In northern Ontario and Québec, Cree people celebrate the return of the geese with a dedicated week (or more) of family hunting time on the land. They call it “Goose Break”. My friend Jocelyn Cheechoo of Moose Factory calls it the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year.”
The tradition is probably as ancient and deeply rooted as migration itself. It celebrates not just the end of winter, but also the end of winter’s hunger and hardships. Families feast together on the land as the hunt breaks winter’s fast and restores plenty, and a restored sense of food security.
From the Cree community of Chisasibi, on the east coast of Hudson’s Bay, Paula Menarick of Fast Cloud Inspirations, shared this photo on FaceBook in 2019. Here’s what she wrote:
Traditionally when a young hunter harvested his first goose, they would clean and decorate the goose head and keep it as a hunting charm.
We then celebrate with a feast to honour the hunter and the goose for giving its life to nourish our body and spirit. Everyone that comes to the feast gets a piece of the “Uschiminhuun” (first harvest).* Traditionally they would close their eyes as the ate the piece of goose to wish the hunter a future of good harvest.
When you see the charm it also brings back the memory and sharing of the story of your own first goose harvest, it’s always a treat to hear a hunter’s story. My first goose story is a little funny, maybe I’ll share later
Iiyiduk, wishing you all a safe Goose Break and good harvest 2019.
(Goose head charm made by Paula for The Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute)
The y-dialect word oski-minahowin means “first harvest.” And in western Cree country, as around the bay, a first kill is celebrated with a feast and sharing.
Many may not be aware that, though not exactly the same, this custom is quite similar to the Natives of Oruro, South America with a deer-looking animal that some call “Wari.”