p. 2626

can be cleared of slush by very little warming over the fire. In default of water, chopped ice melts much better than snow, which the people avoid. They prefer to work hard for twenty to thirty minutes chopping a hole, rather than bother to melt down an uncompacting mass of cold porous snow. They rarely, if ever, drink ice-cold water, but warm it a few degrees, even building a special fire for this purpose when travelling. In this, as in most other race peculiarities, they find their opposite in their Eskimo neighbours, who are said to eat snow and swallow frozen food with only the happiest consequences.
For winter travel, most of the people now use sheet-iron stoves a foot square and about two feet long. The snow is tramped level with the snowshoes, the tent raised and boughs laid ; then the stove is placed on four stakes which are driven some three feet into the snow, and serve as legs. Such a stove will burn almost any small wood, and in a country where good wood is scarce, will save much time and labour in heavy chopping and shovelling snow, besides enabling the traveller to camp almost anywhere and not have to go more than a mile or two out of his course to get good wood.
The Indians at Nichicun are classed by Low as Western Nascaupees. Only thirteen families traded at the post at the time of his visit. Other families in the neighbourhood go to the Gulf with their furs. Living near the geographical centre and apex of the plateau, they naturally hunt not far from Nichicun ( “Otter-place” ) Lake. They live almost wholly on the country. Few deer are taken there, and while fish are generally plentiful, the margin of subsistence is uncomfortably narrow. All the able-bodied men go to Rupert House in summer with the brigade, while the women keep the nets out in lakes near the post. The return journey from Rupert takes about sixty days. Sometimes the start downward is made before the ice has left the lakes, but, although the stay at Rupert is only a few days, the upper lakes are sometimes frozen again before their arrival at Nichicun.
For some years Nichicun has been the only inland post in the whole peninsula, unless Mistassini, in the extreme southwest, be reckoned. The up voyage of the Mistassini brigade takes about fifty days. The lower part of its route, in common with that to Nichicun, follows Rupert River. There are seventy-five portages between Rupert and Mistassini.
The thirty families who trade at Mistassini are also counted as Nascaupees. All the Indians known by this name are properly Swampy Crees. Those at Chimo say that they came originally from southwest of Hudson Bay to get away from the Iroquois.
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The hunting-lands are held by individual hunters, and are passed down from one generation to another by customs of inheritance similar to our own. The hunting naturally descends upon some man of active age; if a daughter is married, the young husband may succeed to the lands. Surviving parents, or even more distant relatives, have, by common right, their place in the lodge. In fact, all must be taken care of in some way, in one lodge or another; about the hunters group the dependent ones, widows and orphans and incapacitated; none is denied his right.

p. 2627

Infringements upon each other's hunting-grounds are probably no more frequent than the cutting of timber on another's land in civilization. The restraint of Indians in such matters is far beyond that of more advanced races. In passing across another's ground, which may take some days, the traveller has the right to take enough game for subsistence, but not to hunt for, nor to accumulate a stock of provisions.
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The people who descend the Moisie in the summer gather at Sandgirt Lake on the Hamilton, apparently for the mere sake of seeing each other, and they keep together as may be until their final separation in the fall for their individual lands. Something of an inland trade used to be done among the people, and doubtless survives still. A Seven Islands hunter would give fur to a Bersimis man at some rendezvous, and each would go his way. Months later, in the fall, one of the fine canoes for which Bersimis is known would be passed in return at some appointed place. A similar trade in canvas canoes goes on between the Gulf Indians and the Nascaupees, whose country furnises no canoe bark.
Rolls of canoe bark are still sold at some of the northern posts of the Hudson's Bay Company, being imported from more southern districts, along with other merchandise. Nevertheless, the supply has been insufficient for some years and often of poor quality; while by some unnecessary neglect the northern posts have been short even of canvas. With the full supply of the latter laid in recently along the farther coasts, the almost distressing situation of the Indians is at last relieved.
During the period of open water there is practically no foot travel. Some of the hunting-grounds, however, cannot be reached otherwise, and these are unoccupied until late. Mistinik, for instance, is reached by sleds from as far as the lakes of the Maniquagan, only two hundred miles from the Gulf, where the canoes are laid up and a stay made until winter sets in and the foot travel comes on.

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All in all, the life of these people remains singularly unchanged. It may be doubted whether another such survival of the purely primitive hunter, at the same time of so high a personality, as that of the savage of temperate America, is to be found in any part of the world. The caribou are to them what the buffalo were to the Indians of the plains. So long as continue the migrations, the old-time ways will prevail.
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The religion of the country is professedly almost wholly Christian. The people trading around Hudson Bay are Protestants, while all the Montagnais are Catholics, cared for spiritually by the various missions of the Gulf and the Saguenay.


[1927lab]



 

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