By Xavier Kataquapit
Recently, my great uncle Peter Kataquapit passed at an old age home in Timmins, Ont. My family, myself and many people up the James Bay coast and in northern Ontario remember Peter as a rock that we could turn to when we needed someone in the outside world to lend a hand or in introducing us to the non-Native reality. He was a friend to so many Native and non-Native people in northern Ontario.
In the 1980s, my brothers and sisters attended high school in Timmins to continue their education. It meant that during the difficult stage of life as teenagers, they had to leave home to live in a foreign culture with a new language and new surroundings. My brothers Lawrence, Mario, Anthony, my sister Janie and our late brother Philip saw Peter often while they were in high school. Peter acted as a rock for them during those years, especially for my sister Janie and brother Mario.
For a couple of short years, I had the chance to see Peter in Timmins too when I started high school. To me, he was bigger than life and someone who represented how an Indigenous person could hold on to their heritage while also living comfortably in the non-Native world.
Peter was someone my family looked up with great respect and admiration. His family was connected to ours a few generations back. My father Marius and Peter were cousins who had know each other all their lives. Peter’s family was from the James and Hudson Bay coasts and he had grown up in a very traditional lifestyle with his Elders. He was fluent in the James Bay Cree dialect. As a young man, he was also very capable at living in a newer modern world.
He was one of the first Native young men from the James Bay coast to attain education and training to be employed with the Ministry of Natural Resources, first in Moosonee and then with a move to Timmins. He started work for the ministry as a conservation officer and then became a mechanic. These days many Native people from James Bay travel south often and even work in the non-Native world. Thirty or 40 years ago there were few of us who were doing this and we all looked up to Peter as someone who could walk in both worlds.
He was very devoted to his mother Theresa who he took care of in a home he owned and renovated so that she would be close to health care and a more comfortable life. His family and friends from up the coast felt welcome to drop in to visit and have a cup of tea with Peter and his mom. They represented a safe place in the midst of unfamiliar territory and lifestyle. After a long life, his mother Theresa passed on some years ago.
Peter was a very brave man and one story talks about how he saved a woman in 1968 from drowning when he jumped from a twin Otter aircraft into the frigid river in Moosonee to rescue her. He also dealt with tragedy as his father Joseph was killed in a hunting accident.
Peter, who was working with the MNR at the time, took it upon himself to retrieve his father’s body to bring him back to the community. He also had the sadness of losing some of his siblings to the residential school system.
His grandfather Patrick Kataquapit was one of the group of young men the government spirited away to the First World War in Europe and his name is always mentioned on Remembrance Day in Attawapiskat. Peter came from a very capable family as his brother George was an author and wrote a book documenting many of the stories and legends of the north.
Peter was predeceased by his father Joseph, his mother Theresa (Hunter) and siblings Charlie, Abraham, Christiana, Louis, George and Maggie. He is survived by his brother Paul Kataquapit of Kingston and many cousins and friends. Peter was also a very close relative to the Hunter and Iserhoff families.
Peter always had a joyful fun spirit and he constantly wanted to make everyone laugh in our Cree language. We all recall him as a vibrant, capable, funny and kind man. From all of us in Attawapiskat and up the James Bay coast I give thanks to Peter for being there for us when we needed a familiar friend, a comforting safe space and some fun in our Cree language. Kitchi-Meegwetch Pee-ten, kee-sah-kee-eh-tee-nah. (Thanks so much Peter, we all love you.)