EXTRACTIONS FROM “ NOTES OF A TWENTY-FIVE YEARS' SERVICE IN THE HUDSON'S BAY TERRITORY.”
BY JOHN M'LEAN.
(In two Volumes.) London, 1849.
THE NASCOPIES—THEIR RELIGION, MANNERS AND COMMUNITY OF GOODS.
The Indians inhabiting the interior of Ungava, or, it may be said with equal propriety, the interior of Labrador, are a tribe of the Cree nation designated Nascopies, and numbering about one hundred men able to bear arms. Their language, a dialect of the Cree or Cristeneau, exhibits a considerable mixture of Sauteux words, with a few peculiar to themselves. . . .
Of all the Indians I have seen, the Nascopies seem most averse to locomotion; many of them grow up to man's estate without once visiting a trading post. Previously to the establishment of this post they were wont to assemble at a certain rendezvous in the interior, and deliver their furs to some elderly man of the party, who proceeded with them to the King's posts, or Esquimaux Bay, and traded them for such articles as they required. So little intercourse have this people had with the whites, that they may be still considered as unsophisticated “ children of nature,” and possessed, of course, of all the virtues ascribed to such ; yet I must say, that my acquaintance with them disclosed nothing that impressed me with a higher opinion of them than of my own race, corrupted as they are by the arts of civilized life. . . .
The Nascopies depend principally on the reindeer for subsistence,—a dependence which the erratic habits of these animals render extremely precarious. Should they happen to miss the deer on their passage through the country in autumn, they experience the most grievous inconvenience, and often privations, the succeeding winter; as they must then draw their living from the lakes, with unremitting toil,—boring the ice, which is sometimes from eight to nine feet thick, for the purpose of setting their hooks, and perhaps not taking a single fish after a day's hard work. Nevertheless, they must still continue their exertions till they succeed, shifting their hooks from one part of the lake to another, until every spot is searched. They understand
the art of setting nets under the ice perfectly. Towards the latter end of December, however, the fish gain the deep water, and remain still to the latter end of March. Not a fish enters the net during this period.
Partridges are very numerous in certain localities, but cannot be trusted to as a means of living, as every part of the country affords them food, and when much annoyed at one place they move off to another. . . .
As trading posts, however, are now established on their lands, I doubt not but artificial wants will, in time, be created, that may become as indispensable to their comfort as their present real wants. All the arts of the trader are exercised to produce such a result, and those arts never fail of ultimate success. Even during the last two years of my management, the demand for certain articles of European manufacture had greatly increased. . . .
The Esquimaux are so totally different in physiognomy and person, in language, manners, and customs, from all the other natives of America, that there can be no doubt that they belong to a different branch of the human race. The conformation of their features, their stature, form, and complexion, approximate so closely to those of the northern inhabitants of Europe, as to indicate, with some degree of certainty, their identity of origin. In the accounts I have read of the maritime Laplanders, I find many characteristics common to both tribes: the Laplander is of a swarthy complexion,—so is the Esquimaux ; the Laplander is distinguished by high cheek-bones, hollow cheeks, pointed chin, and large mouth,—so is the Esquimaux ; the Laplander wears a thick beard,—so does the Esquimaux; the Laplander's hair is long and black,—so is that of the Esquimaux; the Laplanders are, for the most part, short of stature,—so are the Esquimaux ; and the dress, food, and lodging of both peoples are nearly the same. The last coincidence may possibly arise from the similarity of location and climate ; and, taken by itself, would afford no certain proof of identity of origin; but taken in connexion with the aforesaid characteristics, I think the conclusion is irresistible that the Laplanders and Esquimaux are of the same race.
In manners, customs, and dress, there is a like similarity. The Esquimaux have ever remained a distinct people; the other natives of America seeming to consider them more as brutes than human beings, and never approaching them unless for the purpose of knocking them on the head. Every one's hand is against them. I have seen Esquimaux scalps, even among the timid têtes des boules of Temiscamingue ; yet no people seem more disposed to live at peace with their neighbours, if only they were allowed. Circumstanced as they are, however, they are likely to suffer hostile aggression for a long time. Even a coward, with a musket in his hand, is generally an overmatch for a brave man with only a bow or sling ; but once possessed of fire-arms, they will teach their enemies to respect them, for they will undoubtedly have the advantage of superior courage and resolution.