8th May 2008

The Boys Of Summer – Audio

Here is the story of the boys of Attawapiskat, Ontario on the James Bay coast that were recruited during the First World War in 1917 and sent overseas. This is a feature story being read by Xavier Kataquapit.

posted in Audio | Comments Off on The Boys Of Summer – Audio

6th May 2008

We Will Remember

Under The Northern Sky
by Xavier Kataquapit

John Chookomolin - 1917

This is dedicated to my great grandfather John Chookomolin who, with 23 other young Cree from Attawapiskat, went off to war in the summer of 1917. He never returned and until only a few years ago his family had never known his fate. I am giving him a voice with these words.

Why am I here? What is all this about? This is like a bad dream. I am sick and I have been in this room in bed since I arrived in this strange land. There are many men in beds here like myself but they are all white. My Cree friends from home have disappeared and I don’t know where they have gone. No one understands my language and I don’t understand them. The sound of coughing is steady, night and day. Sometimes, when I manage to sleep, I go home to the shores of Weeneebek (James Bay), where I see my wife and my little girl in our Meegwam (wigwam) by the banks of the river. When I awake it makes me sad to see this strange place and I feel like I will not see my land and my people again.

It all started many months ago in our summer gathering place on the banks of the Attawapiskat River. A Mish-tik-o-sho, a soldier man who came from the south by canoe asked all the young men to go with him. The local priest who always spoke and translated for everyone was not in the community and we had a hard time understanding what this soldier man wanted. There were a few people who knew some of his language and we concluded that he wanted us to go with him to help a Kitchi-Okimaw (great Chief) in need. We spoke with the elders and it was agreed that 24 of us would leave with the soldier man to help the Kitchi-Okimaw.

A few days after his arrival all of us young men accompanied the soldier man in nine canoes for the journey south. We traveled by way of the salt water Weeneebek and went inland at the Albany River. From there we traveled the river system and arrived at Pagwa River. The voyage down these rivers took many weeks and we did not have a lot of food with us. We had to make do with very little and each day we trapped and hunted small game for supper. We were not well prepared for this mysterious trip to the south. When we reached the rail stop at Pagwa we were ragged, tired and hungry.

At Pagwa there was a small house beside an iron trail that the soldier man called the rail road. We waited for a long time until we heard and then saw the great iron sled. We had never seen such a thing before. The soldier man told us this iron sled would take us farther south. Once all of us were seated on this great sled we were very surprised as it moved slowly down the tracks.

Months after we left home we still wondered what the Kichi-Okimaw needed us for. We arrived finally at a camp with hundreds of men. Our soldier man took us to a place where we got new clothes, new boots, a gun and a steel hat.

In the days that followed we were taught the ways of the white man in doing battle. Now we knew among ourselves what the Kichi-Okimaw needed us for. We were going to Ma-shee-keh-win (war).

After months of training at the camp we boarded the iron sled again and traveled many days. Finally we arrived at the shores of Kichi-Kamee (big water). Here we were put on a huge steel Cheeman (boat) with hundreds of other men. We could understand little of what they said and we kept to ourselves.

I was not feeling well but then again no one was as the steel Cheeman (boat) bounced in the great waves of this Kichi-Kamee (big water). Soon I could hardly breathe and I was weak. When the great Cheeman (boat) reached land I was carried away from my friends to a place of many medicine men. This was a busy and strange place the white men called England.

I am sick in this place and I know now I will never see my land and my people again. I want to go home. Please it is time now to take me back to Weeneebek.

posted in Feature Stories | Comments Off on We Will Remember