Fish is a year-round mainstay for all northerners. Net fishing is the
usual way to catch fish in both summer and winter. Few northern native
people use a hook and line, as sport fishing. Netting is more effective.
Many species of fish were and are still available in northern lakes and
rivers. Some lakes abound in trout, while others are best known for
pickerel or whitefish. Not many northern natives eat northern pike
(jackfish). Although it is favored by many fish eaters in other cultures,
northerners regard it as inferior - basically dog food. On the other hand,
whitefish, lake trout and walleye (pickerel) are enjoyed by all
Particular varieties of fish are preferred simply on the basis of their
availability. If the fish is abundant in the region, the taste preference
is for that variety. For example, people who live near a lake that has
mainly whitefish develop a preference for whitefish. So also, other people
develop a taste for trout for no other reason than that trout is the food
most readily available to them in their area. It is simply the food that
one comes to prefer though local availability.
Fish are also preserved for dog food. The fish are hung outdoors and
dry-cured in the air and sun without heating or smoking. To do this, a
rack is built outdoors well above the ground out of the reach of dogs and
natural predators, and the fish are suspended in the rack to dry out. A
willow stick about 25 mm in diameter and 1 m long is pushed though the
fish near the tail to suspend it, and another seven to eleven fish are
added to make a "stick" is roughly 10 kg, and it is put on the
rack for drying along with many other sticks. A trapper-hunter may
preserve more than enough sticks of fish for his own use. The surplus fish
are marketed to other trappers and hunters, either in exchange for another
commodity, for example - or for cash. Fish sticks may be traded as an
IOU, meaning that "When I am at your camp I will receive enough fish
'sticks' to complete my journey; when you come to my camp I will repay you
with the same number you gave to me." This trade-off reduces the need
to carry a full load of food for people and dogs form one camp to another.
An average-sized dog, 30-35 kg, needs about 1 kg of dried fish or about
3 kg of fresh fish per day. In trapping regions the exchange of one
commodity for another has more value to the people doing the exchanging
than does the exchange of a commodity for cash.
Reprinted from Bush
Land People with permission of the author.
Copyright Terry Garvin 1992-2002.