Indians living on the Great Slave Lake "subsisted entirely on fish" during the entire summer and then follow the herds of Caribou through the winter.
August 20, 1926
The Land of Feast and Famine
We had pitched our tent down by the beach and were enjoying life in front of our fire, when one canoe after another appeared through the darkness, a short distance away from us. Before these reached the shore, the dogs were splashing in the water. When the first canoe grated against the bottom, a man sprang out, and in a moment or two a fire was blazing in among the spruces. Men, women, and children poured out of the canoes and, as if by magic, a whole village of tepees had suddenly sprung up. These were the Indians which inhabited this district — all together about a hundred of them. They had spent the entire summer on the shores of Great Slave Lake and had subsisted entirely on fish. They were now on their way up into the Barrens to meet the caribou herds migrating south from the Arctic into wooded country — for the rest of the winter they would lead a nomad existence on the trail of the herd. Their days of meat-eating were almost at hand.
During the evening a party of hunters came over to us, a troop of emaciated dogs at their heels.
"Si tzel-twi (Me tobacco)," was their opening remark, as one of the Indians pointed to our tobacco pouches. We permitted them to fill their pipes, which they first dug out carefully with their knives. We were easy-marks, they certainly must have thought, for one of them immediately stepped forward and asked for a sled. Another pointed to Trofast and demanded him. A third gave the distinct impression that nothing less than our entire outfit would satisfy him, and was highly incensed over the fact that we denied him such a reasonable desire. Later, when they had finished with their begging, we offered them something to eat, and with that they forgave us. A lively conversation ensued: the Indians rattled on in their language, to which we made answer in English. They on their side and we on ours illustrated the meaning of each word with an ingenious gesture, nodded eagerly, smiled understandingly at each other, comprehended not a thing.
But when the word " e-then " began to occur in the conversation of the Indians, we became immediately aware of what they were talking about. " E-then," we knew, was their word for caribou, the all-important topic of conversation in this part of the world. The fact which interested us most we were soon able to untangle. One of the Indians put his cheek against his hand as though he were asleep, raised four fingers in the air, pointed toward the east, meanwhile repeating over and over: " E-then thle, e-then thle (Many caribou, many caribou)." No one could misunderstand this. The caribou were back on the treeless plains, four days' journey away.