The west bank of Lake Pekuakami, or Lac Saint-Jean, in northern Quebec, about 40 kilometres west of Saguenay, is home to the Mashteuiatsh First Nation. Long before it was designated a reserve in 1856, the area was a meeting place for the indigenous Innu. Today, the Mashteuiatsh community prides itself on preserving its heritage. The ritual Mukushan, a gathering and feast, reaffirms the people’s ties to the land. Historically, the Mukushan was held in observance of marriages, religious holidays and rites of passage. Today, it is a seasonal affair to celebrate the bounties of the spring and fall hunts.
Every spring, up to 500 people gather for a week to trap beaver and marten and shoot migrating birds. Some traditions, such as smoking beaver, moose, bear and fish, hearken back to the days when the Innu were nomadic and had to preserve their meat. Today, people from all over the Saguenay region, including nearby schools and universities, join in the feast, taking care to follow such traditions as the ceremony of the first steps, a rite of passage introducing children to hunting.