Fall harvesting with the Beaver Lake Cree
Post by Laurie McKenzie, RAVEN’s Director of Development
There are two aspects my job that I love: getting to know RAVEN’s generous donors and building relationships with the community members of Beaver Lake Cree. This past September was my sixth trip up north but the first I attended a fall harvest camp. I feel connected to this community, their stories and it was a privilege to share a harvest with them.
The morning started out brisk, not as cold as I had expected but refreshing. A beautiful fall day in the backcountry of northern Alberta. As we arrived at the ranch, the bison had already been taken down. I was not too disappointed to have missed the killing as I saw steam was rising from their bodies.
The community of Beaver Lake Cree ranch their own bison, another indication that their hunting grounds are diminishing. There were many times that I was shown an area in the traditional territory that had been compromised in some way that the members could no longer use the land in the way it was intended.
As the small group of skillful hunters skinned the bison, I was mesmerized watching. It didn’t take longer before all four were processed. Soon after, we went across the reserve to where the harvest camp was set up; it was an organized hub of activity all week. It is here the community holds its cultural activities – the sundance was in August and a cultural camp a few weeks ago, a medicine camp was planned for after the harvest. The organizer of the camps said to me as we sat by the fire ‘This is decolonization right here – this will decolonize our people.’
A group of kookums (grandmas) handled the first batch of whitefish brought in that morning from Beaver Lake. Scaling, smoking, canning …and anything left over was brought out to the woods for the eagles. Schoolchildren visited regularly throughout the day to pick up snippets of teaching, you could tell they were always eager to learn. These are the same children with solar panels on their school. A different generation being raised a different way.
Of course RAVEN was not the only visitor this trip. Along with the fundraising team, the film crew, research group and the legal team were all at camp. The energy is building for this historic litigation, the time has come.
I am always a little sad when I leave Beaver Lake. The days were filled with laughter, learning, working, and sharing of food and traditional knowledge. I look forward to my next visit as there is much to learn and experience. It was the one of strongest examples of community I have witnessed, it made my resolve to fund their litigation stronger.