Historical Events

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Fatty caribou are prized by Eskimos, especially during the late summer, but the time involves periods of feasting and fasting as game is scarce. Kuptana describes how a chisel tool is used by a young man on his first kill to open the brain of a freshly killed caribou for a feast. The hunting party dedicated all their time to hunting and storing caribou meat for later in the autumn when food is scarce.

June 1, 1911

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The Northern Copper Inuit - A History

Facultative Carnivore
Hunter-Gatherer
Eskimo
Fat
Carnivore Diet

Caribou Hunting


William Kuptana: I remember being packed going inland in the summer. When we were out of food, we'd eat seal fat out of the pouch. My parents would also carry a sealskin bag filled with seal blood. We'd drink out of that when were thirsty.


While we were treking inland, food would become scarce. My parents killed a lemming and cooked it. I didn't want to eat it, but they talked to me so I had to eat it. I didn't want to be left behind. We'd keep walking and looking for caribou. When we'd come to a lake that was still frozen over, they would make an agluaq (fishing hole). Hook and spear were used to catch fish. By fishing, that would prevent us from starving. Also, when the ice is gone in the river, they would fish by using spears and wading in after them. 


After that, we would go wandering off into the land looking for caribou. We had no guns. Finally, when we found a small herd, the men would then build a small projection of stone slabs on a high point of land to act as a rouse to statle the fleeing caribou. The women would advance toward the caribou, humming as they approached the herd. As the caribou approached the lair where the men were hiding, the men would then kill the closest ones, the ones that they could reach.


The kill meant, "Feast." The family would eat everything: stomach, entrails, marrow. For instance, the entrails would be cleaned out and then cooked. After they were cooked, the entrails would be eaten with seal oil. The extra meat would be cut up to make dried meat. 


The warm summer months were not a time of plenty for the Copper Inuit. As Diamond Jenness (1922:123-124) noted: "The traveller will find scattered families reaming about from place to place, here today and gone tomorrow in their restless search for game. Days of feasting alternate with days of fasting according to their failure or success. No fowl of the air, no creature of the land, no fish of the waters is too great or too small to attract their notice at this time."


The scarcity of food in spring and summer was partially alleviated in the late summer/early fall(August and September) when caribou hunting accelerated. At this time of year the caribou are fattest and their hides are ideals for making clothes. Usually a number of families would cooperate in the hunting of caribou using caribou drives set up on the tundra. These drives usually consisted of rows of stone piles set up in tow converging lines. Women and children chased the caribou with lances and arrows. Another technique, more commonly used on the mainland, involved hunting caribou from kayaks at crossing places in lakes. If a caribou drive was successful, much of the meat would be dried and stored for use during the lean autumn months. 


First Hunt


William Kuptana: When I first killed a caribou, my biological father started wrestling with me as it is a custom to try to put a young hunter on top of the caribou corpse. After that, the hunting party told me to get the ulimuan [ a chisel-like instrument with a blade at a forty-five degree angle from the handle]. So I got one out of the pack-sack to open its head as it is a custom that a young man do that for a first kill. After I had chopped its skull, the elders started eating its inner membrane, or as it is usually called, the brain. Then, after the feast, the hunting party resumed their search for the tuktuvialuit (Banks Island Caribou). From spring to autumn, the hunting party would kill, store, and go on searching until it was too cold to hunt. Finally, returning to their wintering grounds, they'd wait for winter huddled in their sealskin tents for a time.