McGill Speech-Language Pathology students adventuring on the Great River
McGill Speech-Language Pathology students adventuring on the Great River
We have been back in Montreal for a few days now, and are reflecting on the amazing experiences we had in Chisasibi on the S-LP practicum.
During our last week in Chisasibi we learned the word, Waaskimaashtaau. This is the name that was selected for the local newsmagazine. Waaskimaashtau means “a very bright light from the sun, a star, moon, fire etc.” Lucy Salt is the woman who chose this title. She wrote:
“… it reminds me of the welcome sight of a nice warm fire (especially in the miichiwaahp or an open fire outdoors), the light from the moon and stars at night, or the light that you see when you come to the point of your life where everything falls into place and you can see the direction of your journey through life and your goals more clearly.”
This is a beautiful analogy of our experiences in Chisasibi.
Each day in Chisasibi was entirely unique and special. We were reminded of this by the varied skies that we saw. We witnessed the beauty of nature from the light of the early sunrises, the lingering sunsets on the horizon, and the late night northern lights.
And each day,
We learned about Cree culture and language.
We learned about the S-LP profession.
We faced challenges and learned about our strengths.
We learned about each other and about working as a team.
And we had a lot of fun along the way!
We would like to extend a sincere thank you to everyone who was a part of this project, both in Montreal and in Chisasibi. A big thank you also goes to the McGill Institute for Health and Social Policy Retention Program, which helped make this project possible.
We are truly thankful for the opportunity to visit such a wonderful community, and to do so alongside a team of amazing S-LPs and S-LPs to be!
This practicum has really inspired us to keep learning and growing. We’re all looking forward to beginning our final year of speech and language pathology in the fall. And as we do so, our S-LP adventures will be guided by “the light that you see when you come to the point of your life where everything falls into place and you can see the direction of your journey through life and your goals more clearly.”
Thanks for reading and for being a part of our journey!
-The ChissasSLPs (Anna, Ben, Cleo and Huong)
We finished up all the practicum-related paperwork on Friday evening! That meant that we could take full advantage of our last weekend in Chisasibi.
There has never a dull moment throughout our time in Chisasibi. We have been so fortunate to explore the community and surrounding areas, and to also meet lots of new people. And that’s exactly what we continued to do on our last weekend. We were quite literally on-the-go right until we left for the airport.
After volunteering for Run Chisasibi, we went to the beach to celebrate Alex’s birthday. It was a beautiful, warm evening. We were surrounded by new friends, lots of dogs, a gigantic bonfire, niskich (geese) and a lovely sunset. There were also a lot of unwanted mosquito friends. But, we were lucky that the bugs only started to get bad the day before we left! We survived, returning home with lots of bug bites as momentos.
On Sunday, we woke up early to have a breakfast with Solange and Alex. Then Alex took us to see the LG1 dam; the final dam of a series built by Hydro Quebec as part of the James Bay Project.
This massive project, while providing a great source of energy, created a great changes in the lives of the Cree in Chisasibi.
The site of LG1 used to be a very popular fishing spot, but now that is no longer possible. There was an outdoor exhibit featuring poetry about these changes. It was very emotional to read them.
Here you can see part of the reservoir that is needed to power the dam. The reservoir is covers an immense amount of land; areas that used to be hunting grounds. Flooding this area, as well as similar, often larger, expanses of land to build the other dams, drastically changed the way that the Cree of the James Bay region live.
Hunting and fishing were disrupted on a massive scale, not just in the areas that were flooded, but in the region as a whole. The migratory patterns of most of the animals in the region changed as a result of this flooding. This, combined with having to give up huge swaths of land for the project, led to the Cree establishing themselves in cities along the bay, departing from their traditional ways of living mostly in the bush.
Furthermore, mercury levels in the water rose so high that some people living in the region got mercury poisoning. Prior to the construction of the dams, it was commonplace to drink from the La Grande River, and fish from the river was a staple in the diet of most people living near its banks.
For more information on the social implications of the project, check out this link.
We returned from the LG1 trip just a bit before leaving to the airport.
None of us could believe how quickly the Chisasibi visit went, and that we were already on our way home.
We were recommended to sit on the right side of the plane so that we could get a good view of Chisasibi, which was now much more familiar to us.
Do you see the water in the distance? That’s the James Bay!
The trip home was so quick! It only lasted about 3 hours, including a brief stop in Chibougamau, where we re-fuelled, went through security and picked up more passengers.
The spring practicum has now officially stopped. It is all done (shaash).
Goodbye Chisasibi! We’re going to miss you a lot!
This weekend, we all volunteered for Run Chisasibi! This is a really big event that draws a ton of people, from all walks of life! It was amazing to see so may people out. Among the participants were families, children, babies, bikes, wheelchairs, and strollers!
There were various starting points for the run, depending on the route distance (21km, 10km, 5km, 1km). The longer distances started out of town along the highway, while the shorter routes started in town.
The finish line was at the michaup building in the town core.
As volunteers, we were stationed at various points along the route. Our job was to hand out water, gatorade and oranges and to cheer as the runners passed.
There was such a great sense of community throughout the event! Even some children playing outside joined us to hand out water. Cleo and Huong added to the spirit of the event by cheering on all the participants!
After the race, there was a big barbeque, and awards and prizes were handed out.
It was really fun to be a part of Run Chisasibi!
Alex and the Head Start Program have started a weekly storytelling time at one of the daycares. Parents can bring their children to hear stories told by an elder, or read from a book, usually by Alex (now with our beautiful props). Following the stories, there is a brief talk on strategies to help stimulate and support children’s language development.
The past two sessions have featured storytelling by elders in the community. What a great opportunity for children to practice their Cree! We have been taking turns running the story telling.
This week was paternity week, so a very special guest was invited to tell the story. It was the Chief of Chisasibi, Davey Bobbish. There was a fantastic turn-out, including a lot of dads!Chief Davey Bobbish
All the dads at story time
Chief Bobbish read the book, “Walking with Grandpa” and Ben helped with the animal props. Ben even said all of the animal names in Cree (yes, we’ve gotten pretty good with our animal names)!
After the book, Ben talked about some tips to help support understanding when talking with children.
The session finished off with a prize raffle for the dads, socializing, and a surprise birthday cake for Alex!
All of the organizers were really excited to have such a successful storytelling session! The storytelling event started just before we arrived in Chisasibi. Although it started with small turn-outs, we have seen great increases in attendance over our three weeks here. Can’t wait to see how it will continue to grow!
For our last week in Chisasibi, we were working with the final daycare, Nudiwaashau Daycare. It was a busy week, filled with various projects.
We again worked with the educators in the classroom to train them on the book activities. And on Wednesday night we had another group training with the educators. Here are some of the table top activities we tried out with the kids this week.
“Match the Tracks” activity for the book, “Walking with Grandpa”
Red goose craft (mihkwaau nisk) to go along with “Red Goose, Where are You?”
Throughout our time at the daycares, we have been practicing some of our Cree vocabulary. Thanks to the book kits and the frequent repetition of the associated vocabulary, we have learned lots the words for lots of animals and colours. That is proof that language stimulation works!
The educators at Nudiwaashau helped us to practice the difficult colour names that we hadn’t yet perfected. Purple is definitely the longest one (paaschuusaawaanaakun). Us four students spend a lot (maybe too much) time together, and we all really like learning Cree. This inspired us to make a little rap, combining the lyrics to the Cree childrens’ songs, “Who is Here Today?” and “the Colour Song.” Just for fun, you can listen to it here.
The weather warmed up considerably this week. There was so much warmth and sunshine, after a long stretch of cold weather. So, we loved getting to spend lots of time with the children outdoors in the play yard!
We also took full advantage of the sun by being outdoors for lunch and meetings. We were unprepared for the strong northern sun, however, and all ended up with pretty bad sunburns!
On the last day at the daycare, several educators brought out bubbles and all of the children were chasing the bubbles around the playground. It was so magical!
When we weren’t at the daycare this week, we were busy filming and editing videos to explain the book kits and the specific activities for each book. These videos will go to each daycare so that the current and future educators will know how to use the kits. Who knew we would get to work on our acting and technical skills while on our S-LP practicum!
Lastly, we stopped by the Retro Daze Cafe this week! This is a cool hang out spot that opened up in the fall. Amazingly, all the furniture and decorations have been made from recycled materials. The chicken wings were delicious!
If you remember, we spend each week at a different daycare in the community. Wednesday evenings, we hold a workshop where we show the educators all of the materials and discuss as a group ways in which to promote language development.
At this week’s workshop with the educators from Jenna daycare we presented the 8 book-kits and other materials that we had created.
The session started off with us introducing who we are and getting to know the educators. This was a good opportunity to not only learn everybody’s names but also to break the ice between those of us from McGill, Alex (the community’s S-LP) and the daycare educators.
The educators were enthusiastic about the materials and asked a lot of great questions. Our supervisors then led a discussion about learning both English and Cree. The educators were eager to share their experiences and had many questions and comments.
We ended the night by discussing the different communication strategies that adults could use to help children talk. The educators found this to be quite funny as we students took turns pretending to be Cree-speaking children while showing the strategies.
All in all, we felt that the night was a great success! Not only did we get the chance to present all our materials that we had worked very hard on to produce, but we also got the chance to share experiences and lots of laughs with the educators.
What a great bunch of people!
On Monday, we finally had the opportunity to go to the Chisasibi Heritage and Cultural Centre which is conveniently located next to two of the daycares.
Before talking about the Centre, it’s important to acknowledge that the current location of Chisasibi is relatively new. Originally, it was located on the island of Fort George on the La Grande River. However, with the construction of dams in the mid 1970s as part of the James Bay Hydro-Electric Project, the community was forced to relocate to the river shore due to fears of flooding and erosion. This move resulted in a disturbance in the way the Cree lived and shifted many aspects of their lives. For instance, many were forced to leave behind homes that had been in their families for generations. As well, flooding caused by the dams resulted in the loss of hunting and burial grounds.
This is a model of the original town located on Fort George island. Some of the homes and even one church were relocated across the river to the current site. Many people have summer homes on the island and return every summer to celebrate a festival called Mamoweedow (‘Let’s go to the island’).
The opening of the Cultural Centre in 2011 served as a place in which to both collect and spread awareness of Cree culture and heritage.
The exhibits focused on recounting the history and culture of the Cree over the past several centuries. It showcases the construction of michuaps, canoes, traditional hunting tools, the making of clothing, and the significance of nature in Cree culture.
The Cultural Centre also focused on the more recent history of Chisasibi, such as the residential school system and the recent relocation of the community to its current site. Having lived in Chisasibi for the past two weeks, we appreciated learning more about the complex history of this community.
This Saturday, we went to the Chisasibi Animal Rescue with our friend, Solange, Anna’s supercool host. She told us that this animal shelter was in need of volunteers to walk the dogs that they had taken in, and we were extremely happy to help out!
There we met Jolyanne, the woman who founded the shelter. She told us about the amazing work that the shelter does for the community, including neuter/spaying during certain times of the year and in finding homes for the dogs. We then were introduced to the puppies!
Here’s a photo of Solange with Brownie (left), and Huong struggling to hold back Baby.
Thanks to Anna for taking this photo of the rest of us after walking the dogs in an unsuccessful effort to tire them out.
Anna made friends with Angel who was the easiest of them to walk.Here’s Ben holding Baby.
This is Cleo’s buddy Joel, he was pretty much the same size as her.
TRIP TO THE BEACH
On Sunday, Solange was extremely nice to offer to take us on a trip to the nearby beach and to the Fort George lookout. We were lucky to be accompanied by Maggie, who Solange is dog-sitting.
We went to a nearby lake where, though beautiful, it definitely wasn’t warm enough to go swimming.
Solange then took us to the Fort George lookout. Here, you can take the ferry during certain times of the year to go to the island where Chisasibi was originally located. In the photo below, you can notice the erosion caused by the shifting currents since the construction of the dams. We didn’t get the chance to go to Fort George since the ferry was not running.
We then went just a bit further to explore the beach along the James Bay.
A big thanks to Solange for taking us to all these scenic points around Chisasibi and for this great picture!
We were invited through our Clinical Educator, Alex, to have dinner with the Stewarts who are one of the Cree families here in Chisasibi. Goose was on the menu for the night so we were especially excited.
We first went to spend some time with them inside their michuap as they finished roasting the geese over the fire. The inside of the michuap smelled so good, a nice mixture of evergreen boughs and goose fat roasting on the fire!
Once the geese were fully cooked, we went inside to enjoy them.
Alex got to get her hands dirty and worked alongside one of the Stewarts as she learned how to cut open up a goose.
Though it looked like she would maybe chop off a finger at first, she succeeded in carving up the geese for us to eat.
The Stewarts then treated us to a delicious meal of geese (niskich). We spent the evening laughing and talking with the Stewarts. What a great way to spend a Saturday evening!
On Thursday morning, we woke up bright and early to attend the twins’, Memphis and Mackenzie’s, walking out ceremony. We met at the now finished michuap. The Chiskamish family had covered it in tarps and collected boughs that they used to cover the floor of the michuap. The boughs are always placed in a clockwise fashion, starting at the entrance to the michuap, which always faces east.
It was a very cold and rainy morning, so we were very pleased to find a fire roaring in the centre of the michuap.
Walking out ceremonies symbolize a child’s introduction to the Cree community. Children take their first steps on the ground, usually around the age of 1. This means that walking out ceremonies typically take place in the spring and summer, after the snow has melted. Walking out ceremonies are slightly different for girls and boys, and we were lucky enough to witness one of each! In this case, the walking out ceremony took place on the twins’ first birthday, which made it extra special!
Here are the twins, ready for their first steps! Little boys are typically dressed as hunters, and little girls as cooks.
Their parents helped them walk out of the michuap and around the wood pile.
As the hunter, Memphis’ role was to “shoot” a goose that his grandfather had shot that morning. Here is the goose, propped up to look alive.
Here’s Memphis, hunting the goose with his toy rifle.
Mackenzie had to collect wood for the fire (in Cree culture, women are responsible for tending to the fire). Here she is “collecting” branches.
After the walking out, the family served breakfast for the guests inside the michuap. In the evening, they hosted a giant birthday feast at the community centre. Here is The Michuap building, a local community hall.
Here is a pile of geese, waiting to be cooked. There were 34 in total! The Chiskamish family spent all day cooking the geese over the fire in the michuap.
Here is Huong, enjoying her first taste of sigabon nisk (goose cooked over the fire). The desserts were delicious as well!