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Nature volume 131, pages 623625 (29 April 1933) | Download Citation



Great Bear Lake Indians. The Annual Report for 1931 of the National Museum of Canada contains an ethnographical study of the Great Bear Lake Indians of the Mackenzie District, North-West Territories, by Dr. Cornelius M. Osgood, undertaken for the Museum between May, 1928, and September, 1929. The Great Bear Lake is the focal centre of four tribes of the north-eastern Athapascans, well known in Canadian history as the Dogribs, Yellow Knives, Hares and Slaves, with the Satudene or Great Bear Lake Indians in the centre, who though politically, socially and linguistically distinct from the Hares to-day, may have become so only within the last hundred years. The tribal boundaries represent the extreme range of the tribes, but they occupy and hunt over a very small section only at any one time. Owing to climatic conditions, the food problem is insistent. It imposes a migratory habit, and at times under stress has led to cannibalism. When food is plentiful the Indians eat enormously, but no food is laid up against scarcity, as among the peoples of the Pacific coast. This in part is due to difficulty of transport, as they have to move from one place to another seasonally according to the habitat of their food supply, fishing in one place in winter, another in summer, visiting another to obtain skins for clothing and so forth. Individual effort to attain personal security, in view of the communistic habit of the tribes, is regarded as anti-social. The principal article of diet is fish, taken in winter by nets ingeniously spread under the ice. Next come moose and caribou. The moose is shot. The caribou was formerly taken by stalking, decoying, impounding, snaring and spearing. The hunting was a communal affair, initiated by the two most important men, the best hunter and the oldest man, the latter being assigned the meat for distribution. There is no individual ownership of hunting grounds. A variety of minor animals and birds was eaten. Franklin (1828) records the eating of a special kind of clay in times of scarcity or, as a chewing material, for amusement.

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