I now want to focus on the fur trade and it’s relationship to the hunters of Canada. Many of the people living in the far north such as the Inuit and Eskimo rely on hunting and trapping as their way of life. The fur trade is a huge part of their economy, and the anti-fur movement has had a large impact on them. This blog post will briefly explore the ways that these people rely on animals and their fur. Through out this blog post I will be referring to ‘Northern Hunters’, by this I mean the hunting societies living in the far north of Canada.
Living in such a harsh, and remote climate the people living in the Canadian north must know how to live off the land. By using the resources provided to them by their surroundings they have a very successful society. Animals that are trapped or hunted provide many uses, and very little of the animal goes to waste. (Brody 1987) Almost the entire animal is used for clothing, tools or becomes part of their diet. “Brain are rubbed into hides as a skin softener and preservative…tendons are used to make thread. Seal windpipes and intestines can serve as snow house windows.” (Brody 1987:57). Fish skins, ptarmigan bladders, fish eyes, duck feet, bones, and wings all find a way to become a useful part of these hunter’s lifestyle. For the Inuit people, their hunting strategies require the hunter to be outside for many hours at a time. They require the use of heavy furs to be able to stay alive while hunting.
Meat is the most important part of the diet for those living in the north, because very little vegetation is able to grow. Berries are available to harvest, but most abundant is fish and mammals. Eating animals provides essential nutrients that would otherwise be unavailable. Lichens and mosses cannot be digested by the human digestive system, and therefore rely on meat and fat from animals, which can easily be digested and turned into nutrients in the human body (Brody 1987).
It is clear that people living in the north depend highly on animals to stay alive. This has given animals a very important role in the culture of these societies. Although the hunter kills the animals, the hunter is completely reliant upon these animals for his/her survival. This creates equality between the hunter and the animals he hunts. “Ultimately, no one ca be superior to that upon which he depends.”(Brody 1987:73). Athapaskan and Algonquian hunters believe that the animal is the one who agrees to be killed, by showing itself to the hunter in a dream. It once again shows its acceptance of its death by allowing the hunter to find the animal and allows itself to be caught. The Dene, Cree Naskapi, and Inuit hunters believe that animals have very important spiritual power. Their success and happiness is dependent on having harmonious relationships with the environment and the animals that they hunt. Inuit people believe that species that are not hunted will decline in numbers (Brody 1987). This reciprocal relationship between hunter and animals creates great respect for the animal for without them, the hunters would die.
When the New World was discovered by Europeans hunter’s way of life changed. For the first time there were other people hunting the same animals as them, which created a flux in population numbers and distributions. When northern hunting people became involved in the fur trade to acquire rifles and other luxuries, the population of beavers began to decline at an alarming rate (Brody 1987). An agreement between Hudson’s Bay, trappers, and the government was made and the beaver population began once again to thrive. “Since the recovery of the beaver population, there has been no other example in the Canadian north of Inuit or Indian hunters’ and trappers’ activities threatening the stocks of any animal species” (Brody 1987:79). The hunters of the Canadian north have lived off their land and the animals on it for years and have a clear understanding how to conserve animal populations. If they did not have this knowledge they would have quickly died out when there were no more animals left to hunt. The Canadian federal government has become involved in hunting and trapping quotas to help ensure the conservation of all animal species. There has been mixed reactions to this involvement from the Inuit communities (Brody 1987).
All hunters, from the north or south, can agree that conservation is key. Hunters’ economy is still heavily reliant upon the fur trade, and the anti-fur campaign is making this difficult. Prices of fur have dropped, and a very negative stereotype of northern hunters has been created. Again, I believe that this is a problem that could be helped by people educating themselves before forming an opinion. From the small amount of research I have done it seems clear to me that all the northern hunting societies have great respect for animals and would never practice any cruel hunting techniques.
In Hugh Brody’s book “Living Arctic: Hunters of the Canadian North” he included a quote from an interview he conducted in Fort Good Hope. I want to also include this quote in my blog because I feel it really captures the attitudes of the northern Canadian Hunters.
“This land is like our blood because we live off the animals that feed off the land…We are not like the white people. We worry about our land because we make our living off our land. The white people they live on money. That’s why they worry about money.”
Lois Caesar – Fort Good Hope, 1977
1987 Living Arctic: Hunters of the Canadian North Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre Ltd.