Ten miles from the shores of Attawapiskat are the Twin Islands. All offshore land on the James Bay and Hudson Bay used to be part of the NWT, but are now part of Nunavut. This includes the Twin Islands, even though they are situated closer to Ontario than anywhere else.
The Twin Islands are traditional territory of the Attawapiskat Cree, and so is the largest island in the James Bay (Akimiski Island). For as long as I can remember, Attawapiskat people have been going to the islands. I go about three times each year, and the last trip I took was last month, when I went there with my family for tea and lunch. There's comfort in being there, miles from any other people. It's a peaceful place.
The kids loved every minute of it, combing the beach for mysterious rocks and treasures. My son Jr. asked me, "Why are all the rocks so round and smooth here?" I tell him it's the sea that makes them that way. Conversations — and places — like this remind me that the world holds many mysteries and lessons to be learned.
One of my most vivid memories of Twin Islands was a hunting trip I took with several other young lads in the fall months. My brother and I were travelling in a 16-foot boat with a six-horsepower outboard, and the others were in a larger canoe. I was 16 years old, and it was our first big trip without grownups. We were a little nervous being on our own, but groomed well enough to handle a trip as such.
We ended up in a creek system near Twin Islands. The hunting was good, but then "Old Man North Wind" decided to crash the fun, and brought bad company with him, too. You see, there are no trees along the coast, just brush, bog, mud flats and grass. So our tents kept blowing over because we were in the open. And then the horizontal rain hit! We got soaked, and it was a miserable time.
The wind and rain would not let up for days, so we decided to cross over to Twin Islands once high tide came. The logic behind this decision was that we would take shelter in the trees, find dry wood to make a fire and wait out the bad weather.
We learned some very valuable lessons that trip. We also got an earful from our parents.
We set a course due west and headed out. Boy, it was a rough ride over! The other boat took in lots of water, and was having engine problems, too. We had to rush to aid them for fear their boat might sink, and towed them to safety. I remember thinking that trying to make this crossing was a real dumb move on our part, but we lacked experience and better judgement.
At long last we were out of the wind and rain, and quickly rounded up wood for a fire. Most of the wood was very wet, and no matter what we did, we couldn't get the fire going. We even starting burning small bills as a desperate measure. Eventually we decided to swallow our pride and used gasoline to get the fire going. It didn't take long for that fire to burn hot, and we all curled up as close as we could, grateful for the warmth, safety and solid ground.
As the tide was heading out, three of us suddenly decided to try for home. I can't recall exactly why, but off we went. It took a few tumultuous hours, and by the time we arrived home, we were hypothermic — trying to hide it as we walked up the bank. We must have look like zombies, slowly dragging our lifeless limbs every inch of the way home. We learned some very valuable lessons that trip. We also got an earful from our parents.
Today, most people visit the Twin Islands for family gatherings, spring hunting, weekend camping, berry picking, medicine picking and even just to walk the beautiful shoreline. Historically, villagers used to collect seagull eggs there, hence the Cree meaning "Minawanan" (collecting eggs). It's also a place where the southern tide meets the northern tide, and quite often hunters travelling north or south will stop for a brief layover while waiting for tides to sync up.
Being close to the sea, it calms your soul and eases your mind. In ancient times, the old people could call on the sea ("Weeneebaygo") for help. She's a powerful spirit that could ward off evil and sickness. When she is ill, we must acknowledge her power and be grateful for terra firma. When she is calm, you can feel her kindness.
Twin Islands is a special place for many, and I'm always glad when I get to spend quality time there with my family.
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