Ouje-Bougoumou members return to a gathering site near Mistissini

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Anna Bosum still remembers the last time she visited Mistissini Point as a child of five or six, around 1970. The location, across from Mistissini, was a place Ouje-Bougoumou members would travel to in August before heading to their bush camps by canoe.

In 2014, she and others who fondly recall those days got together to remember history and pass it down to future generations. She talked to the community’s cultural coordinator, Daniel Bosum, and a tradition was reborn.

“In 2014, we called the cultural department and said we wanted to go back to where our grandparents were staying,” Bosum said. After winter, they would return in springtime and stay at Story Lake or Swampy Lake.

“During that time when they’d go to get goods in August, everyone would come to live across from Lake Mistassini. That’s where we grew up,” she said. “My grandfather Charlie Bosum, his burial ground is across from Mistissini because he got sick there.”

Bosum says that John Bosum, an archeologist, was doing some digs and making findings on the camping grounds before it was fixed up. Then they brought over tent frames to get things ready to make a more permanent return to the land.

“We started cultural activities there, before we started to move there. My friend Dinah and I snowshoed across the lake before the camps were there. We went with Eddie Joly,” she said. “We set up a tent right in the middle of where the camp is.”

It was also a healing occasion. Bosum says the next day, a member of the Smith and Gunner families snowshoed across the lake to ask to meet her in the middle of the lake. They met and prayed together, where he asked for forgiveness for the bad treatment that some Mistissini members gave to the travelling Ouje-Bougoumou members of that era.

Now, eight years later, the annual August progression has become a two-week event when members of both Ouje-Bougoumou and Mistissini come to participate in traditional activities. Bosum says that when they gather, they fish, sew, tan moose hides, carve paddles, make tents, cook and tell stories.

“It’s a friendly way of going back to the old time – the stories are told by Elders who remember the history of Ouje-Bougoumou at Mistissini Point,” she said. “Everyone was happy, every Elder in the camp started to cook, preparing different meals.”

The event used to be just one week, but one Elder said it was too short, so this year they lengthened it to two weeks (August 1-14) and finished the event with a big feast. “We started having Mistissini people come across to visit us,” Bosum said. “They really enjoyed it.”

They used the opportunity to mend relationships between members of the two communities, many of whom remember each other from time spent at residential schools. Bosum’s friend and some pastors helped to organize forgiveness rituals, including washing each other’s feet.

Bosum said Ouje-Bougoumou Chief Curtis Bosum attended, along with the deputy chief and councillors, while newly elected Mistissini Deputy Chief John S. Matoush also showed up. There was a bus every day to transport community members who wanted to visit.

While the event used to be almost entirely attended by Elders, Ouje-Bougoumou’s Wellness Department and cultural coordinator have been working to bring youth out to the camp to partake in the traditional activities. Bosum estimates a few dozen attended this year, a number partially hindered by a lack of tents, meaning people couldn’t stay the night.

“We’re hoping in the future it’s going to be more. We want to introduce the young people to learn about the history,” she said.

Bosum says she’s happy to return to the land. “I would never want my grandchildren and my children to forget where we came from, how we did things the way we did, and our parents. The most important thing is to keep our culture and language alive. That’s the main reason why we return.”

Then she added, “People had such a quiet time there, they slept good. Plus, it was nice seeing how big Mistissini is now with all the lights.”

For next year, Bosum says their mandate is to get more camps, and to continue to work with the Cultural Department and the Wellness Department to get more youth to attend. She says they have yet to formally work with Mistissini, but that many people from Mistissini are eager to participate.

Benjamin Powless, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Nation