Historical Events

twitter-icon_edited.png
Copy Link

The ships brought, too, an abundance of provisions. At first the Eskimo would have nothing to do with any of these ; but in the course of a few years they learned the use of flour, molasses, sugar, etc. , which became first luxuries and then necessities. It was important for the whaling ships to get plenty of fresh caribou meat to keep their crews from getting scurvy, and they employed practically the whole population in the pursuit of caribou, fish , and ptarmigan.

December 1, 1907

rollo-meat-diabetes_edited.jpg

My Life with the Eskimo - Chapter 3

Vilhjalmur Stefansson

Christianization
Scurvy
Eskimo

When we reached Herschel Island , we did not go to the village in the northeast corner where the mounted police barracks are situated as well as the Eskimo village, both of which are there because of the sandspit that makes the whalemen's harbor. This is not only an excellent harbor in summer, but also a nearly ideal wintering place for the whaling vessels which are shielded by the sandspit from the pressure of the ocean ice. We pitched our camp on Flanders Point on the southeast corner of the island, for that is the best fishing place in the neighborhood, and we were here able to get not only fish enough for ourselves and our dogs, but also were able to lay by a considerable store for our expected boat journey. The first whaling ship reached Herschel Island in 1889, and for a few years thereafter the industry prospered greatly. It was immensely profitable, and at times as many as fourteen ships wintered in the Arctic at one time. This had a sudden effect on the fortunes of the Eskimo. Before that time they had been in the habit of making summer trading voyages up to Fort Macpherson to buy a few small things, but now, when this large whaling fleet came, all their conditions of life were changed. All of the articles which they had been used to buying, they could now get cheaply or for nothing from the whalers, and they soon learned the use of a great many other articles, the very names and appearances of which were unknown to them before – articles which even the Hudson's Bay factor at Macpherson had been compelled to do without. The ships brought, too, an abundance of provisions. At first the Eskimo would have nothing to do with any of these ; but in the course of a few years they learned the use of flour, molasses, sugar, etc. , which became first luxuries and then necessities. It was important for the whaling ships to get plenty of fresh caribou meat to keep their crews from getting scurvy, and they employed practically the whole population in the pursuit of caribou, fish , and ptarmigan . Such things as flour, hard bread, sugar, canned meats and vegetables, butter, etc., they gave with a free hand to the Eskimo, urging them to use them and to save meat.. The Eskimo of course preferred meat as an article of diet, and now they were further impressed with the fact that the white man seemed to consider meat of priceless value and the other food articles of little value or none. Meat, therefore, came to have a fabulous price compared with other commodities, and during the time of my experience in the North, a pound of meat has been worth more than a pound of any article of civilized diet except tea. 


It would be a matter of too great detail to enter here into the minute causes of the change in the Eskimo’s habits of life, but the net result is that although the time from 1889 to 1906 is but a few years, still there has been greater change wrought among the Eskimo during that time than the Hudson's Bay Company has been responsible for among any of the northern Indians in a hundred years. The condition was now, therefore, serious, for the whaling industry was beginning to show the signs of a gradual breakdown, which has since terminated in a complete collapse of the industry . The winter of 1907–1908, only one ship, the Karluk, commanded by Captain James Wing, had wintered at Herschel Island, and he had been so short of provisions and trading articles that the Eskimo considered them selves to be suffering for want of many things to which they were used. It is true, as experience has since shown, that in the absence of whalers the Eskimo of the Mackenzie River are able to live per fectly well on the game and fish of the country; but they did not think so themselves the summer of 1908, any more than those of us used to high living think we can get along on the simple fare of the poor. The mounted police agreed with them in this, and every one therefore considered that they were facing a critical winter. Whaling ships had been expected, but none came. Finally, August 15th, the Karluk came in sight from the east, returning from the Banks Island summer whaling cruise. I went over to see Captain Wing and found that he was very short of stores ; indeed he was completely out of sugar and potatoes and many other articles, and had only a little flour left, but plenty of meat.