Our Traditional Way of Life: A Reflection by Laura Semple

Kasabonika Lake News
January 13 2017
Laura Semple 

16009856_10154989714324434_1290727665_oLaura Semple sat down with her mother Irene Semple, to get a glimpse of what life was like before the people of Kasabonika Lake settled on the island they currently reside. 

Read her story below:

This is my story of a person whom I have the utmost respect for, and who inspires me every single day. This person is my mother.

This past winter I took some time to sit down with my mother, who is often found sitting quietly at home sewing and listening to the radio. I asked her to tell me what she can remember of the past and how they lived their lives in the bush.

What she shared with me was the harsh realities of life and the difficulties of living off the land and what they had to do to survive. I can’t help to think that despite the struggles of day to day life and the harsh environment they had to endure it is amazing how they remained and maintained a harmonized existence in the far north.

An extraordinary person:

Irene Semple is my mother’s given name. She is now well into her 80s and is considered to be a respected community Elder of Kasabonika Lake First Nation. Although she says her memory is fading with her old age, her most cherished and fondest memories of past times are still vivid in her mind and heart.

The dependence on modern technology and ways:

I am the youngest of seven siblings. From my brothers and late sister I have heard many different stories of how things were changing and the old ways of doing things are lost. I would hear my oldest brother reciting that old saying “You don’t know how easy you guys have it now a days.” With that I thought it would be prudent to write down some family history, stories and legends, passed down many generations. My personal favourites were the adventurous accounts of big hunts and historic events, such as major gatherings and meetings with other clans in our territory, as well as travellers from the South and other strange people from the four directions.

The past:

She told me that as far back as she can remember, and at a very early age, how her mother taught her how to hunt, trap, and make shelters during the different seasons: winter and summer.  

At only four or five years old, her mother taught her how to help out around the camp by gathering and cutting wood, preparing fish gill nets, skinning hide, making raw hide out of moose and other big animals for clothing and trade. People traded furs for goods such as sugar, flour and medicine for the family.

My mother also remembers trekking the land rabbit snaring and trapping other small animals. It was expected that the youth help and make themselves useful by gathering and preparing foods such as barriers, fish and other smaller animals caught in near by traps. One of my childhood favourites was and still is fish pemmican. Yum yum!!

These were just some of the chores for a young person in that time and age, but it was not just chores they were doing, they were learning survival skills and contributing to the community.

When my mother was just eight years old, her mother died, and she went on to do the things she learned from her.  By the age of 15 she had mastered these skills and was doing it all on her own. She did these things in order to survive, but her contributions were valuable and meaningful to her family and community.

After her mother’s passing, she and her siblings lived with their aunt Zipporah, Geordie Anderson and family.  My mother came from a large family of Andersons and the Anderson name still exists in our community, along side the Semples’ name, I’ll add.

Nomadic lifestyles:

They would move from camp to camp, fall/winter and spring/summer. As the colder temperatures arrived in the fall they would travel by canoe to go to the place where they always gathered with other families during the winter months (December-January). At this location there was a store, a church and only three houses. They would make their shelters near that place and made it their home for the winter.

Sometime after the New Year, or when it became warmer, they would go back to their spring/summer camp to rebuild and resettle for the spring and summer season.

My mother remembers the only thing they brought back from the store is oats, flour, tea and sugar. She described the sugar cubes back then, and said they were not squared cubes, but more like little round like pills. As you can imagine, sweet sugar was a highly valued commodity back then.

Their summer camp was also a settlement for other family members and other families who also travelled with the real Indian time. My mother recalls the welcoming of spring weather as a joyous time for everyone. It meant a break from the frigid temperatures and hardships of winter survival. They still they had to do their chores as always, but it was just a different routine.

Routines and commonly used tools:

There were not many traps as we know them today back then, so a lot of the trapping was done utilizing steel line as a snare in order to kill heavier and stronger animals such as a beaver or otter. These stronger animals would destroy the smaller rabbit snare wire. Tools and supplies where never used just once but used over and over as much as possible.

Discarding or replacing a broken tool was not an option as it could take months on end to get the opportunity to purchase or trade. That meant you had to be a creative and clever to catch these smart animals. Problem solving was also a valuable trait to have,and ingenuity was crucial in survival. You have to be creative and be a cunning and clever trapper using whatever is at your deposal.

They would sleep early at night and get up early to start their day. Before she passed, her mother would check the fish net/traps early in the morning before the kids get up, and that would be their breakfast.  If she ever caught anything, they would help their mother preparing the fish or anything she caught.

For snacks, they gathered berries (raspberries, blueberries, and other ones).  They put their berries in pemmican and fish eggs.

They were always on the go, and she remembers she was always physically healthy.

In conclusion:

I have come to learn how our way of life has changed dramatically, yet many of our traditional ways of living have remained the same. We may be forever evolving, and how we do things may differ today from past practices, but we need to remember who we are and what we have become.

Featured Image: Elder Irene Semple with two of her granddaughters 




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