Behind “On the Line”

“On the Line” is the story I wrote for this year’s Crow magazine. It looks at the tradition and revival of trapping.  Drop everything and read it.  And the rest of the stories, because damn, it’s a fantastic collection of journalism.

 

I have never spent so long on one item. It was labourious. Every paragraph, every sentence, every word was carefully researched before it was crafted. Multiple sources to back up even the smallest of facts. I spent hours dissecting the smallest details, searching the ends of the earth (okay, the Internet) for that second or third source to triangulate what I was trying to say. At times, it was exhausting. But I am prouder of it than I am anything else I’ve written so far.

It was something I felt a connection to. Trapping is a tradition that is being lost in my own family. In fact, I am the first generation NOT to trap or hunt. So I see in Mikaela someone I could have been… someone I still could be. But it’s not just my interest or connection to the matter at hand.

Namely, selfishly, it was fun to write. I travelled to Prince Albert, Sask., for a two day northern trappers’ convention. No one knew what to make of me. I knew what to expect. These were men and women who lived largely in the bush. Their faces showed the hardships of the bush – the tough conditions, the hard work, the survival. Some could barely speak English, butwere fluent in their native Cree or Dene. Many glanced at me suspiciously… the stranger, the outcast.

Someone had me sign a piece of paper, saying who I was, where I was from. That paper was then read out, and my name was listed off with the various dignitaries that were there.

“She’s a journalist,” they announced. “She’s here to tell our stories!”

I was no longer a stranger or outcast, no longer eyed at suspiciously. From that point forward, I couldn’t get a moment to myself. People wanted to tell me their stories. Many of them were startling – sad stories of an endangered way of life. It was also telling how the north is an untapped resource of stories.

I took my time talking to people, to fully hear and understand their stories. At this point in my writing, all I had was research and statistics — the rich history of trapping, how many trappers there were, how many were left, and the implications of things like fur bans. The numbers outlined the crux of the story — it was a way of life that was at risk of being extinct. But I didn’t have characters to illustrate the facts. That’s what I set out to find at the convention. And there were many people that almost fit the bill. But the crowd demonstrated another point —  that when this generation dies, there is a risk that trapping will die with it.

Then Rose approached me. And then the rest unfolded from there.

My trip to Prince Albert is easily one of the highlights of my academic career. I met a lot of good people, who are fighting the good fight to hold onto their traditions. Many reminded me of my grandfather. Everything smelt smoky, like moose hide. I felt at home there, in a place I’d never been. Many people asked me my story and I told them, how my motives for telling this story were inherently selfish, how I wanted to tell a story I felt was being lost in my own family. I proudly showed them photos of my grandfather.

“He looked very kind,” one FSIN vice-chief told me, putting a sympathetic hand on my shoulder. “Kind eyes.”

Moments like that stick out the most. The acceptance into a community of which I was an outsider. The trust and eagerness in which they told me their stories. I haven’t forgotten many of them. I just don’t know how to tell them yet.

Click here to see photos from the Northern Saskatchewan Trappers Association Convention. 

Off the Line – Photos from “On the Line”

This gallery contains 5 photos.

Northern Saskatchewan Trappers Association Convention – March 23-24, 2015 I visited Prince Albert to conduct research for my story about the tradition and revival of trapping amongst northern Aboriginal families. Read more about the trip here.