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Visiting Waswanipi

In memory of Robert Ottereyes

I left my country and entered another. After driving a long time on winter roads, we crossed the border. Slowly, the language began to change, until iiyiyuu ayimuun, James Bay Cree, took over completely. When I looked out the window at endless snow, it was all familiar, roads and rooftops covered in white, but it belonged to another land. When we finished driving and stepped onto the ground, my feet sank into white snow and we were encircled by a village of snug houses. We followed a woman wearing snowshoes until the path led us to an outdoor shelter, where we sat on a bed of cedar branches and warmed ourselves by the heat of an oil barrel stove. We ate beaver, goose and ptarmigan. Beaver roasting and crackling on a spit and bannock turning golden in a cast iron pan. The language of the Eeyou Istchee was the lingua franca, with English or French difficult to speak. Outside, winter was fierce and my coat from down south was like a sweater. I sat close to the hot barrel stove and smelled the wood smoke and fat of roasting meat; listened to the hum of people talking; felt the softness of cedar; the roar of a snowmobile in the distance. Outside, I knew the sky would be pure blue and the pines and firs, dark green. We had come from a place called Canada, but there it was another country.


  1. Kim
    Kim July 21, 2017

    Beautiful. You brought me right there, following the crunching sound of that woman in her snowshoes! The cold air, the smells of smoke and roasting meat.

    • MarchWinds
      MarchWinds July 21, 2017

      Thanks for the feedback Kim. I don’t get a lot.

  2. Charity
    Charity May 25, 2018

    I am reading this as I moved away from Waswanipi months ago, it was my hometown I grew up in.
    Reading your piece bought me back home with a peace of mind while I’m out here where there streets don’t sleep.
    Living back home, I always wanted to share that feeling about our land with anyone out there. To find that others feel this way about my hometown gives delight.
    Thanks for sharing.

    • admin
      admin June 8, 2018

      I visited Waswanipi when I was a student at Concordia University. The trip was organized by Robert Ottereyes – you probably knew him. I was sorry he passed away. I’ll miss him. Thanks for your feedback.

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