By Xavier Kataquapit
At the start of this winter, when the snow began to accumulate and the cold temperatures had hardened the ground, my older brother Ah-twen headed out into the open tundra north of Attawapiskat.
His English name is pronounced Antoine Kataquapit and he is a traditional hunter, trapper and knowledge keeper who has years of living on the land. The place he went to is called Mooshoowak, an area on the corner of land where the bays of the Hudson and James meet.
The Cree word is a description that basically describes the land as ‘clear’ or ‘without features’. This is where the treeline ends and there is only soft tundra moss and grasses covering over layers of clay and sand. In the winter, it turns into a white barren desert.
Ah-twen went out to commune with the land as he had done from the time he was a boy. Our father Marius had brought him here often and our mother Susan’s uncle Abraham Paulmartin had accompanied Ah-twen here to our ancestral land many times.
Abraham, or as our family knew him as Wah-pah-koo-sheesh, the Cree word for ‘mouse’, was one of the last of a generation of highly-skilled hunters, trappers and traditional people who were capable of living off the land indefinitely.
On this recent visit, Ah-twen went for peace of mind and to meditate on the Elders who had taught him, his parents who had raised him and the many other hunters, trappers and traditional people that had gone before him.
Our family had been part of this land for many generations and Ah-twen views this area as his second home. He was alone, as he prefers the silence and peacefulness of the land. He learned a long time ago from his Elders that if one has enough knowledge, one should never be afraid to wander out into what looks like a featureless barren and inhospitable wilderness.
Lost in his thoughts, he spotted a man pulling a toboggan on a distant rise of land. At first the person stood still but then raised their hand and arm in the air as if waving. Ah-twen had often heard of images like this from Elders and was not afraid even though he knew he was alone in this wilderness. He approached cautiously on his snowmachine and the form continued to stand. As he got closer, the image then moved away from the high point and disappeared to the other side of the rise. Ah-twen went to the spot where the figure had stood.
On that high point of land, he was astonished to see one of the largest herds of caribou he had ever come upon. Hundreds of animals stood grazing on the lichen and moss they uncovered from the snow-covered land. Great bulls with massive antlers wandered among them. None of them took notice of Ah-twen and they ventured close to him as he stood watching from the top of the hill.
He stood watch for a long while and marvelled at the sight. Over the years, his hunts had meant great preparation, tracking and enormous efforts to find a small group of caribou. He was astonished that somehow magically he stumbled upon such an enormous herd.
He took the vision of the man on the hill as a good sign from his ancestors and as a message of good fortune. In our family, we’ve never believed in coincidences or chance events and always felt that signs like these involved our ancestors for good or for bad. To my brother Ah-twen, it was a powerful sign of good fortune.
Three months later, his daughter Julia gave birth to his first grandson Kaius Brendon Kataquapit, who was born on Feb. 7. The baby boy was born weighing seven pounds, 10 ounces at the Timmins and District Hospital. He was an unexpected birth as he arrived earlier than his due date.
Ah-twen and his wife Rita were overjoyed at meeting their new grandson. Kaius’ father Kevin Hookimaw was also excited as was grandfather Steve Hookimaw and they both thought of how happy Kaius’ late grandmother Darlene would have felt. Kaius is the first grandson for both families.
Julia wanted a special unique name for her son but also desired to hold to tradition by memorializing her ancestors too. She chose Kaius as a remembrance of her grandfather Marius’ name who has a similar spelling. Kevin chose the second name Brendon in remembrance of his best friend who had died in a hunting accident several years before.
Julie and Kevin were thankful for the help of the midwives who work in Attawapiskat, especially to her aunt Christine Rose who established this much needed service for expecting mothers in the community. They were also grateful to the Timmins and District Hospital staff for helping them with the early birth of their son.
Kaius is now home with his sister, five-year-old Nyra and a large loving family of aunts, uncles, cousins and relatives. He is now part of a growing clan of first cousins, including Lynnora, Leigha, Darlene, Paige, Hailey, Grace and Alanis.
I like to think that my brother Ah-twen did receive a visit from his ancestors on that lonely hill in the wilderness surrounded by hundreds of caribou to celebrate the birth of his first grandson. I am sure that this sign of good fortune will only bring more good things for their family.
Kee-sah-kee-eh-tee-nan Kaius. We love you, Kaius.