Our Cree Ancestors Guide Us

Traditional Shelter Project

Corrections Fund

“My father gave me my identity,” says David Erless, who was taken out of school and into the bush by his father when he was a teenager, to help his father on the land. His father understood the importance of living off the land and knew that traditional values and culture would give David the best education possible. David soon faced the same hardships as his ancestors, especially during winter, and was spending up to 11 months of the year in the bush hunting, fishing, and trapping.

For 65 years, David has lived in Waskaganish and has seen a lot. “Many young people don’t fully understand what its like to be on the land as they haven’t experienced what the elders have, what our ancestors have. This is one thing I cherish: that my father helped me to live a traditional life and know my Cree heritage and identity. Knowing that I have walked in my ancestors’ footsteps… they are really amazing. Everything they had came from the land. Women used to have their babies on the land.”

David feels that passing these teachings on is paramount to the survival of his people. In being accepted for the Justice Funds funding, he has been able to take participants who have struggled through the corrections system into their traditional environment, feeling that if they are able to connect back to the land and back to who they are they will be able to heal. “I told the kids the first day we were out there, I’m going to take you 40 years into the past and when you come back, you’ll know your identity.”

Together with participants who are post-incarceration or post-corrections system, David went into the bush for 5 days during the fall and 5 days in the winter to teach traditional shelter building and Cree ways. Through his own father’s teachings, David showed participants how to build a traditional shelter using only materials from the land. Once the shelter was built, they lived there being exposed to Cree language, values, and activities. The experience ultimately helps them to reintegrate back into the community through healing and reconnecting to land and their Cree identity.

“Living off the land means hunting beavers, partridge, and ptarmigan, setting snares, drying pelts, traditional food preparation and cooking,” says David. “It means respect for each other and sharing what the land provides.” Each evening, David taught participants 10 Cree words and encouraged them daily to speak Cree as much as possible.

Feedback from participants was overwhelmingly positive, and they expressed great appreciation for their role in shelter building, hunting and cooking activities, connecting back to their roots, and the continuation of their ancestral values like community, humility, respect, and friendship. Participants learned about kinship ties, Cree family values, and caring for one another on a broader scale in terms of feeding and working for the entire community.

David is hopeful that the project will be continued; as recommendations are to have the land based camp in all seasons so that more opportunities are provided for participants to learn from the hardships and perseverance of their ancestors.