Preserving Cree identity

·2 min read

The Cree Women of Eeyou Istchee Association (CWEIA) held their 4th Kuukuminuwich Gathering in Nemaska October 2-3, over a year after it was originally planned and postponed due to Covid restrictions.

The gathering brought together 50 people – the limit allowed under community health protocols – for a few days of teaching and learning, giving grandmothers and Elders from the Cree communities a chance to share their knowledge with younger generations. Delegations of women from every Cree community, except Whapmagoostui, attended this year’s event.

“It’s where the grandmothers transfer their knowledge to the younger generations so we can preserve the language, the culture and the practices of Eeyou people,” explained Josephine Sheshamush, program coordinator for CWEIA.

“The teachings by the kuukuminuwich – the grandmothers – are workshops where we try to capture their knowledge, and from this we make booklets to summarize the teachings in detail,” Sheshamush said.

She added that the booklets will be made available at future events for free. The organization was working to reprint booklets from the previous gatherings and get the booklet from the third gathering printed.

“The gathering went very well. It was beautiful to have all the kuukuminuwich come to my community of Nemaska,” said Kristen Moar, who sits on the CWEIA’s Board of Directors and helped organized the event as president of the Nemaska Local Women’s Association.

Moar said that some of the highlights were “having all the Elders come together and learning about the traditional teachings. We received teachings on the right to passage, from birth when a child is born to the right to passage ceremony, walking out ceremony, and there was a teaching on the girls’ first moon time.”

She said another highlight was the entertainment night, where the Elders got a chance to dance. The gathering was opened with a prayer by Rosie Tanoush, as well as a virtual presentation by newly elected Grand Chief Mandy Gull-Masty. Charlotte Ottereyes Ratt, the new president of CWEIA, also addressed the group.

Other workshops were about baby bundle teachings, first kill rites, pregnancy and breastfeeding, and the importance of storytelling for children. A presentation of a plaque was made to the family of Rose-Ann Blackned, who died in 1991 and was part of the documented Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls cases

Moar said that it was important to be able to document all the workshops with video and audio recordings, which would be accessible on the organization’s website.

“I hope that the Kuukuminuwich Gatherings continue as they are very important for passing on traditional knowledge to future generations, and very important in keeping our identity as Cree people,” Moar added.

Benjamin Powless, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Nation

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