ran together towards the enemy. One slid down the riverbank. The other followed. They had no weapons with them. When they were on the shoreline, they started running towards the oncoming kaachiimaahiichaasiuch. The old men couldn't run very fast across the soft sand on the shore. The kaachiimaahiichaasiu soon reached the old men. The kaachiimaahiichaasiu who had had the head start reached the old men first. He thought he would just kick one of the old men aside. The kaachiimaahiichaasiu lifted off the ground to kick the old man full force on the chest. The old man stepped aside, hitting the kaachiimaahiichaasiu right on the chest. He landed far back, whipping sand up in the air as he landed. The other old man ran ahead of the first. The second kaachiimaahiichaasiu leader, complaining about how weak his friend was, thought he could do the same thing. He was kicked on the chest by the second old man.
The two kaachiimaahiichaasiuch slowly picked themselves up from where they had landed. The other kaachiimaahiichaasiuch stopped running. Back at the camp the Iiyiyuu had seen the kaachiimaahiichaasiuch slowly getting up off the sand. They came to the two old men and shook hands with them. The kaachiimaahiichaasiu boarded their canoes. They put on their sails again and were soon out of sight. The two old men went on home.
“Grandfathers, what did you do to them?” the other Iiyiyuu asked the old men. “They were so sure they would fight us. What happened to them?”
One of the old men answered, “I had thought about twisting his neck if he had started shooting his arrows. But as he came running towards me, I saw him as a child who was just starting to walk.” The other old man said, “And I just followed your grandfather's lead. I did what he did.”
Storyteller: Matthew George
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