by Zainab Amadahy
PIC: Aski Boyz, Heart & Soul Media
What happens when you take two urbanized Cree teenagers from Toronto and send them on a life-altering quest to thirteen distinct Indigenous communities?
This is the premise of film Director Jules Koostachin’s new fast-paced reality show coming up on APTN.
For their love of adventure, hunger for Indigenous knowledge and genuine concern for the environment, Cree teen brothers Asivak and Mahiigan, nicknamed the AskiBOYZ (Aski is Cree for ‘land’), signed themselves up for a life jolting journey that will completely turn their understanding of the world upside down.
One unique aspect to this reality program is that the show’s creator and director is also the mother of the AskiBOYZ and she doesn’t take it easy on her sons. They work long hours hunting, gathering, making tools and doing whatever it takes to survive in the environment of the week. Their inner and physical strength is continuously tested and our urbanized Cree teenagers will soon discover what it’s like to walk a mile in someone else’s mukluks.
After learning basic survival techniques and customary practices from a Knowledge Keeper in each community they visit, the boys will walk away with sacred traditional teachings and a taste of what life was like before westerners arrived in the region. It won’t be easy for the brothers but they are up for the challenges and believe that they have what it takes to succeed because they have each other. But life on the land in some of these remote communities can be difficult, putting stress on their brotherly relationship.
Luckily the teenagers will have a mentor in Cassius Spears (Narragansett) who will ensure the boyz are prepared for each community visit. Nevertheless, anything can, and will happen to the unsuspecting brothers.
In this post, Zainab Amadahy interviews Jules Koostachin about AskiBOYZ.
Z.A. Where did the idea for AskiBoyz come from?
J.K. My Cree grandfather Abraham was a leader in the community of Lake River north of Attawapiskat in the early to mid 1930s, and was a trapper/hunter. Because he was a ‘traditional’ leader his responsibility was to ensure that the next generation had the tools and skills they required to survive off the land. He also ensured that children in his community who had lost a parent/s who was the provider; had obtained the skills necessary to help their family. At this time in the far north it wasn’t about money it was about survival. He also made sure that families without food had their share from the hunting/trapping. No one went without, and because he was a “Okimaw” (leader), my eldest brother would have been the next hereditary ‘leader’… things have changed as we all know, now being governed by the Indian Act, therefore, our Indigenous governance system has been systematically taken from our people.
I believe that my grandfather’s first great grandson, my eldest son Asivak (19) would have been next in line to lead or take on this responsibility, but unfortunately my grandfather never had the opportunity to take out my brothers and I, nor my sons. We have all lost something important and customary in his passing, as well as my grandmother. This series is dedicated to our Native boys, soon to be Native men who did not receive all of our traditional Cree teachings; teachings in turn which are embedded in the truth, our truth about respecting the Earth, hence our women.
To make a long story short, this series is about my sons, putting them out there on the land, with the spirit of my grandparents watching over them. They have been raised in the city of Toronto, and I wanted them so badly to have this experience. Using media I have been able to provide them this important opportunity to learn from Elders/Knowledge Keepers across this nation and hopefully beyond, they learn from both women and men, as my grandfather did.
Cassius, their mentor on the show I met in Banff at a Native Leadership program years ago. I was new ‘friends’ with his wife and as soon as I met him I knew he was the one to take them on this journey.
Because I was a single mother when raising my eldest boys in my twenties/thirties, I knew they were missing something in their lives that I could not provide; Cassius was perfect for this journey. His values, energy, teachings, and kindness reminded me right away of my late grandfather, Abraham. I knew in my heart I had my show! A show that wasn’t just about my boys struggling out in the land to entertain the audience, but hopefully seen to help encourage and inspire our Native youth who are feeling a void in their lives to go out on the land, feel the connection!
I was always taught that it takes a village to raise our children, and we need to do this again, so we need to open our arms and take on this responsibility as my grandparents did and welcome our youth back to the land.
Z.A. How would you like this series to impact young people?
J.K. I want youth to feel inspired and to be able to laugh at themselves if they fail at something the first time, to at least try something new once. Living off the land is hard work and, because my boys are funny and don’t take themselves too seriously, it will hopefully appeal to other kids. I want kids to remember where they come from and understand that we have a rich herstory. We come from strong people who cared about the land and each other. I’m not trying to say we lived in a utopia, but we were led by our teachings passed on for generations. I hope kids will want to go back out on the land, get off the video games and computers, feed their souls with our traditional way of life. Push their limits, and see that we are here for the long run, and because we carry the ways of our ancestors we will continue to thrive. We need our kids on board, we need our kids to understand that we are why the newcomers have survived and thrived, thrived because we kept our resources in tact.
Z.A. What were some of the biggest challenges the boys faced?
J.K. The boys have not had a lot of experience being out on the land, so everything they attempted to do was a challenge. They picked vegetables in a garden with Jan Longboat and made their own soup from scratch (from starting the fire to peeling the veggies), they cut wood for warmth, they made their very own stone axe to cut down trees, they hunted for their meals, built shelter, and fished with a make-shift fishing rod.
The boys are used to a life in the city where we’re so disconnected from the land. In the city they can walk into a fast food restaurant and buy a burger without even thinking that an animal had to give up their life. Because the boys when hunting on this journey, they learned very quickly that all life has value and we need to respect that. With each community the boys have visited they learn about that particular culture, language and way of life. They walk away each time with more knowledge, and more confidence to live life with more meaning, that when you take you must give back.
I believe that my grandparents are watching, and they are proud of what the boys have accomplished.
Z.A. Any chance you’ll be doing an AskiGirlz show?
J.K. I would love to create a brand, and spin off shows, if there is a desire within our community to learn, than the show will have a long prosperous life indeed.
Born in Moose Factory, Ontario, Jules Arita Koostachin was raised by her Cree speaking grandparents for part of her childhood in Moosonee, as well as her mother in Ottawa. She is from Attawapiskat First Nation and currently lives in Sudbury. For more on Jules and her work: