Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
October 2004

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia





[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 American 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.]



Pemmican. A food preparation (also spelled pemican) used in the wilds of the northern parts of North America, and made by cutting the meat of the reindeer into thin slices, drying the latter in the sun or over the smoke of a slow fire, pounding them fine between stones, and incorporating the material with one-third part of melted fat. To this mixture, dried fruit, such as choke or June berries, is sometimes added. The whole is then compressed into skin bags, in which, if kept dry, it may be preserved for four or five years. Sweet pemmican is a superior kind of pemmican in which the fat used is obtained from marrow by boiling broken bones in water. Fish pemmican is a pemmican made by the Indians of the remote regions of the N. W. by pounding dried fish and mixing the product with sturgeon oil. The [Inuit] of Alaska make a pemmican by mixing chewed deer meat with deer suet and seal-oil. "This food," observes Lieut. Ray, "is not agreeable to the taste, probably owing to the fact that the masticators are inveterate tobacco-chewers." The word is from Cree pimikan, 'manufactured grease,' from pimikeu, 'he (or she) makes (or manufactures) grease,' that is, by boiling crude fat, pimü, in water and skimming off the supernatant oil. The verb is now used by the Cree in the sense of 'he makes pemmican.' The word is cognate with Abnaki pimikân.    


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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. 384-385.



© 2004 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College