Mark bell stops his truck at the edge of town, where the bush road begins. Leaving the engine running, he grabs a cigarette from a pack of Putter’s on the dashboard and walks into the trees. After sprinkling out a bit of tobacco from the cigarette, an offering of thanks to the Creator, he lights the smoke. “That’s as traditional as I get,” says Bell.
Determined to fill his freezer with food, he gets back in the truck and keeps driving into the predawn darkness. A band councillor at Aroland First Nation, part of the Nishnawbe Aski Nation, Bell lives in Nakina, Ontario, 341 kilometres northeast of Thunder Bay. Since last March, when the North West Company closed the Northern store in Nakina, the only groceries available in town are the selection of chocolate bars, chips, and shrink-wrapped sandwiches at the gas station. The closest supermarket is the No Frills in Geraldton, about forty-five minutes south—131 kilometres round trip.
Bell hunts, fishes, and traps for much of his food. Moose is his primary source of meat, but it has been over a year since he killed one—a butcher processed it into 486 pounds of steaks, roasts, sausages, pepperettes, and ground meat, and it has lasted until now. If he sees a moose today and gets a clear shot, it will feed him, his wife, Siru Kantola, and daughter, Taiga, as well as his father, brother, and sister-in-law, for another year.
It’s just past 6 a.m. on a Saturday near the end of October—already the middle of the moose-hunting season. Bell has heard from friends that moose have been spotted around here recently. Right away, he sees big hoofprints; some, he estimates, are only twenty minutes old. There are bare trees with broken branches from where moose rubbed their antlers to remove the “velvet”—the soft fuzz that nourishes the fast-growing bones while they regenerate every year. As the truck jostles along the bumpy road, Bell begins to see more tracks, then wolf markings mingled with the moose prints.