TAKING PRIDE IN ONE’S TRADITIONS
Originally from Swan River, MB, Bob Church spent his entire life engaged in the Métis hunting, fishing, trapping and gathering traditions of his family. In his view, maintaining Métis harvesting rights is essential to the survival of the Métis nation.
Bob Church grew up in Swan River, alongside his 12 siblings. His family wasn’t wealthy and so they depended heavily on trapping and hunting, especially in winter.
“My father would o en go out trapping. And as long as he did, my mother could get as much food as she wanted at the general store. My father would pay them back in furs. In summer, he also worked on highway construction but in winter he was unemployed without any benefits.”
At the time, the most highly prized pelts were lynx, mink, muskrat and beaver. These days, Bob is more interested in martens, fishers, coyotes and lynxes.
“We would also go out hunting for food,” added Bob. “We caught rabbits, partridges... By the age of six or seven, we already knew how to kill rabbits and my mother was ever so proud when we brought something back! She wouldn’t even wait for the meat to cool before cooking it!”
That was when Bob started using his first .22 caliber single-shot rifle. He also remembers picking blueberries “while my older sister made bannock in the cast iron pan.”
But gathering, hunting and trapping aren’t the only skills he learned from his family. “I also tried my hand at traditional moose and elk hide tanning,” he said. “I don’t do it anymore because it’s too difficult and it takes too long, but I still remember how to do it.”
In fact, Bob is sure he could live self sufficiently for several months without too many challenges thanks to all of his knowledge. “I can find my location without a map or GPS or compass. I can find food and medicinal plants. I can dry meat and protect myself from the heat and the cold. I know the land and I understand it.”
Today, Bob Church is the father of three boys as well as a grandfather, and he is very eager to continue sharing these Métis traditions with his offspring. “My childhood wasn’t easy, but it’s essential for me that my children and grandchildren should know their roots, their culture and where their souls and their blood come from.
“So, I not only raised my sons to have good jobs, but also to know how to hunt, fish, trap and so on. We still do all of that regularly as a family and the youngest ones join in. Then we share our harvest with the elders, according to tradition.”
Beyond his family, Bob has shared Métis traditions with dozens of youth through the MMF’s Métis Cultural Survival Skills program, which he has been teaching for about 20 years in schools from Thompson to St. Malo.
“I want Métis children to be proud of their way of life, of their traditions. If they don’t continue to carry out their traditions, they will disappear. And it’s not just a question of culture. Knowing how to trap, for example, is really an economic asset.”
He explained it this way: “Last year, wild animal pelts brought in more than $12 million and 80% of those trappers were indigenous people or Métis. Those furs therefore helped them to pay for food, electricity, rent and heating.”
Après une bonne chasse, Bob Church a une tradition personnelle : « J’en profite pour penser à la terre, aux animaux, à la paix, et à remercier. Un peu comme une cérémonie de smudging. »
After a good hunt, Bob Church indulges in a personal tradition: “I take the opportunity to think about the land, about animals, about peace and to give thanks. Sort of like a smudging ceremony.”