Approximately three hundred years ago, prior to the introduction of commercial products in western Canada, Aboriginal People relied fully on the resources of the land to sustain living and to develop a lifestyle that included cultural art as a mainstay of their being. All mammals, birds, fish, and vegetation played a part in that process. Aboriginal people fed, clothed, sheltered, and entertained themselves from the products of the land. They maintained a utilitarian and a spiritual relationship with the land. It is through this culture that we can come to understand the inherent value in the human being’s connection with all creation.
-Terry Garvin, from Carving Faces, Carving Lives: People of the Boreal Forest
As the boreal forest moved through its cycle of seasons, so too did the traditions and values of northwest Aboriginal Peoples cycle from one generation to the next for hundreds if not thousands of years. The vast knowledge of what could be harvested from the land and the water was practiced and passed on. Life in the boreal forest was the purest expression of such knowledge.
Traditions of hunting and trapping lay at the core of northwest Aboriginal existence. Knowledge of animal behavior, habitat, and seasons of activity was critical to ensure a good hunt. Following from this, traditions of how to use what was caught, how to process hides and cure meat, and craft other tools and implements from animal matter were equally important to survival in the northwest.
Travel in the boreal forest presented unique challenges to the people who lived within its boundaries. Traditions of travel, like how to travel overland in dense brush or deep snow, evolved over time to help Aboriginal Peoples get around in their world, and enabled them to pursue the animals upon which they depended for life.
Creative expression through artwork was another tradition vital to Aboriginal lives. Artwork was a practical reflection of life in the boreal forest, and a beautiful mirror to the ways in which the human spirit can connect to the natural world. To be reminded of this connection was to recognize the place of the human in a much larger network of lives.
The history of northwest Aboriginal tradition is not a static one. Traditional hunting and trapping culture survived in the Aboriginal world by a series of adaptations to changes in their surrounding world, many of these brought on after industrial settlement began to occur in the north. Over time those core values and traditions would remain fixed in essence, yet fluid in practice from one generation to the next.
Featured Video: Traditional Life in the Bushland
The Heritage Community Foundation, with the kind permission of Terry Garvin, is pleased to present this feature excerpt from the Bush Land People video.
In an area that spans the southern Northwest Territories, as well as northern Alberta, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia, traditional hunters and trappers live out the year engaged in the activities that ensure survival in the northwest wilderness.