The snow is falling hard as David Mianscum steps out the door. Like every year for as long as he can remember, David, a member of one of the First Nations, the Cree from northern Quebec, Canada, is spending February at his camp, and the cold, fresh air outside is a sharp contrast with the warmth of the small woodstove inside his cabin. But February is when the fur quality is prime, and this is when David likes to hunt -- by now, ice has formed on northern lakes and rivers, making travel easier through the James Bay boreal forest, the ancestral lands of the Cree Nation in Quebec.
For many urban dwellers, the forest appears desolate at this time of year, but David knows that many animals roam the woods, as evidenced by the tracks and trails left in the snow. Today, David straps on his snowshoes, the same ones he made and laced himself last fall with wood from his trapline, and sinew from the moose he hunted. Not far from his cabin stands a small pond, and therein lies the most nourishing food on David’s trapline : beaver. Because David works hard on his trapline, and because store-bought foods are very expensive in northern areas, the highly-nourishing meat from the beaver is not only a prime tablefare, but it also maintains a cultural link. Indeed, this same pond has held beaver for as long a David can remember, and David learned early to treat the animals with respect, using fully all their gifts – meat for the table, fur for clothing or crafts, even glands for medicinal purposes.
But the prize is not easily gained – and much work remains until that beaver can be consumed. Once at the pond, the trapper must find the best place to capture the animal, chop the ever-thickening ice with a hard chisel, and then set his trap as he learned from his father and grandfather before him.
Truth is, David knows that this time out in the forest, on this cold winter day, is not only a chance to reconnect with his ancestral roots, but is also his own commitment to the conservation and balance of the natural world. Tomorrow, that beaver will be cherished, and David will move his traps elsewhere. As the many generations before him have learned, it is not only hunting a beaver today that counts, but making sure there are always beavers to hunt in the future.
Soon, David thinks, his grandson Nigel, now 11, will be ready to learn the skills of a hunter as well, and the circle of life will go on, for both beaver and trapper.
Text by: Serge Lariviere, Executive Director, Cree Hunters & Trappers Income Security Board