CM . . . .
Volume VI Number 3 . . . . October 1, 1999
Okimah is an homage to generations of Cree hunters, a loving look at a cultural tradition and a plea for responsible stewardship of our resources.The Cree word "Okimah" means "leader" or "teacher." Rickard takes a film crew north to Moose Factory in far Northern Ontario to film his father, the Okimah, leading his extended family on the fall goose hunt which lasts about two weeks. Everyone who can goes along, including sons, wives, daughters, husbands, grandchildren, and an elderly aunt. They go by motorboat and helicopter to the area the Okimah has chosen for the hunt where they set up camp. The Okimah teaches the men and boys the essentials of the hunt: how to make mud decoys and set up the blind. The older women teach the younger ones and the children how to pluck and cook the geese, how to prepare the meat for smoking and where to find berries to pick. There is time also for much visiting, helping the children with reading, reminiscing. Two of Paul's siblings have married white persons who also have come along and are learning the Cree philosophy and attitudes toward the bounties of nature. The town of Moose Factory was full of excitement as different families stocked up on provisions and prepared to head out to their chosen hunting spot. School breaks for the fall hunt so that the children may accompany their parents and learn the skills they need to carry on the tradition. The hunt ends with a grand feast and much merrymaking before they head back to town and the routine of daily life.
The closeness that family members feel for each other and the respect they have for their elders comes through very plainly in this film. They all speak so warmly of "Dad" who has taught them so much through examples and stories of the old days. They say, "Dad's job is to look after everybody and make sure that they are OK." Mom, too, is praised for her patience as she teaches all the girls, including her white daughter-in-law, to pluck, skin and cook the geese. Some of the adult children, while reminiscing about their years in Residential schools, say they have bad memories; however, they try not to dwell on them, preferring instead to be grateful for their families and the improved conditions, including that their children are able to attend school right in Moose Factory and learn the Cree language and customs.
The story told in this video is well worth viewing. The pace is slow, unlike the fast-paced action we are so used to on television, but the glimpse into the life of this Cree family leaves one with a warm feeling of welcome.
Luella Sumner is the librarian at Red Rock Public Library, Red Rock, ON.
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