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.”

Know­ledge Trans­mis­sion

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.”

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