Contact and Change

Voyageurs paddling a canoe. Voyageurs paddling a canoe.

The Indians of the western plains were a roving, non-agricultural people who lived by the hunt and depended on the buffalo for most of the necessities of life. They had developed a social organization and religious beliefs appropriate to their hunting society. The horse, which the Indians acquired around 1750, became an essential part of their nomadic life, both in the hunt and as a beast of burden. While Europeans learned from the Indians, the white man's culture, brought in by the explorer, fur trader, missionary, and settler, had so great an impact on the native people that the Indian way of life was drastically changed.

Big Bears Camp.

Big Bear's camp, Maple Creek, 6 June 1883. The tents were made of buffalo leather from eight to fourteen skins in size, all sewn together and cut into correct pattern, then stretched on the same number of poles adjusted to form a cone. . . . An oval opening, nearly at the bottom of the seam is cut out to form an entrance, and to fit this, a stretched leather door is hung by strings. Some slight adjustment of the poles is necessary to make the covering tight; this is done from the inside, and the tent is ready for occupation. . . . In the centre is the fire. Robes and blankets are spread all around to sit on.

Robert Jefferson,

Big Bears Camp.

Cree Indian drummers and dancers near Moosomin, 17 June 1889.

Indian woman drying saskatoon berries.

Indian woman drying saskatoon berries.
Place and date unknown.

Thursday, 30 [July, 1801]. Different kinds of berries are now ripe, such as strawberries, raspberries, and what the Canadians call paires, which the Natives denominate Mi-sas-qui-to-min-uck. . . .

These berries, when properly dried by the sun, have an agreeable taste, and are excellent to mix with pimican. The Natives generally boil them in the broth of fat meat; and this constitutes one of their most dainty dishes, and is introduced at all their feasts.

Daniel William Harmon,

Indian woman removing hair from a Moose hide.

Indian woman fleshing a moose hide.
Place and date unknown.

The most valuable skin which the country produces, for clothing, is that of the moose deer. It is stretched on four sticks, and one side being elevated, several women mount upon it, with sharp instruments of iron or bone (moose shin-bone) beveled at an angle and with tooth-like notches cut into it, scraping off in their descent, the hair and adhering flesh. . .

They next dry and then rub it, with a mixture of the brains and other parts of animals, after which, it is soaked in warm water and scraped, alternately, and smoked over a fire of decayed wood, which prevents it from becoming hard when it has been wet; for it absorbs water immediately. No skin is more durable or agreeable to the touch. . . .

Robert Hood

Buffalo Hunter's Camp Drawing.

Buffalo Hunters Camp, 1858. Watercolor by G. Seton, from a sketch by W. H. Napier, based on his recollection of the Canadian government exploring expedition which toured the West in 1858. At that time, the satisfaction of physical needs depended to a large extent on the success of the buffalo hunt. Buffalo meat was a major part of the diet of the fur trader, as well as of the Indian and Metis. Hunters' camps were a colorful sight on the prairies as nomadic hunters prepared to reap the wild harvest.

Here I saw my first hunting camp and a curious sight it was to me. . . . They always camp in a ring. Each hunter has on an average four or five carts. These are placed in a ring and they generally sleep under them except when lying in one place which is seldom as the refuse meat makes such an obnoxious smell that they move every three or four days. The ring here was about half a mile in circumference. Inside the ring the horses are kept at night and grass cut and given them as the number of horses eat the ring bare in a few minutes.

W. E. 18654

Fort Carlton, established in 1795, was one of many inland posts built by the Hudson's Bay Company. Located at the junction of major land and water transportation routes, the post was designed to meet the trading needs of the local Indian population. The operations of the post called for the co-operative efforts of many employees. Of great value to the post were the Metis, who served as interpreters in carrying on trade with the Indians. As settlement and agriculture pushed back the fur frontier, Fort Carlton rose to prominence as a center for mail distribution, northern supply, conferences, and treaty payment. The fort was abandoned and accidentally burned in 1885, after serving briefly as a police post.


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"Date Modified: 2019, January 24."

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