Tshinuatapish Caribou Hunting

Episode 1

Dogs barked, people laughed, a methodical pounding resonated near by – thumb, thumb, thumb, thumb. The women and older girls at the camp pounded dried caribou meat into niueikanat",1); ?> which would be stored for eating later in the fall.

The thumb, thumb echoed back and forth across the lake. An early morning mist hung stubbornly above the water, but the hill tops peered through the mist every so often to reveal brilliant red flashes of Labrador tea and other bushes showing off their autumn colours.

Several tshinashkueutshuap (tepees) were spread out across the point, surrounding a large shaputuan",2); ?> in the middle of the camp. Each family had erected a teshipitakan",3); ?> to dry meat and keep food and clothing away from the dogs.

Grandmother, Anitshishkueu, and the young children had gone off to pick uishatshimina (red berries) and the last of the inniminana (blue berries) before snow came.

Shimiu, his family, and other members of the group, had been at Tshinuatipish on since early September. "How wonderful it is here," Shimiu thought to himself. "And it was so exciting to see the caribou herds crossing the narrows in front of the camp."

Despite his contentment with life on the barrens, however, a deep sorrow continued to pull at Shimiu’s heartstrings. "Oh, how I miss nishim Shutit ," he mourned. "I miss the little brat terribly. She had such energy. She never complained when it was cold, and made everyone laugh with her funny faces and playful insults." Shutit had died of mikusheun (measles) the previous summer when they were at the trading post at Utshimassit, and had helped them bury her in the graveyard there.

Shimiu’s first caribou hunt with the men was about to begin, and his grandfather, , had prepared him well for it. "Grandson, your father will sit in the bow of the ush (canoe) , and you in the center. I will paddle at the back. We will steer along one side of the caribou, while Nui and Antane will come up the other side," he explained. "When I give the word, your father will aim his shimakan (spear) at its back, between its shoulder blades."

"But he must be very careful," he continued. "He has to read the caribou’s body language. If it looks back at us, it will be thinking about how best to give us a good kick, or how to flick us with its antlers."

Shimiu was a little shocked at first, when his father thrust into a caribou. A giant spurt of blood soaked his arms and even splattered onto his face. By the time they were finished the hunt, the front of the canoe was awash with dark caribou blood.

As they dragged the caribou to shore, Atika remembered an older time. "Not long ago we used to kill lots of caribou to the east of here. We built manikan (corrals) that we would drive the caribou into so that they could be speared more easily. But we haven’t had to go there in recent years because we’ve been able to get enough caribou here at the narrows."

One night they celebrated the success of the fall hunt with a joyful makushan",7); ?> held in the shaputuan. Grandfather, Atika, played the drum while everyone danced clockwise around the two fires in the centre of the dwelling. Shimiu’s mother, Shanimen , mimicked a partridge as she danced, flapping her arms up and down at her sides, gliding around the circle. His father, Kanikuen, shouted and laughed as he shuffled by, swinging his hands from one side of his body to the other as if he was sharing the caribou meat among the group.

After the drumming and dancing were over, grandmother, Anitshishkueu, told stories about meeting Innu from the south, who had come to Mushuau-nipi to hunt caribou. They had traded snowshoes and meat with them in exchange for tea, tobacco and ammunition. Atika, on the other hand, told a story about three stubborn Kakeshau (White men) who had turned up late one September asking for directions to . They refused to listen to the sound advice and Uncle Mishtauiapeu and Aunt Manishan had found one of their bodies near the trail to Mishta-nipi the following spring.

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