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The Métis in Western Canada: O-Tee-Paym-Soo-Wuk

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The BeginningsThe People and Their CommunitiesCulture and Lifeways
Hunting

Malcom NorrisWhen Europeans first arrived, they were dependent on Native hunting and fishing technology, which was in turn taught to Métis offspring. Spears, bow and arrows, and snares were the tools that Natives used to kill game. Hunting and warfare tools were made from nature — wood, stone, bone, and sinew. For example, wood-handled stone hammers were used to finish off animals. Snares were used to catch small game such as duck, geese, rabbit, beaver, and partridge. Contrary to the commonly held belief that Native men were the sole hunters among Native groups, there were indeed she-hunters. Snaring smaller game was almost always a woman's role. Nets, lines, and spears were used for fishing. In northerly regions, women were highly skilled fisherwomen. They tended the nets, as well as cooked and preserved their catch.

Charles McKenzie, who was in charge of a small post near Lac Seul, married Mary McKay, a daughter of Nor'Wester William McKay and Josette Latour. Known for her industriousness, Charles wrote his children in the early 1850s about their mother's hunting prowess.

Your Mother …is still as brisk as a Bee — She must take her hunting exercise. … I believe She snared upwards of 600 Rabbits this winter — merely to give them to the people — whose wives do not set a snare.

Until Europeans' arrival, Natives did not have metal tools or devices such as steel traps. When steel traps were introduced, Native trappers quickly learned this technology. Iroquois freemen, in particular, used steel traps aggressively and earned a successful reputation with the fur companies.

Native people invented a variety of methods for killing buffalo. Disguised under buffalo hides, individual hunters could stalk a straggler, then when they got close enough they could spear or shoot the animal. As seen by Peter Rindisbacher's painting 'Indian Hunters. Pursuing the Buffalo in the Early Spring' (1824 or earlier), Natives wearing snowshoes could pursue a struggling buffalo. The Assiniboine drove small herds of buffalo into enclosures or pounds. They accomplished this by driving stakes among the trees of a bluff. Trapped, the buffalo could be shot at close quarters. The Blackfoot practiced stampeding buffalo, by the hundreds, over cliffs. Buffalo runners would locate a herd. Some band members, including women and children, would drive the buffalo herd towards a jump by shouting and waving. Other band members waited below to finish off any survivors.

As a rule, Native women were responsible for skinning, butchering, carrying back carcasses of large game to camp, and then cooking the kill. Buffalo provided meat, fat, leather, sinew, and raw hide cords. Hides were made into robes and were used as tipi covers. Buffalo bones were used as awls and needles.

The spring buffalo hunt was the most important economic and social event on the lives of the Métis at Red River. It was a business venture, undertaken and organized with military precision. And it was a community activity, with everyone joining in preparations for the two-month trip to Pembina in Minnesota, where the hunt actually began. Hundreds of families made the journey, travelling in a parade of noisy, brightly decorated Red River carts which the Métis had adapted to meet the arduous conditions. The pride of every hunter was his horse, tended with care and adorned with beadwork or quillwork.

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Early Metis Clothing

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Hunting and Fishing

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