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Health and Wellness

Bush Life

A person living in the bush on trap lines referred to his or her home as a "camp," as in "come to my camp," "stay at my camp," or "tie your dogs at my camp." Thus, a bush person commonly used the term "camp" to describe a place of residence. A traditional bush person living in a modern urban home may still refer to an overnight visitor as someone who has "come to camp with me."

The people of the bush land have been here for at least 7,000 years; in this forested land alive with plants and animals. The seasons came and went, the plants flourished, the animals prospered, and so did the people who lived there. They harvested what they needed from the land, season-by-season, secure in the knowledge that what they took from the land would be replenished by nature from week to week, from season to season and from year to year. There were good times and bad times. Some years the supply of game was over-abundant; other times it was critically reduced by severe weather, disease and over-predation.

The land and its riches were there to be enjoyed, and for the 7,000 years prior to the arrival of Europeans the people who lived there did enjoy the land, in harmony with nature. The people organized themselves long ago for food harvesting and for getting along together. No one “owned” the land, the water or the forest. They shared it, and the people developed rules for settling disputes. They developed stories, as we all do, to explain what needs to be explained. All of this became a central part of their living.

Food and shelter are two basic age-old needs, and the people of the bush developed sound practices for meeting these needs. Much of the food came from hunting moose, caribou, and other animals, and fishing. The basic activities of the people included hunting for food, constructing housing and finally preparing goods for trade. In this way, bush people were living off the land while running trap lines. Running trap lines involved harvesting natural fur-bearing animals, for the most part, rabbits, muskrat, foxes, beavers, and mink. Bush land people collected food locally for subsistence, by hunting and fishing, and trapped furbearing animals both for local use and “for sale.”

The trapper had the best of all worlds if the trap line area inhabited by furbearing animals was also the habitat of animals, fish, and birds for his or her own food supply.
The location of a trapper's home as they called them “home bases,” was always carefully selected. Native bush lands were not organized as in the South with rigid definitions of ownership of land. In the bush, the hunter-trappers had no rights as owners of the land as defined by today's real property laws, but they did have exclusive rights to hunt and trap in particular areas if they had made first claims and then actually developed and “used” such areas. It was customary for the hunter-trapper to build a home base on the trap line property in order to be close to country food and furs.

The home base residence was always located on the shoreline of a lake or river, preferably at places where tributary streams flowed into a river. In this way, the water route linked the home base of a trapper-hunter to the home base of neighboring trappers and hunters and with the service and supply communities. In addition, lakes and rivers were convenient gathering points for social activities. During open water seasons, travel was by boat, and in the winter, ice-covered rivers and lakes provided good transportation routes for dog team and sled travel.
Access to fishing and other hunting areas was an important consideration in the selection of a home base camp. The bush person was always familiar with the feeding and spawning areas of fish and the feeding grounds favoured by animals. Moose, for instance, were likely to be found in areas of low land with new, succulent aspen and grass, rather than in a mature spruce or pine forest. Meat for human consumption was from the cloven-hoofed animals like moose or deer, birds, fish, and rabbit. To some degree, the meat from fur-bearing animals was also eaten: muskrat and beaver that were water-habitat animals, squirrel, and lynx. Porcupine was used occasionally.

The ideal home base included a stand of timber nearby that had a mixture of both dry dead wood and green firewood. It was standard practice to clear away all the trees, except tall shade trees, shrubs and tall grass in the area immediately around the home and in the space between the home and the shoreline of the lake or river. In this way, the clearing gave an open view of the transportation route. It also gave a path to boat docking and an open space for boat storage. It reduced the risk of entrapment of the home in the event of a forest fire, and it provided a sunny, open space. It also created room for a garden and for an outdoor fireplace, a smoke tent for curing meat and fish, and an outdoor drying rack. As well, it offered a work place for building boats, cleaning hides and preparing fur. Cool breezes off the water helped control flies and bugs around the home and made it a pleasant space to work and live in.

One of the main activities at the base camp was the preparation or flushing of animal skins, for example, of moose hides. A moose hide was first soaked in a tub of water to soften it. Then it was mounted in a flat frame made of poles from trees about 75 to 100 millimetres in diameter and three to four metres long. The poles were fitted together to provide a square frame around the moose hide. In this way, the inside measurement of the frame was about two and half to three metres, significantly larger than the hide to be flushed. Holes were cut around the entire edge of the hide at intervals of 75 to 100 millimetres. The soaked hide was then stretched inside the frame by alternately threading a length of strong hide thongs or rope through the holes in the hide and then wrapping it around the pole frame. As the hide stretched, the thongs were repeatedly tightened for several days until the hide was stretched as far as possible.

In this stretched position, the hair and residual flesh would be cleaned off the hide using a flusher. A flusher was a hand-held bone instrument for scraping the hide of a moose, deer, caribou or other member of the deer family. Scraping flesh and hair off the hide was a first step in the transformation of a raw hide to fabric suitable for making clothing, footwear like moccasins, mukluks, mitts, carrying bags, gun cases, dog harnesses, thongs, lacing and so on.

A traditional flusher was made of the larger of the two bones below the knee joint of the front leg of a moose. The narrow end was cut at an angle to form a flat, broad cutting edge. A rasp like surface, similar to that of saw teeth, was cut into the scraping edge.

At the other end, the joint end, a centre hole was made for a strong moose hide thong to be threaded through. This thong was tied to form a ring large enough to encircle the lower arm of the user from elbow to hand. One end went around the upper arm of the user and the other was attached to the top end of the flusher. The user gained a great deal of advantage with the thong support to the upper arm. The flusher, the thong and the upper arm of the user became a single instrument, with the shoulder and arm joint as the fulcrum point. Flushing by hand was effective but quite hard work.

In the bush, the preferred meat is the red meat from ungulates, the cloven-hoofed animals: Moose, deer, caribou, and elk are favourites. Meat from rabbits, muskrats, beavers, squirrels, and other fur-bearing animals was also used, and of this group the plant feeders were favored, rabbit muskrat, squirrel and beaver (white meat) in particular. Rabbit was a mainstay for most of the people. Rabbit meat resembles domestic chicken and it was a pleasant change from a steady diet of the red meat from the larger mammals. Rabbit meat was available in all areas of the North. Rabbits were relatively easy to catch in all seasons and provided a steady source of fresh meat.

Wolf, coyote, fox, and dog meat was seldom eaten; only in extreme emergencies. Some animals are sacred to particular peoples. Dogrib Aboriginals will not kill a wolf, nor will they eat wolf meat. The wolf is believed to represent the reincarnation of a Dogrib person and is therefore considered sacred. Other Aboriginal groups do not have the same reverence for this animal.

Similarly, Dogrib people will not eat or touch the fat of a bear and will not touch the meat until the fat is removed. However, bear meat and its fat are liked by many other bush people. Bear fat, when rendered, becomes a clear liquid. It is a preferred fat for frying and at one time was the preferred fat for preserving a ground mixture of meat and fruit, pemmican.

The above information is gathered from the Treaty 8 website. Listed below are the specific web pages used as sources.





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