Fall at Nekanakau

Episode 4

The travel route to the height of land took the group up Utshashumeku-shipiss to Tshishkuepeu-nipi and Pepaukamau. Nekanakau, where the family intended to spend the remainder of the fall hunting and trapping, was only a day’s paddle away from Pepaukamau. Both lakes are part of a chain of lakes at the headwaters of Nutapinuan-shipu* that empties into the Atlantic Ocean far to the east.

By the end of October, the small ponds were frozen, and only a few leathery brown leaves clung to the ushkuai (birch trees) and atushpi (alder). A couple of centimetres of fresh snow lay on the ground, almost deep enough for snowshoes to be needed.

Pien, Mishen and the other men took advantage of the light snow cover to search out some good birch trees with which to make asham (snowshoes). They hoped to kill caribou before long, and they would need the caribou hides for new lacing for the snowshoes. Anishen, Aniet and the other woman at the camp would then have to tan the caribou hides, and cut them into for the lacing.

Mishen sharpened his axe so that he could make thin planks from a tall uatshinakan (tamarack) he found at the edge of a marsh. The planks would be used to make new shumin-utapanashku (toboggan).

Several days later, just before sunset, Pashin burst into Shanut’s tent where she was busy scraping the flesh from a beaver pelt. "My cousin," he exclaimed, a great smile of pride on his face. "I killed my first caribou today, at the ushakatiku ",2); ?> near Mishtashini. I got it with only one bullet."

Shinipesht, Pien and Mishen arrived at the camp quick on Pashin’s heels. Each of them carried a heavy load of caribou meat in his back pack. "Lots of meat to carry us through the fall," said Pien, wiping the sweat from his forehead, "and, we’ve left eight caribou on teshipitakan",3); ?> (scaffolds) back in the marsh. We’ll go back tomorrow to get them."

For most of the next week, all the women and girls at the camp were busy drying caribou meat, and pounding it into niuekanat (powdered dried caribou meat) with a mitunishan (pestle). The flesh and fur had to be scrapped off of the caribou hides with a mitshikun (scraper) and pishkuatshikan (beaming tool). Shanut knelt patiently beside her grandmother as she worked the fur off of one of the hides. "Granddaughter, I learned how to do this from my own grandmother, and it is she who gave me this pishkuatshikan . I can’t remember how many caribou hides I’ve cleaned with this tool," she said. "One day, it will be my gift to you."

All of the caribou leg bones had been set aside carefully on the large teshipitakan in the centre of the camp, to keep them away from the dogs. The caribou master, Kanipinikassikueu, must be shown at all times through the proper treatment of the caribou bones, meat and fat.

Early one morning, Mishen, as utshimau-ushkan",5); ?>, gathered all the bones together carefully on a large canvas sheet on the floor of his tent. Here, he spent the entire morning crushing the leg bones with a mitunishan. The tender white marrow and the small pieces of crushed bone all went into a large pot of boiling water on the stove.

At one point, all the young people gathered in the tent. "I am being careful not to waste any of the marrow," Mishen told them. "However, if any piece of marrow, bone, or meat falls on the ground, I put it in the stove immediately out of respect for Kanipinikassikueu."

Later in the day, Mishen took the boiling broth off the stove. He added a cupful of snow to the broth to cool it and to get the atiku-pimi (fat) from the bone marrow to solidify at the top. Using a mishtiku-emikuan (ladle), he scooped the fat from the surface and pressed it into wax-like cakes. "Tonight we will have makushan",6); ?>", he smiled. "We will eat the atiku-pimi and caribou meat that Kanipinikassikueu has given us. I will drum, and everyone who can will dance."

And that is what happened. A great feast was held, and everyone rejoiced.

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