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Ingstad discusses the laws and rules of the carnivorous Dene nation Indians. "The hunter who fells an animal, upon division of the meat, is entitled to the head, the layer of fat about the entrails, and, in spring and autumn, the back-fat."

January 1, 1929

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The Land of Feast and Famine - The Barren Ground Indian

Helge Ingstad

Man The Fat Hunter
Pre-civilization races
Carnivore Diet

Their society is based upon unwritten laws: in case of a dispute, the eldest member of each family group decides the issue, or, during the large summer gatherings, their common chief. However, there are remarkably few cases of friction in their society. Each problem which arises seems to have an obvious solution. He who has obtained authority to hunt in a certain territory can insist upon having his rights respected. He who first sights the game has the first right to shoot it, a rule which does not apply, however, when there is a shortage of food. The hunter who fells an animal, upon division of the meat, is entitled to the head, the layer of fat about the entrails, and, in spring and autumn, the back-fat. When working together at a common task, each man seems to know in advance exactly what his duties are to be, according to his age and social standing. If a man borrows a sled, he is in duty bound to return it, but is not responsible for damage during the time he is using it. In making an exchange, each party must take his own risk; he has no recourse in the event of future dissatisfaction. This rule applies, for example, in the case of swapping a dog which later reveals a tendency to bite itself out of the harness at every opportunity, a condition which renders the animal worthless, though it be excellent in every other respect. The rules governing property rights come seldom into use amongst these people who own practically nothing, aside from the bare essentials of life. The fact that furs now bring high prices has altered the situation but little. No lasting profits accrue, so far as the Indians are concerned, for most of the moneys they receive are immediately spent for foolish purchases. In spite of their splendid harvests of pelts, the majority of the Indians are in debt to the traders. Their obligations are treated almost with nonchalance ; they will pay a certain amount on account whenever it is necessary to do so to maintain their credit, but they have no compunctions against running into debt with one trader and selling their pelts to another. When a red hunter dies, his debt is regarded as having died with him. 


Naturally, it may occasionally come to pass that these unwritten laws of the tribe are broken, but this does not often occur. Stealing, for example, is an exceedingly rare occurrence. Two or three instances have been recorded of Indians' having robbed white men, but these cases are the exception. For my own part, I have left pelts hanging in my tent for weeks whilst I myself was out hunting, and have yet to miss a single skin, though a number of passing Indians stopped in to spend the night there. Amongst the Indians themselves I know of but one example of stealing, and in that case kleptomania was involved. 


Law-breaking, where the natives are concerned, knows no punishment in the formal sense that we understand the term. Sometimes the person outraged may give way to righteous indignation and take the law into his own hands to the extent of administering a sound thrashing, but ordinarily the fact that the culprit is considered as an outcast by the others of his tribe constitutes sufficient punishment.