River 32 -- Moose Hunting

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River

By Dawn Natelle, edited by Eric

Okay gang. Another chapter, and it is a day early too. But I have to warn you, there is hunting in this one. I know a lot of you didn’t like the deer-hunting chapter. This one is different, in that it is hunting for sport, not food. But note that hunting/guiding is a major component of First Nations economies.

Chapter 32 – Moose Hunting

So far: Mark has an interesting first few days at school, showing his teacher that he is not a slow student, and helps others in the class. He makes a friend at lunch, which leads to an after-school fracas the following day.

River woke up at 2, and then went to wake Mark. She expected more of a battle getting her brother out of bed early, but actually found him quick to get moving and dressed. While River never used a flashlight to get to the river Mark needed one to see clearly.

They both got into the river, and for about a half hour River communed with the river while Mark just charged his sleepy body up. After that, River got the computer, and for the next few hours Mark narrated his story, storing it on a memory stick. They sat underwater, and communicated through the river. The laptop never got wet, and River noticed that it even registered as recharging while in the water.

River had a little homework of her own to do after, and finished it as Mark watched the otters cavort in the early dawn light.

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Mark handed Mrs. Cutler the stick when he got off the bus, and then headed out to the playground to keep an eye on things. The Grade 8 boys, with a few of the Grade 7s, were playing baseball in one corner of the play area, and asked Mark to join in. Mark knew he was well ahead of any of the boys physically, so he politely refused, but did volunteer to be umpire. Normally disputes about balls and strikes, or whether or not a boy was out on base caused games to degenerate into arguing matches, but with an umpire none of this happened. The boys quickly learned that Mark was extremely fair, and was calling the game without favorites.

When the bell rang, the boys broke up and ran for class, with Mark trotting along with them. He enjoyed the game, and found that he could concentrate on a pitch or hit, and still take a look around the schoolyard between plays to make sure there was no trouble anywhere.

In class, Mrs. Cutler had printed out sets of the 16 pages that Mark had narrated in the morning, more than three times as much as she expected. It was again time to do reading, as on the first day, so she had the poorer readers in the class take turns reading a few lines each of Mark’s story, and was amazed at how the story interested them, and caused them to work on the words. The better readers in the class were reading ahead, and the students who had finished reading aloud were actually continuing to follow along, something the poor readers never did. The teacher was amazed at how the students had taken in the story, and the interest it was causing.

At lunch, Chester had a sandwich, and Mark went to sit with him. Then several of the boys from the baseball game joined them, and soon Chester was making friends with boys a year or two older than him. The boy had a good sense of humor, and soon had the other boys laughing at his jokes.

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River found her third day of school largely uneventful. In her science class her teacher started a section on the flora and fauna of the area. River objected to learning from the book, and wondered why they weren’t out in the real world, looking at plants and animals instead of pictures.

“We really don’t have the time to go outside,” the teacher explained. “Few animals will be around, and it would be inefficient.”

“It is a beautiful day, and I bet we will see at least 10 different species of bird, and 10 different kinds of animal. And we will be able to identify at least 25 plants, all without leaving the school grounds,” River challenged.

The teacher decided to take the girl up on her bet. “All right,” she said. “But if we don’t see that many items, then I expect a 10-page essay from you on the flora and fauna of the Canadian Shield.”

The class went out, and even though the period was nearly a quarter over, River started to point things out. Squirrels and chipmunks were the first animals, followed by field mice and a mole. They saw nine different animals before the end of the class, as well as more than a dozen different types of bird. River pointed out many different plants, from the basics like trees and grass to different wildflowers and herbs growing along the riverbank.

“The bell is about to ring, River,” the teacher said. “You have reached your target of plants and birds, but I think you fell short on animals. But it was a good effort, and I think everyone learned a lot more than they would have if we had stayed in class. No essay is required.”

“But the tenth animal just showed up,” River said. Many of the students were pointing. Night was standing at the edge of the river, not 30 feet away from the students. The teacher turned, and then gasped at the sight of the wolf.

“Please, everyone head back to the school. Now!” she said. She was clearly afraid.

“Don’t worry, Mrs. Newton,” River said. “That is a friend of mine. He will come back for the other two periods with the other classes. It wouldn’t be fair for them to have to just take the lesson from the book. He won’t get this close when I am not around, but he will show up so the kids can see a real wolf.”

“Your friend?” the teacher stammered. “I apologize. You seem to know much more about the flora and fauna of this area than I do, and I’ve been teaching it for five years.”

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Alison was preparing for the meeting that evening that should see the Ojibwe Credit Union formed. The people of Moose Portage had heard about the meeting, and were sending several elders to attend, as were the elders of Stone Ledge. Both reserves hoped that the credit union would open branches on their reserves.

Alison was unsure if that could happen. Both reserves were as large as the river reserve, but none of them had the investments that had been saved here. Having a branch in each reserve would probably be a money-losing proposition. The retail end of banking is not very lucrative, particularly with credit unions, who refuse to charge high fees to their users.

“What about part-time branches on alternate days? That would cut costs.”

“That still wouldn’t work. Branches could be set up on a desk at each band office, and perhaps an ATM outside. But the labor costs would still be too high. You would have to have someone going to four different reserves of that size to break even.”

“Then do four,” Dale said. “Mornings in one, then afternoons in another. And two different locations the next day. Like River says, it is a service, so you serve people. Just having an ATM on the reserves would be huge for the people.”

“That might actually work,” Alison said. “Not something we could do in the first year, but maybe after a year we could look at it as an expansion. Thanks honey, now at least I can offer something for those people at the meeting. Everything else seems to be under control. Oh, I have to run that idea by Nick. He is good for seeing the faults in some of my harebrained schemes.”

“By the way,” Dale said. “I was at the store yesterday talking to Connie. I’ve worked out the materials needed to make your office and the teller station. I will get to work on it tomorrow if the meeting passes everything.”

“Oh thanks love,” Alison said. “But this is supposed to be your holiday.”

“I had the best holiday of my life on the weekend, hunting with my son,” Dale said. “Yesterday I was totally bored until I went to the store. Plus, I really want to be able to give my guys a paycheck every week that they can cash in town without having to pay a commission.”

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The entire Waters family was at the high school gym that night for the meeting. Alison was on stage with elders from the three reservations, as well as Nick and a half dozen invited businessmen. Even the town mayor was there. To River’s surprise the Mayor was a 60-year-old woman who worked as a cleaner at the hospital. She was friendly, smart and well-spoken, and she welcomed Alison and all the others to the town, claiming that it was past time for a financial institution to come to the town.

Alison spoke most of the time, with Nick adding bits here and there. The first big moment came an hour into the meeting when a vote was held to see if there was any interest in forming a credit union. Every hand in the place was raised.

Then came the hard part. A board needed to be formed. Alison and Nick were not eligible as employees, and at first no one was willing to volunteer. Then members of the First Nations started to volunteer, and soon there were four from the local band, and two others, one from each of the other bands.

Then there was another pause, broken when the mayor volunteered. Nelson Churchill raised his hand, and River thought he was volunteering, but instead he nominated his wife, who accepted. Once people realized that they could nominate others, the remaining four slots were filled quickly. People felt pride in being nominated by others, and generally accepted, and Alison was happy with the quality of members selected.

The final step came when the new board took to the stage, and Nick swore them in. Alison asked them to approve borrowing $75,000 from the reserve, at prime rate, which would allow for construction of the offices and purchase of an ATM machine. Alison noted that the ATM machines cost $10,000 each, and if the other reserves hope to have branches set up in the future, each band would need to come up with at least $12,000 to cover the costs.

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The next day River pretty much led the science class, taking the students out again. This time they went to the river, and the entire class stood on the bank. River had various species of fish come by and leap out of the water, allowing the students to see and recognize them. She even had males and females of each species make the jump.

After a short quiz, where River would have a fish jump, and the students had to identify it, beavers came by and two worked diligently to chop down a cedar sapling, and then swim off pushing the tree upriver. Finally, a group of otters came by and the class was entertained for the last ten minutes of the period watching them cavort and play in the bank.

“Tomorrow I could bring a bear and a moose,” River said, “but I think they would cause too much commotion coming through the town.”

“No bear,” Mrs. Newton said. “A moose might be a bit too much as well.”

“Well, how about a deer?” River said.

“Yes please,” called out several students. “And a fawn too?” one asked.

“Too late in the year to see a fawn, I think,” River said. “But we could have a mother and two young deer I know come in. It is hunting season, so they are a bit skittish right now, but most hunters know enough to leave a doe and her young alone. I will see what I can do.”

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The next morning River was at the river with Mark, and the two were narrating more of Mark’s story for reading class. They didn’t need it yet, Mr. Cutler still had more than 10 pages to read in class. But Mark wanted to finish up the story, and knew that some of the better readers in the class had already finished the first part.

As dawn neared River got a tingle from the river, and stood up. The largest moose she had ever seen had come up to drink from the river. River stood in awe as she looked at it. The antlers were wider than she was tall. It stood nearly eight feet tall, and had to splay its gangly legs to drink. As it tried to stand erect again, River thought she sensed pain.

Does it hurt? she asked.

Yes, of course it does, the animal replied, not at all surprised that she could communicate with it.

Do you want to come into the river, River said. Maybe it will cure you?

There is no cure for old age, the moose replied. This is my last year. I didn’t even participate in the rut. I let the younger bucks fight it out, and just walked away. I’ve been on my own for a few suns now. Soon I will be no more.

Come into the river anyway, the girl said. The moose thought for a few seconds, and then almost fell into the water: it was so clumsy in entering.

That feels good, it said.

Is it curing you?

No, but the pain is gone. Now I will be able to run and give the hunters a chase when they come with their firesticks, it said.

“Noooo,” River said aloud. “You are too beautiful to die.”

All animals die, the moose said. At least I will be able to go with dignity. I just wish that it could be one of your people, with arrows. The firesticks scare me.

I have an idea, River answered. It wouldn’t be our people who hunt you, but one of our people will guide hunters with bows. Some people would pay a lot of money to hunt a magnificent creature like you. And if you are going anyway, it might be a good way to go.

No firesticks?

Only arrows.

Then I agree, the moose said. Just then Mark stood up, having finished his math homework, and when the moose saw him it bolted, leaving the river much more gracefully than he had entered it.

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Colin Redhawk sat on the bus with River that morning as they rode to school, and River explained the plan. He agreed to get something online immediately, but said they needed a picture. River said she would arrange for April Audette to get something good.

After school that day April came to River’s afternoon session, where River sang the history to more visitors from other bands. They were starting to come even from places that Rod and the girls had not yet been to as word spread. This particular group was surprised when a massive moose approached the river while River was singing.

April got good pictures of the moose and the crowd in the water, and then another shot of River getting close to it. She was even able to pat its nose. They took the pictures to Colin’s home, and he immediately uploaded them to his computer.

“We should use this one,” he said, pointing at a picture with River about 10 feet from the moose. “If we use the one where you are petting it, people will think it is a fake, or a pet animal. And we can use this one, where all the people are in the water with you. A sort of ‘moose photobombs ceremony’ kind of thing. I think these will attract attention on the web.”

The following day on the bus ride Colin let River know that the pictures had gone viral overnight, and had been picked up by the websites of bow and hunter magazines. He had also put up a page on eBay offering hunters a chance to participate in the hunt for the moose and the magazine sites linked to it. The top eight bids would be accepted, at the price of the eighth bid.

On Sunday the eBay auction ended, with eight bids at over $12,000. The moose season would start the following Friday, and the winning bidders would have to be at the reserve at 6 a.m. that morning to go out hunting with Tall John, who River had chosen as the guide. It turned out that most of the winning bidders were able to make the deadline, since they were self employed, or just plain rich. The two who couldn’t were quickly replaced by the next highest bidders, who agreed to pay the $12,000.

The deal was that the charge would drop to $1000 if no one shot the moose. The man whose arrow killed the moose, in the sole opinion of Tall John, would get the trophy and the hide. All the men would get a share of the meat. Any who did not want the meat could donate it to the people of the band. The event would last two weeks, or until the moose was killed, whichever came first. Any hunter who left early would forfeit their full fee, even if the moose was not taken.

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The hunt arrived with most of the men on time, or nearly so. Several had flown into Terrace Bay on their private jets. Another group had to land in Thunder Bay, since their jets were too large for the Terrace Bay airstrip. They arrived by limo. Most camped out the night before in the park, with only the two latecomers coming in that morning.

It was nearly seven when Tall John led the men out of the reserve. They went in the back of two pickup trucks about 12 miles to the north, and then Tall John had them walk another two miles on foot before they set up camp.

Tall John had the men demonstrate their bow prowess, and almost all were quite skilled. One does not spend $12,000 for a sport you are not adept at. Except for one man, who was quite inept. He pleaded to be able to use his rifle instead, but Tall John instead started giving him bow lessons.

The other men spent that time having an arrow-shooting competition, with bets of $1000 each. Tall John heard of the contest, and joked that he should enter and double his fee. The man who eventually won cleared almost enough to cover the cost of his entry into the pool. But the contest was repeated almost every day of the trip, although eventually only five were participating. And the bet dropped down to $500, and then $250 as the novelty wore off.

On the third day of the hunt Tall John discovered a massive moose print in the mud of a streambed. This got the lagging interest of the men back up, although two days later it was low again. That day they saw the moose at a distance, and all eight hunters were astounded at its size.

For each of the next four days, the hunters spotted the animal again at least once, and once three times in the day. Most times the animal was closer than the prior time it was spotted, and the men continued to be avidly into the hunt.

During this time the beginner bowman had developed minimal skills. At least he wouldn’t miss and shoot his partners, John thought.

On the tenth day of the hunt Tall John told the men they needed help, and he was going to call in his assistants. He whistled, and about five minutes later Night trotted into the campsite, and a minute later Silver followed.

The men were clearly alarmed at wolves in their camp, and went for their bows, until Tall John stopped them. He gave Night a big hug, as he explained that this was the help they needed. Eventually all the men eased up, and even took pictures of themselves with the wolves as additional souvenirs of the hunt.

The next day the two wolves went out and chased the moose towards the hunters, and the following day it managed to get close enough that most of the men got a shot off before it veered away. One arrow hit, but it was a glancing blow that bounced off the leathery rump of the animal.

It was just before noon on the twelfth day that the moose was brought down. Tall John was out like a shot, and finished the dying animal off with his knife. The men gathered around, and found that five of them had arrows in the animal.

Three were close to the heart, and there was an argument over who got it. Tall John had to cut into the animal to find which arrow was closest to the heart. The lucky hunter gloated, but all eight men had photos taken with the great moose. For seven of them, this would be their only trophy of the hunt.

“Where are the wolves?” the inept bowman asked.

“They have gone for the truck,” Tall John said.

“They can drive a truck?” the man joked.

“No, but they will let my friends in the reserve know we are ready. We will clean and skin the animal while they are coming. This seems to be near a ton in weight, far too much to carry out, even among nine.”

“A truck?” the hunter who had made the lucky shot griped. “Why the hell have we been walking all over this god forsaken country if you had trucks around?”

“Because we were hunting, not sightseeing,” Tall John sneered. “Are you not happy? You got the prize.”

The man admitted that he was happy. In fact, all of them were. The trucks, two pickups, arrived at about three, and had chests with ice for the meat. By this time the carcass had been cut and skinned, with the bones and entrails in a pile. The meat and the men were loaded into the backs of the trucks, along with the trophy and pelt.

The trip back was about 15 miles, and took a half hour. Many of the men left immediately and the others spent a last night in camp, although in the nicer surroundings of the park.



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