Indigenous Insights - Winter on the Land with Massey Bouchier
When most of us think of winter in Wood Buffalo, we think of hunkering down for five to seven months, jet-setting to tropical destinations or the holidays. But for trappers like Massey Bouchier, who have maintained a Traditional Lifestyle of living off the land, winter is all about preparation, being outdoors and reaping and respecting what Mother Earth has to offer.
Visiting Massey on his trapline south of Fort McMurray, he shared what it takes to get ready to survive a winter trapping and hunting—like gathering and chopping wood, preparing a variety of snares and traps and setting them on his trap line. There’s a lot to do to organize for the roughly three-month trapping season that stretches from October 1 to January 15.
Trapping different animals requires unique knowledge as each animal has their own snare or trap and stretchers. Massey explains how he makes each snare individually and places them on the line one at a time; and there’s an abundance of snares around, a testament to the time and energy he takes.
When asked about setting up the line, he takes his time explaining the process: “You put the bait here, you close this, tie a wire, he goes in and he can’t come out.” And this isn’t a job for the weary or lazy as Massey “checks the lines [between] 12 to 24 or 48 hours. If you leave ‘em too long something might take ‘em.” But nothing to goes to waste, explaining how he “found a coyote who was half-eaten in the trap,” so he skinned it and gave it away.
Along with the well-known fox, bears, squirrels, and beavers, there are also coyotes, wolves, mink, wolverines, porcupine, and even seals. Moose can also be seen, although he says there are “less moose over the last seven or eight years than there used to be. I don’t know where they all went.” Massey recalls one time when he was out on the land and he saw moose tracks on the side of Highway 63. Unsure of where they went he returned to his cabin to find the moose waiting for him there, pointing to the trail. “I could have shot him right there,” but he explains that although it made a tempting and convenient target, he was unable to harvest it.
This is because according to the Government of Alberta, Fort McMurray is not considered to have MОtis Harvesting Rights. Therefore, MОtis citizens are prevented from practicing their constitutional right to hunt. Instead, they are required to register with the government and abide by quotas like non-Indigenous hunters. Rightfully, this policy is currently under review.
But trapping and living off the land is a way of life, not just a winter gig or an income. When asked what he likes about it, he offers, “It’s good eh, nice, peaceful—you got no boss here. Don’t do this, do that. You do your own thing. I got some berries right out there too.” If only we all could be so lucky. With the exception of some curious critters, he is rarely disturbed. Occasionally a MОtis member will bring him supplies, food, and water. “I’m spoiled,” he says with a chuckle.
Although it was cold and a light dusting of snow was beginning to fall, Massey’s stories, wisdom, and laugh warmed the soul. There are many lessons to be learned from a Traditional Lifestyle, like patience, stewardship, to only take what you need, and that Mother Earth will provide. Living on the land requires respect for all beings, knowledge of the landscape and having the skills to survive. By stepping out of our comfort zones into the cold and unknown, we can learn about our backyard, each other and ourselves. And what a beautiful journey it can be.
Photos: Massey’s Property, south of Fort McMurray displays a variety of traps, snares and fur stretchers, a toboggan loaded and ready with snares and traps, plus furs waiting to be shipped. Photos supplied