BY WILFRED T. GRENFELL, C.M.G., M.R.C.S., M.D. (OXON.) AND OTHERS. New Edition (New York, 1922).
BY WILLIAM B. CABOT.
The Indians of Labrador are all of the family stock known to ethnology as the Algonquian, which in its day occupied a vast area of the continent. From the Carolinas to the Eskimo shores of Hudson's Strait and from the Atlantic to the Mississippi and far to the northwest, the maps of the present day are dotted with the place-names of one group or another of this vanishing family.
The northern groups are closely related. The Montagnais, or mountaineers, of the southern Labrador talk easily with the Nascaupees of the northern and eastern Crees; these latter in turn with others to the west, and so on to the Rocky Mountains. The differences are only of dialect. To the southward it is otherwise; the St. Lawrence marks so distinct a division of language that existing tribes cannot converse in Indian; and as observed by the writer upon the meeting of a Montagnais with an Abnaki acquaintance on the winter trail, conversation must proceed in some foreign language—in this instance in French. The Indians of Labrador estimate that as many as half of the people speak no language but their own. The presence of white blood is largely evident in the southwest, adjacent to the settlements and the upper gulf; and many who are counted Indians might, but for the saving effect of a hunting life inland, be reckoned as white rather than red.
“ The most northern tribe has a tradition that their people originally lived far to the south, and it is probable that they were driven northward from the country about the St. Lawrence by the Iroquois, about the time of the first settlement of Canada, by the French. There are many traditions about these wars among the northern Indians, and it is surprising to what distances the Iroquois
followed them, into the middle of Labrador, and up the east coast of Hudson Bay to the neighbourhood of the mouth of the Big River in north lat. 54°. As the Crees retreated before the Iroquois, they in turn displaced the Eskimo, who at one time occupied the eastern and southern portions of the peninsula as far as Eskimo Bay on the Gulf of St. Lawrence and all the territory about Hudson Bay. These wars terminated when the Eskimo became supplied with firearms, and are now traditions of the distant past ; but the memories still live, and the Eskimo and Indians, although never engaging in open hostilities, have a mutual hatred and never inter-marry. The northern Indians still regard with fear the descendants of the once fierce Iroquois, and their name is used to frighten children.”
Occasional association with modern operations along the nearer borders has not much changed the inland life of the people. The interior is still an Indian possession, where no white man makes his home, and the only law is the immemorial code of lodge and hunting-ground. The whole inland, and indeed almost all the coasts, remains given over to the hunting life.
The Indians, always diminishing in numbers, may be reckoned at some three or four thousand at the present time. Of these the Montagnais, who are all tributary to Gulf or Saguenay trading-stations, make up more than half. It is difficult to arrive at a census of such a wandering people, for in one year and another some of them appear successively upon coasts remotely apart. The lists of names at such far-distant trading-stations are rarely compared with each other, while the names of the Indians are somewhat subject to change, and at best are not always easy to identify.
About the great lakes of the central area the people meet as may happen during the hunting season, and exchange their unwritten news; slight, indeed, is the occurrence, from side to side of the country, which escapes those lodge-fire gatherings. Families hidden here and there in remote valleys may wait for their news, perforce, until late in the spring, when at various rendezvous they group together for the down-river voyages ; or even until the summer meeting on the reserve, where all subjects have their final review ; but on the far lake levels of the high interior, the hunting-place of the strong and skilful, their network of communication is seldom broken. There about the central area, gather the rivers which flow to the four coasts, and there the people converge. In the words of John Bastian of Pointe Bleue, “ At Kaniapishkau you meet Indians from all shores.”
Almost all the Montagnais families leave their hunting-grounds when the fur becomes poor—technically, “ Common ”—in the spring. About the last of the fur-hunting comes with the bear-hunt, late in May, when the snow has settled down and the bears begin to move about after their winter's sleep. By the last of June the people are gathered upon the reserves along the Gulf and on the Saguenay. Sometimes a family remains inland two years for some reason, most often because of a light catch of fur. In such an event some
neighbour usually takes down what skins there may be, and brings up purchases accordingly in the fall.
Near Bersimis, some two hundred and twenty miles below Quebec, three large rivers converge to the coast, and all receive their customary families in the fall. The Maniquagan is the chief of these, being ascended during recent years by as many as seventy families. Near and parallel with this is the more difficult Outardes River, named by the Indians Pletipi, “ Partridge-water,” from its chief lake. Many of its hunters ascend the Maniquagan some two hundred miles to the lakes, and cross to their own river by a toilsome portage route. A few pass directly up the Outardes. With the burden of provisions now necessary to the hunting of these rivers, the way up such a difficult stream as the Pletipi becomes peculiarly hard. Still, for these people, whatever their age or condition, there is little choice, inland they must go, to their own lands.
In a country of such scanty resources and physical obstacles, these movements, involving the young and the feeble, could not be undertaken but for the intimate local knowledge of the people. Most of the Indians are actually born upon hunting-lands, handed down from their ancestors, and at an early age each knows his own ground as the farmer boy knows his father's farm. He has made the yearly passage of his river, down and back, from infancy. High water or low, he knows its every eddy and turn. As to an inn ahead, he plans his day's travel to some fishing pool or lake; or to the blueberry lands, where will be berries surely, and bears perhaps. He camps in no chance place, but where the beach is clean, the bank not too high or steep, where wood and boughs and water are to hand, and always, when may be, where the view is sightly and wide. Thus he continues his way, every resource of the barren land made his. Illness and death sometimes befall, want and misfortune tax too often the fortitude of this ever disciplined race, but sooner or later the plateau level is gained, the lake region begins, and the portages along the narrowing streams become short and easy. The great falls are behind, their jarring thunder fades in time from the ear; the roar of the long rapids is over ; the shut-in river valley has given place to the broad sunshine of the table-land. Well content are they who have safely come. The long toil is over; they are glad to be away from the reserve; above all, they are once more upon the blue lakes of their own hunting-ground.
Along the Gulf the principal trading-stations are Bersimis, Seven Islands, Mingan, and St. Augustine. From Seven Islands the Moisie is the main high-way to the interior, and several of its families make their hunts within two hundred miles of Ungava, on eastern branches of the George. Nearly parallel with the Moisie is the St. Marguerite, or Tshimanipishtuk. Its principal western branch interlocks with the Maniquagan. The network of Indian travel about and far beyond the heads of these rivers is interminable.
From the Gulf near Mingan, the hunters ascend the St. John, pass a difficult high portage to the Romaine, and proceed toward the Grand Falls region of the Hamilton. They know the lower Hamilton as the Winikapau Shiba, or “ River of Willows,” and the falls as Pitshetonau, “ It steams,” from the column of white vapour which is seen from a distance. Low gives the tradition of two maidens swept over the falls, who spend their time behind the falls dressing skins. The lower part of the Romaine is not navigated, and is perhaps unknown to the Indians of the present day. Its Indian name “Alimun,” meaning difficult, has passed through a rearrangement of sounds unusual in the adjusting of Indian names to French organs of speech. From “ L'Alimun ” to “ La Romaine ” the transition is easy, surprisingly so, considering that no less a feat is involved than the introduction of the full rolling r into a language which has not the r-sound at all.
Eastward from Mingan the people travel the Natashquan, St. Augustine, and Eskimo Rivers. Their lands are chiefly in the region between the Hamilton and the St. Lawrence. Southward from the Mealy Mountains of Hamilton Inlet and the Sandwich Bay coast lies an indefinite, unmapped area of high territory, partly barren, where large lakes supply the rough rivers passing north, east, and south. In winter, white or Eskimo-white hunters penetrate one or two hundred miles into this area. The Hamilton River also is hunted by the shore people. These go up in the fall in boats, returning on snow. The inland life of these shore-dwelling hunters is as little like that of the Indians as well may be. Their winter method is to take what supplies can be hauled on sleds by hand, set traps along their route, the length of which is deter-mined somewhat by snow conditions, and take up the catch of fur on their return march. They are known as “ planters ” ; their occupation is “ furring.” Cabins are built by some at strategic points, and these “ tilts ” may be taken as the sign of white blood in the land. The Indian, held to no base, uses the movable lodge only. The shore hunter is bound, his campaign limited, by his large dependence on transported provisions. If half-emancipated from, or better, only half-subjugated by, “ the white man's burden,” he lacks yet the full inheritance, the ferity, which saves existence to the Indian born. The broad difference between the two, the fur catcher and the Indian, is that between hunting and the hunting life. The white man goes hunting, his family protected in his absence; the Indian, rarely separated from his family, takes the chances of the open for all.
During late years, few Indians have been regular visitors on the eastern coast of the peninsula. For convenience to themselves the Oblate Fathers have influenced the hunters who formerly traded at Hamilton Inlet to make the long journey to Seven Islands. Irregularly a few northern Indians from George River have visited Davis Inlet post, as few as three coming down in one or two recent summers. The northern group turns rather toward Chimo on Ungava Bay. In winter some numbers of the northern group may come to the east coast, but they do not bring their families unless under pressure
of starvation, and their stay is brief. The number of lodges on the eastern side of the country depends on the movements of the caribou. These vary rather widely in the course of their migration, the main herd sometimes remaining south a year or two at a time. As already noted, a number of Montagnais families from Seven Islands hunt near the upper George River nearly west from Hopedale. The height of land there is one hundred to one hundred and fifty miles from the coast. All, or nearly all, of these families make the long journey to Seven Islands at intervals, going usually by the Upper Hamilton, Ashwanipi Lake, and the Moisie. Rather regularly some of these make a visit to the east coast in winter, and sometimes in summer.
In the northern district, tributary to Fort Chimo, there are some forty or fifty families, according to Peter McKenzie. A certain number of Indians from Whale River also come to Chimo more or less regularly, perhaps more often to Fort George or other posts on Hudson Bay. These probably belong to the division mentioned by Low in his large Labrador report as the coastal Indians of Hudson Bay. Their dialect is not very easy for the other Indians to understand, probably from its Ojibway affinities. Those who come to Chimo are strong, active people, proud of their large hunts and of the long journeys they make to the coast. They look down a little on the Chimo Indians, many of whom hunt comparatively near by. The eastern Nascaupees, in particular, are not very ambitious either in fur hunting or travel. The caribou supply nearly all their wants, so that not much effort is required to get fur enough to pay for what else they require. Indians do not enter the wide peninsula to the west of Ungava, which is Eskimo ground so far as occupied. From Koksoak River to Hudson Bay the respective areas covered by the two races are separated approximately by the line of the Nastapoka and Larch rivers, which constitute a route surveyed by Low, and pursued by Mr. and Mrs. Tasker, of Philadelphia, in 1906.
Formerly some of the southern Indians came up Northwest River and hunted on its upper waters and those of rivers flowing eastward into the Atlantic. Their country, poor at best, suffered by fire; fish were small; the caribou more and more uncertain. Finding that the deer summered in the unoccupied lake country south of the Nascaupees and west of Hopedale, they adopted that region and gave up the difficult Northwest River route. Having changed their trading-point to Seven Islands, the easier route by the upper Hamilton and Lake Michikamau was very direct. The number of these families varies from half a dozen to as many as fifteen or more. Their summer route finally reaches the east coast by the Notaquanón (“ Porcupine-hunting-place ”) River.
In winter, they can traverse the country without much reference to watercourses. The camps are in sheltered places, where there are trees enough to protect from the wind, and are almost always near water. The ice becomes too thick to be cut through easily, but whenever there is much weight of snow, the water comes over the ice in places near shore, and does not freeze when blanketed with ten or twelve inches of light snow. Such water