L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia
Hunting by Indians
[This text was originally published in 1907 by the Bureau of American Ethnology as part of its Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. It was later reproduced, in 1913, by the Geographic Board of Canada. The work done by the American Bureau was monumental, well informed and incorporated the most advanced scholarship available at the time. In many respects, the information is still useful today, although prudence should be exercised and the reader should consult some of the contemporary texts on the history and the anthropology of the North-West Indians suggested in the bibliographic introduction to this section. The articles were not completely devoid of the paternalism and the prejudices prevalent at the time. While some of the terminology used would not pass the test of our "politically correct" era, most terms have been left unchanged by the editor. If a change in the original text has been effected it will be found between brackets [.] The original work contained long bibliographies that have not been reproduced for this web edition. For the full citation, see the end of the text.]
[Consult the article on hunting at the Encyclopedia of North American Indians¨
The pursuit of game may be divided into two sets of activities, which correspond to military strategy and tactics, the one including the whole series of traps, the other hunting weapons and processes. Beginning with the latter, the following 9 classes embrace all the hunting activities of the American Indians:
(1) Taking animals with the hand without the aid of apparatus. Examples of this are picking up marine animals on the beach to eat on the spot, robbing birds' nests, and seizing birds on their roosts on dark nights. Such unskilled taking developed the utmost cunning, agility, and strength for pursuing, seizing, climbing, diving, stealing upon, and deceiving, and the same qualities were useful also in the pursuit with weapons. The climax of this first class was the communal game drive, in which a whole band or tribe would surround a herd of animals and coax or force them into a gorge, a corral, or natural cul-de-sac.
(2) Gathering with devices. To this class of activities belong substitutes for the fingers or palms, such as rakes for drawing or piling up sea food; a sharp stick for getting worms by forcing them out of the ground; nets and scoops for taking animals from the water; also dulls, reatas, and bolas for reaching out and grasping. This class reached its climax in the partnership or communal net used by the [Inuit] and other tribes for taking seal and also small fish.
(3) The employment of apparatus for striking, bruising, or breaking bones, including stones held in the hands, clubs with grips, and hard objects at the end of a line or handle, like a slung shot. The N. Pacific tribes took great pains with their clubs, carving on them their symbolism.
(4) Slashing or stabbing with edged weapons. The Indians had little to do with metals and were given almost altogether to the use of stone, bone, reeds, and wood for stabbing and slashing. Both chipped and ground weapons were used, either without a handle, with a grip, or at the end of a shaft. Every [Inuit] had a quiver of daggers for use at close quarters, and so had the Indian his side arms. Edged weapons, however, were not so common as the weapons of the next class.
(5) Hunting with piercing weapons, the most common of all Indian methods of taking animals. The implements include the pointed stick or stone, the lance, the spear, the harpoon, and the arrow. Weapons of this class were held in the hand, hurled from the hand, shot from a bow or a blowgun, or slung from the throwing stick. Each of the varieties went through a multitude of transformations, depending on game, materials at hand, the skill of the maker, etc.
(6) The use of traps, pits, and snares. The Tenankutchin of Alaska capture deer moose, and caribou by means of a brush fence, extended many miles, in which at intervals snares are set; and the same custom was practised by many other tribes in hunting the larger game. The Plains tribes and the ancient Pueblos captured deer, antelope, and wolves by means of pitfalls.
(7) Capturing game by means of dogs or other hunting animals. Indian tribes, with few exceptions, had no hunting dogs regularly trained to pursue game, but the common dog was very efficient. Fowls of the air, marine animals, and especially carnivorous animals, such as the coyote, by their noises and movements gave the cue which aided the cunning and observant hunter to identify, locate, and follow his game.
(8) Hunting by means of fire and smoke. In America , as throughout the world, as soon as men came into possession of fire the conquest of the animal kingdom was practically assured. The Indians used smoke to drive the animals out of hiding, torches to dazzle the eyes of deer and to attract fish and birds to their canoes, and firebrands and prairie fires for game drives.
(9) Taking animals by means of drugs. The bark of walnut root served to asphyxiate fish in fresh-water pools in the Southern states; in other sections soap root and buckeyes were used.
In connection with hunting processes there were accessory activities in which the Indian. had to be versed. There were foods to eat and foods tabued, clothing and masks to wear, shelters and hiding places to provide, and not only must the hunter be familiar with calls, imitations, decoys, whistles, and the like, but acquainted with the appropriate hunting songs, ceremonies, and fetishes, and with formulas for every act in the process, the time for the chase of the various animals, the laws for the division of game, and the clan names connected with hunting. Besides, there were numberless employments and conveniences associated therewith. In order to use the harpoon it was necessary to have a canoe, and with every method of hunting were connected other employments which taxed the ingenuity of the savage mind. There were also certain activities which were the result of hunting. Questions presented themselves regarding transportation, receptacles, the discrimination of useful species, and the construction of fences. A slight knowledge of anatomy was necessary in order to know where to strike and how to cut up game. All these gave excellent training in perception, skill, and cooperative effort.
Source: James WHITE, ed., Handbook of Indians of Canada, Published as an Appendix to the Tenth Report of the Geographic Board of Canada, Ottawa, 1913, 632p., pp. 204-205.
© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College