Netsilik

Netsilik Lake, Kitikmeot, Unorganized, NU X0B, Canada

First Contact:

0
50
50
gather% / fish % / hunt %
75
25
0
fat % / protein % / carb%

A rough estimate to help us understand how carnivorous and how ketogenic these people were before being exposed to western civilization

1/0

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About the Tribe

The Netsilik Eskimos inhabit a vast area over 300 miles in length and over 100 miles in depth north and west of Hudson Bay.' The region is barren, covered with innumerable rocky hills, lakes, sea inlets, and vast stretches of flat tundra. The climate is arctic, characterized by extremely cold winters and short cool summers. The local tundra bears no trees and its vege­ tation consists of creeping shrubs, tufted grass­ like plants, lichens, and mosses. When travel­ ing through this cold desert in 1923, Knud Rasmussen counted 259 Eskimos of whom 150 were males and only 1 09 females. They lived a nearly traditional life, having had only mini­ mal contact with Europeans up to that time and having obtained guns only a few years before. The Netsilingmiut hunted the caribou, the musk-ox, and the seal, they fished the salmon trout and, with the exception of some berry picking in August, did no gathering.


In winter, after the caribou had left the country, the Netsiling­muit had to rely almost exclusively on the seal for survival. Since the seal keeps open a large number of breathing holes, it was advantageous to have numerous hunters, with harpoons in hand, to control an equal number of holes. Large hunting parties had maximal chances for a speedy catch. Hence the rationale for extended igloo communities consisting of over sixty people and comprising several distantly related extended families. Winter was the season of intense social life, spectacular shaman­izing and other ceremonial activity (Fig. I , Camps 1 and 2). Early in June when the seals came lying on the ice, the large winter camp broke up into smaller social units having usually an extended family as a core. Tents were set up on the shore and group sealing continued at the large breathing holes ( Camp 3) . In July, the restricted groups moved inland, fishing with the fishing harpoon and occasionally hunting caribou with the bow and arrow. After the first week of August, the stone weirs were built across rivers and the salmon trout running up­ stream were caught in large amounts with leisters (Camp 4) . At the end of August began the vitally important caribou hunts from kayaks at the caribou crossing place (Camp 5) . This was a collaborative activity involving a division of tasks between beaters and spearers. Early in October the restricted groups moved camp to some larger river and fished salmon trout with leisters through the thin river ice ( Camp 6) . As winter came on the larger groups re-formed for sealing through the breathing holes (Camps 1 and 2 ) .

The adaptive processes described here can be best understood in relation to the almost continuous ecological pressure to which the Netsilik were subjected. Traveling and moving camps was a very arduous task. Lack of dog feed severely limited the keeping of dogs to only one or two per family. The heavy sledges had to be pulled or pushed by both men and women. Only very small children were allowed to sit on the sledge. Old people had to drag themselves behind, and were often left behind to sleep out on the ice if they had not caught up with the others. Seal hunting involved a motionless watch on the flat ice under intense cold maintained for many hours. In order to build the stone weir, the stones had to be carried in the ice-cold water for several days. Beating the fast-running caribou over great distances in the tundra was an exhausting task. Stalking the caribou with the bow and arrow also involved endless pursuits across the tundra, the hunters lying on the wet grass and trying to approach the game while hiding behind tufts of moss . The nomadism of the hunting life in this extremely rigorous climate imposed a constant strain on the humans. Hunting was a never-ceasing pursuit, the game had to be brought to camp at all cost, and the hunter had to stay out until a successful kill: "The man that is wise never lolls about idle when the weather is good; he can never know when bad days may eat up his meat caches and drive him and his family into starvation" (Rasmussen, 1931 , p. 134). At a camp of Kuggup­pamiut, Rasmussen observed that for the whole of the winter twelve hunters caught about 150 seals : "this may well be said to have been dearly bought food."

Importance of Animal Products

Importance of Plants

Transition to Industrialized Food Products

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