MIIGWECH WAAWAASHKESHI (DEER)
As told by Doug Williams to Julie Kapyrka
The most important part of the preparation for the hunt is to be able to say a few words to the spirit of the animal you are hunting. A way that is respected and taught by our people is that SEMAA (tobacco) be given to that spirit. One puts tobacco into the fire, or other places if there is no fire such as at the base of trees or into the water, to be carried up and eventually accepted by the spirit of the animal as a gift from you – the hunter. So that’s important to do.
If you prepare in this way, what will be gifted is that animal. That animal will present itself and be ready to sacrifice itself in order for you to have food.
I remember one time I saw a buck standing on a hill in front of me through some bushes and it was standing on its side which I really wanted it to do. So I aimed and I fired. Obviously I missed because the deer did not move, did not flinch. Then I grunted, and the deer turned the other way broadside… and I aimed and then fired, and I hit it. And it died instantly.
But this shows how I believe that this deer was willing to give himself to us.
To honour that gift that the animal has given, we take a piece of that animal, usually the udder of the doe, or the genitals of the buck, and hang them on a sapling with some SEMAA (tobacco) – to visibly tell the spirit world how thankful we are.
We also instruct the young ones to use every part of that waawaashkeshi (deer) for their use – even the hoofs can be used for decorative purposes. The ankles, the shins, and head can be skinned out and boiled down to use as soup stock. The antlers can be used for decoration and can be cut into pieces to use as buttons. The large intestine is used to make a special bannock that we stuff inside the casing and cook in the oven – a delicious meal. We also break up the bones to get at the marrow and the old people used to have what I called ‘marrow sticks’ in order to dig it out. The bones themselves can be used for tools and for making scrapers to scrape the flesh off hides – which is really the best instrument to do that. The hide itself, of course, can be used for many purposes. The rawhide is used for ornaments and ceremonial objects like drums and shakers. Also, a finished hide is used for clothing and also for string, or rope, or tying material.
So in the respect of animals, and how they give so much that they make it possible for humans to live here, we are deeply grateful. It’s stated by the old people in the original stories that animals were here before we were and they themselves made the decision to feed us and look after us once we got here.
So it is important to develop a respectful relationship with these animals and, for that matter, other living beings such as plants and trees to remember how hard they work to sustain us and to continue life.
In fact, certain plants and trees will appear where medicine is needed by humans….but that is another story.