When 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
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
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.
Early Metis Clothing
Hunting and Fishing
Travel and Transportation