Growing up on Mikisew land: stewardship, pride and tradition
Robert Grandjambe’s life has always revolved around Mikisew land. He loves sharing his memories of it and his concern for its future. Robert started learning about the land and its use at a young age, hunting when he was four and trapping when he was six. He talks fondly about his firsts: his first duck, first moose, first fisher, first lynx.
“The most significant first for me was that first red fox,” Robert says. “I harvested it behind the restaurant in the community and processed it with the guidance of my father. I was so proud to walk into the Hudson Bay Company to have my fur graded at the age of six. HBC was a place where the men that I admired in the community — the well-respected trappers — went to the back room to have their furs graded, and now I was a part of that.”
That was the moment Robert felt he was part of a legacy, and it was the start of his career as a trapper.
Maintaining this traditional way of life in modern times gives Robert a sense of pride, fulfillment and responsibility. He feels great pride in honouring the knowledge passed down to him and using that knowledge daily. He feels fulfillment realizing that the traditional ways and techniques he uses have been developed and passed down for millennia, and now he can use them to provide for himself and his family. Responsibility comes from knowing that he wants to pass these traditions and techniques down. He is keen to ensure the survival techniques that let him harvest from the land are not lost with his generation.
The land and traditional life and techniques go beyond providing food for the table. They have taught Robert many life lessons.
“Values of dedication, perseverance and hard work that I learned off the land were skills that I applied throughout my education and into my career as a trapper,” Robert says. “Sometimes they were hard lessons to learn as a youth when your peers had things ‘easy,’ yet there was an expectation of upholding those values of hard work even when you wanted to play.”
As an adult, Robert began to see how those values he established from a young age, such as his work ethic and persistence, ended up serving him well in adulthood. He learned not only the practical skills it takes to be successful on the land but also the inner values required to persevere and find a way, even when the going gets tough.
One lesson he learned was to listen to his dreams and follow them, even when others said they weren’t attainable. This is a lesson Robert is keen to pass on to young people around him. Many people told him his dream was unattainable, “far out,” and unrealistic in the modern world. If he had listened to others and accepted what they said as reality, he would never have pursued his passion and would never have had a career that provides such a sense of personal satisfaction.
Although it wasn’t easy, Robert says it was worth it in the end.
“I am my boss, my workplace is out on the land, I get to travel and move as our ancestors did seasonally, I am able to feed myself and provide for my family and communities,” he says. “All of these things and more combine to give me what is in my eyes the ultimate job.”
It’s clear Robert is very eager to share the knowledge that his own grandfather passed on as a way to exercise his Indigenous rights. “For knowledge to be of any value, it needs to be shared,” is advice his grandfather gave him and which he repeats often.
Robert believes it can be as simple as taking a young person on a boat, picking berries or just being out on the land. His dream is to launch a program that allows country foods to be harvested according to what’s seasonally available. These foods could be stored in a community freezer accessible to all Mikisew Members (and beyond), which would be used to help with the cost of community events. Robert believes a program like this would foster a greater connection to the land and community and awaken a sense of pride and fulfillment.
“Now when I am on the land and see those red foxes, it almost takes me back to that moment and is a reminder of where I started my journey and how far I have come,” he says.