Courtesy of the Cut Knife Courier
Most often, when we think about going fishing, we think of a nice relaxing time to sit in a boat or on the shore of a waterway. Maybe we’ll catch a fish, maybe not. What seems to be most important is the time we spend outside communing with nature.
That wasn’t the case for the people of the Poundmaker Reserve in the mid 1880s after their chief turned himself in and was convicted of treason.
For the next 30 years the federal governments of the time denied them the right to have a chief. They also took away all of their weapons that were needed for hunting, including their horses, and did not assist them in any tangible way. There was no help or supplies forthcoming from the government agents.
One of the few food sources they had were fish from the Battle River. Far from the fishing rod and reel style of catching fish, the method they used was more certain of success.
Fish baskets have been used for centuries as dependable way to get a large supply of fish. How it works is that a weir is built on each side of a river so that most of the water will flow through a certain path. Stones from the river have been used in this case to build the weirs.
Next, locally sourced white poplars were cut and the bark removed before being pounded into the riverbed. They were put in so that a fish basket could be placed between the posts. The basket itself is made out of willows, which are sturdy, yet pliable. The willows are also close at hand and are the traditional material used to make fish baskets.
Most of the water goes between the weirs and through the trap. The weirs basically help to guide the fish toward the fish basket. Once there, the fish are caught and taken out with a scoop, which is also made from locally available material. Planks are set up for a walkway so people can get out to the trap.
Approximately eight members of the Poundmaker band recently built weirs and put a fish basket about three meters out into the Battle River. Many of their people, especially their elders, like to have fish in their diet and have not had a local source for many years, other than the local grocery store.
Knowing this, some band members decided it was time to exercise their treaty rights and build the weirs, complete with a fish basket, on the Battle River. The intent is to have it be available for use by anyone in the community.
Another reason to build the weir and fish basket is to teach the younger generation some of the traditional methods of supplying food for the people. It is a tradition that has been practiced by the people of Poundmaker for generations and one that should not be lost to time.
They are fortunate that their current Chief, Duane Antoine, plus several other band members, learned the traditional ways to build the fish baskets and weirs.
One of the great things about the fish basket is that it holds the larger fish, while allowing the smaller ones to continue on their way. There’s no such thing as having to throw one back. The trap holds any of these that are, as Duane said, “large enough for the frying pan.”
The Battle River has a good variety of fish including pickerel, jack, gold eye, humpback and sturgeon.
While it was built for the community, it seems that the many bears in the area are also taking advantage of the trap, scooping out fish as efficiently with their paws as band members do with the scoop.
Many band members will enjoy fresh fish, while others, especially the elders, will practice their tradition of drying fish in the manner taught to them by their elders. It is also hoped that some of the younger generation will learn this tradition and to enjoy the results.
The fish trap is located alongside the old Poundmaker/Paynton wagon road, which gives fairly easy access to the location.
For this summer, at least, the people of Poundmaker should be able to enjoy good fishing.