Bill Layman & Lynda Holland's 2002 trip
La Ronge, Saskatchewan to Arviat, Nunavut on Hudson Bay - 55 Days a 1000 Miles.
   
 
Day #24 Wednesday July 3, 2002

I went to Black Lake today, to do my sampling work with Pierre Toutsaint and his son Jason. Today is Treaty Day and the RCMP were there in red serge, as well as the chiefs and various others from Indian Affairs. Flour, lard, sugar and $5.00 bills were being handed out to each adult. Rather odd to see someone drive up in a new Ford F 150 pickup and leave with $5.00. That's about the price of a gallon and a half of gas.

 
Pierre Toutsaint
   
  Pierre is an interesting man. He is 48 and at age 13 became the prime hunter for his family. His dad ran over his foot with a metal sleigh runner and continued north to his trap line at Wholadi Lake. Although his foot was seriously injured, he continued on to Wholdai Lake. His foot got worse, and by the time he got back he had gangrene and it had to be amputated.

So, Pierre was pulled out of school and became a hunter. This wasn't that many years ago. Is it any wonder he wishes he could have gone to school? He has done well by his family and all his kids are doing great. They all have grade 12 and several are going on to post secondary endeavours.

It is late and I have been going flat out for what seems like weeks. I am REAL tired of this job right now. It is just in my face and as much as I like these folks I am in no mental space to do the sampling. I am counting the days until Lynda and I leave.

   
  Day #25 Thursday July 4, 2002

Another day closer to getting back on the water. And I can't wait, although I must admit today was a great day. We got only half our intended work done due to extremely high winds that kept us on the south side of Black Lake, but we caught a seven pound thlewizane (trout) for lunch. We cooked it on a stick over a fire and ate it from a bed of spruce boughs. Pierre's wife, Martha, sent along some bannock and it was a feast.

While we had a nice slow lunch hoping the wind would die down, Pierre told me some of the stories he has heard from old people, stories about muskox and caribou and a life on the land that has changed so much in the last few decades. When trapping all but collapsed and families had to stay in town so the children could go to school, the changes were huge. A once vibrant nomadic trapping lifestyle was stopped dead. It is really no one's fault, but it has left a great impact on the Dene of northern Saskatchewan. In fact it is this same scenario that has unfolded across Canada, leaving once proud people not sure what to do next.

At supper I met a friend from Black Lake who is now working on land claim issues with the Prince Albert Grand Council on behalf of the Dene. They got short shrift with the creation of Nunavut. Much of Nunavut is really Dene land. The Inuit were and are largely a sea going people. Their occupancy of the inland barrens south of Baker Lake and West from Arviat was brief, according to all I have read. As well, the area they occupied was largely bounded by the Kazan River on the west. Yet when Nunavut was created, a huge tract of Dene Land to the east of Dubawnt Lake and bordering Saskatchewan and Manitoba was given, lock stock and barrel, to the Inuit.

The idea that the Dene I know have no "title" to anything north of the Saskatchewan and Manitoba northern boundaries is absolutely ridiculous My advice to Ron was and will be to just go up there to, say, Wholdai lake and build a bunch of houses with Indian Affairs money. I doubt that the old people ever knew or would know that they had crossed a boundary. And as they say, "Possession is 90% of ownership." Even if it didn't work, it would be a lot more fun than sitting across the table from a bunch of "talking heads" from DIAND.

We went by a shrine on the lake shore today. A 28 year old man drowned on the lake, I think two years ago. His body was never found.
Pierre and Jason waved their respect as we passed the shrine. I have been told before that if the body isn't found, the soul can go to neither heaven nor hell. What a burden for the family of this man. I am not religious in any way but in my mind anyone who dies on the land would and should go to heaven.
 
Shrine at Black Lake
   
  About six days and counting until we hit the water, Lynda. Off to Fond du Lac tomorrow or the next day.
   
  Day #26 Friday, July 05, 2002

An easy day today. I went to Black Lake and visited some of the band councilors. Lots of people are gone to Pine Channel for the Religious Pilgrimage. But I was able to see Georgina MacDonald who is the CEO for the new Athabasca Health Facility that is being constructed on Indian Band land at Stony Rapids. The original reserve where the Black Lake Dene lived was at Middle Lake to the east of Stony a few miles. It was set up in the late 40s or early 50s but was a poor location for large numbers of people. Hence the new location for the community on the shores of Black Lake. I showed Lynda's Dene Elder's Book to Georgina and several older people.

Although the book is about some of the so-called west side communities of northern Saskatchewan ( La Loche, Dillon, Turner Lake, Buffalo Narrows), the people in Black Lake know lots of the elders whose stories are told in the book. This is hardly surprising, given the vast distances these people traveled just to find food to stay alive.

Although I am obviously biased as I live with Lynda, the stories these people tell are a fascinating glimpse of a life that has in many ways vanished. Copies of the book can be had by contacting Lynda Holland at dutch@mail.cableronge.sk.ca. Don't expect a quick response, as Lynda will be with me for the next 35 odd days on the second leg of our canoe trip.

In spite of the lives of the Dene changing a lot in the last 40 years, there are still some fascinating stories about modern travels. Freddie Throassie from Black Lake has been taking kids out on canoe trips for the last 15 years. Each year the trips get longer and harder.

  This year the kids and some elders and Freddie are taking a real tough trip to Kasba Lake from Black Lake. The trip will be about 40 odd days and will see them returning to Black Lake. They live off the land all the way. Makes Lynda and me look like a couple of tourists. I met one of the kids who went last year and he said the start of last year's trip was like Boot Camp. But he's going back again this year. And wilder than all this is that Freddie's dad, Charlie, who is close to 70, wants to go. Honest! Charlie said he had a gleam in his eye when he talked about the trip and how he wishes he could still travel.
 
So much has changed up here - water and sewer, an 11 million dollar health center, a road, etc etc. And when you see what Freddie is doing and you talk to an 18 year old and a 70 year old whose only wish is to go into the bush on a canoe trip, you realize that nothing at all has changed. The Dene are still at heart a nomadic people. The 70 year old longs to go back and the 18 year old has now tasted the centuries old tradition of travel in the land of little sticks.  
The New Health Center
   
Soon I will be back on my trip into their land.  
   
Day #27 Saturday July 06, 2002

NO EMAIL about today until tomorrw. We just got in off the lake after a HUGE storm and I'm TOO BEAT! And besides its already 10:00

 
   
  La Ronge to Arviat Trip Map
Here are the
Sponsors & Introduction Story for the 2002 trip
Check out Bill and Lynda's
2001 trip to the Dubawnt River in NWT & Nunavut.
Bill Layman's bio - with other Trips & Stories by Bill.
Live text edited by
Joan Eyolfson Cadham, freelance writer/editor, Foam Lake Saskatchewan.

 

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