Elder Rene Bruno
We sat down with Elder Rene Bruno and asked him a few questions. Here’s what he had to share.
Where were you born?
I was born in 1934 at Jackfish Lake, not far from Poplar Island; close to the gravesite is where my grandfather’s house was. [Said in Dene: Gestnolia or guessnoleea.]
Did you live out on the land?
I lived out there till the kids had to go to school. I lived at Jackfish Lake but just down the lake. I lived on the land all my life. I lived out there until I moved here in Fort Chip over 50 years ago.
Did you have some memories you want to share?
I think about my land in Jackfish all the time. In the winter I took my kids out and taught them. Some of them didn’t care about learning. Jackfish was a pretty good place to live. Early summer and spring everyone would come down and visit. There was lots of fish. Everyone collected fish for their dogs and made dry fish. Lots of people. It was a big place. Some people came in from town and stayed there. People stopped going there now because of pollution. Afterschool was out for the summer I took the kids out to the land. Lots of times they taught us kids how to read and write. Long time ago the priest would hand out bibles, books, and song books. It was easy to learn back then. Long ago we would write letters to each other.
I still like bush land. It’s just nice to be out there trapping. People were well off to eat. Jackfish had a potato garden too, and we stored the potatoes in the cellar during the winter months. We had a three-horse motor and it took us five hours or more to get back from town.
What were some lessons learned?
I learned everything out there. Those days people helped each other: how to hunt, trap and if we got hurt. When I was small, we waited for my grandpa to come back with a moose. Now I teach my grandchildren how to hunt. I show them the river and how to make dry fish. Some grandchildren don’t care but some of them really go for it.
The Delta is big, the richest delta in Canada. They knew how to live in the bush. Long time ago in my dad’s days, they go in the bush and they come back at Christmas or winter time. We used to have a store at Jackfish at Bunny’s place. Not only Dene lived there, Metis too. The delta and the reserve are not just willows. The land was spoiled by the water. The pollution.
We only came to town during treaty time. We had to bring the whole family, dogs too. It was good though. Not only First Nation came but Metis from up the river. Dogs was the main way to travel. That was the time there I used to row a big skiff. Going up would take long but coming back we were going down the river.
Some old people, Marcel’s grandparents, would walk for a day or two. They would hunt and make dry meat.
I remember in the lake by the graveyard, I would see them go by the river those old timers. Now there are not many graves. We still like the land. We have cabins all over by the river. We still like to go out there.
Back then we didn’t get no money from anyone, no old age pension, nothing. We had to trap, even the women trapped. My mother trapped too. Weasel, minks too. They were happy. We helped our parents. We cut wood for them and we hauled water.
There was a story teller there, Marie Mercredi has the stories. There was only one street in Chip, just the main street.
Old timers used to go easy on the land. We don’t fool around on the land or the water. We had lots of water too. My mother was there when they signed treaty. Mission was already here for 50 years. They know how to speak and write dene. They asked the Mission to make a deal with the government. Commissioner Conroy. The Dene up north didn’t give anything away. I have a reserve here, this house.
One thing I don’t like is that I can’t even get a trapline. We didn’t give government this land. I tried to get a trapline, I couldn’t get one. I went to a meeting in Hay River with smart people about the land. Lots of Elders are there. The old timers know the land. Us younger people are smart on a computer. I talk Dene in the meeting and they had four translators. I trapped all my life and now I can’t get a trapline.
The land is the main thing.
What your favorite traditional meal to cook?
I like to eat just about everything. Sometimes we have no meats but we can find rabbits and fish. I like fish better; it makes you strong. We had lots of caribou too. Over 50 years ago from the east and south we always had caribou. Now they quit coming here. Caribou is good.
In the summer I go in the bush. That’s where I was raised. In Jackfish and the delta.
Lots of dry fish in the summer. Maria Houle’s dad had a house and I would go there all summer. Make fish. It would last us a long time.
The old timers know how to live.
What would you like to say to ACFN members about Fort Chipewyan?
Liza Flett and her mom, they trapped rats too. They stayed in Old Fort, tents all the way. There was lots of rats. You can eat them and feed your dogs and make money. John Chadi had bought about 150,000 rats one winter. Northern store too. That’s why they called this the richest delta. Long ago we didn’t work on Sunday. Long ago we sang in Dene. We said our prayers in Dene too.