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Ancestral Fishing Methods

Sepia-toned photo, two men building a traditional birch bark canoe by the shoreline. A few pieces of bark cover the ground.

Fabrication of a white birch bark canoe


There are few written records on the traditional know-how of the Atikamekw people. Passed down from parents to children by word of mouth, the traditions survive from generation to generation.

Living close to nature, this Indigenous people developed methods and techniques that are intimately linked to the Aboriginals’ six seasons. Still today, fishing is one of the most widespread activities.

Black and white photo, preparing to soften spruce roots. The roots soak in a pot of water that sits on a rock.

Softening spruce roots

Every season brings its own sort of abundance. In the spring and summer, people use nets to fish for walleye, pike and lake trout. In the fall, they cast their nets for whitefish and then scale, gut, cut up and thread their catches on sticks to smoke and preserve them. In the winter, they dig a hole in the ice and continue to fish, again using nets.

Did you know that the word “Atikamekw” means both “white fish” and, more specifically, the species known as “whitefish”?

Color photo, two people are on a frozen lake. A hole is drilled in the ice and a fishing net is nearby. Two wooden poles will hold the net in place.

Net fishing on ice


Colour photo of bait made in artisanal fashion using a bone to hold the hook in place. The leather strip is tied to the end of the hook. The fishhook is set against a backdrop of fir branches.

Artisanal fishhook

The Atikamekw people are skilled at making everything themselves. They make fishing flies out of hair, grouse feathers and bits of fox fur, and hooks out of moose bones. They even fashion their canoes from birch bark.

Much of their traditional artwork is still created with know-how passed down over centuries. Imparting knowledge in this way speaks to the multiple talents of this Indigenous people. The elders are proud to share this wealth with the new generation.

Black and white photo, César Newashish sitting next to a white birch bark canoe. Floral and ancestral motifs adorn the boat’s hull.

César Newashish and his birch bark canoe, 1977 – 1978

The tradition continues…

Article on César and his son

Article taken from Innuvelle newspaper, August 7 2004