January 2, 1929
Of man's work, caribou-hunting comes first of all. Today, as much as ever before, it is upon this that the Indian's very existence depends throughout the major portion of each year.
The Land of Feast and Famine - The Barren Ground Indians
In the society of these Indians, there is a rigid apportionment of all labor. Upon the man fall the duties of hunting, fishing, and dog-mushing, and all matters related thereto; upon the woman fall all others.
Of man's work, caribou-hunting comes first of all. Today, as much as ever before, it is upon this that the Indian's very existence depends throughout the major portion of each year. Trapping is an activity which engages him, if he has time. If he succeeds in harvesting enough pelts to exchange for necessities, such as ammunition, sled, dogs, and harness, he says " heap of skins " and is satisfied with these. If there is enough meat cached beside his tepee, thus permitting him to stretch out on his caribou-skin in the tent, he will smoke, eat, and sleep, and experience not the slightest prick of curiosity.
Of caribou-hunting as it is carried on today I have already spoken; I shall here set forth briefly a few points covering the older methods. Not more than thirty years ago these were in general use, although fire-arms must surely have been introduced into the regions east of Great Slave Lake prior to this time. The older Indians still recall the days when the caribou were slain by means of spears and bow and arrow. Old Chief Marlo once told me about his hunting experiences with weapons of this type, and stated that with a three-foot how of good stout birchwood he could bring down a caribou at a range of between seventy-five and a hundred yards. Nor had he forgotten even then the art of shaping flint. He once showed me an arrow tip he had made, a remarkably fine piece of work.
In former times hunting was carried on mainly in the narrow passes and at the habitual swimming-places of the caribou during the great spring and fall migrations. In the water the beasts were speared from birch-bark canoes, on land they were sometimes speared, sometimes shot. Mass slaughter was common. The Indians would slay as many caribou as they possibly could, cut out the tongues, and leave hundreds of full carcasses behind to rot. The senselessness of such wanton destruction never seemed to enter their heads. They were following in the ways of their fathers, they reasoned, and the country had always managed to feed them.
When the herds had scattered, other methods of hunting were employed. To a large extent this took the form of hunting by dog-sled. By means of much shouting and howling, the game were driven either past an ambush of bowmen or into huge corrals. In accomplishing these devices use was frequently made of primitive fences — hedgerows of spruce or pine brush planted in the snow, coupled with stone barriers which would tend to deflect the fleeing game in the desired directions. Snares to entrap the caribou were also common up until comparatively modern times. The snares were made from thongs of caribou hide and were placed in the regular game trails in the forest.