Caribou, which are strong swimmers, are also killed in numbers when swimming lakes in their early Fall migration. Some Indians on the borders of the Barren Lands make kills in this way, but they are principally made in the Eskimo country, where the Eskimos, in their frail, active-moving kayaks, surround a herd of animals in the water and spear them to death.
Having cited those large kills of Caribou, past and present, I might be asked,'Why such wasteful destruction ? In answer, my experience bids me defend the Indians, for of all the Caribou I have seen shot by Indians (no inconsiderable number) I have never known of one being wasted. In the first place it is well to remember that the Chipewyans look on the Caribou as a thing sent solely to them by The Spirit, to feed and clothe them through winter. Caribou are essential to the existence of those people, for the Chipewyans depend largely, almost completely, on them for winter food, though otherwise absolute poverty is relieved by limited stores of frozen fish, and what few fish are netted below the ice. If one hears complaints at all, it is that not enough Caribou can be found : never that they have too many and would leave some to waste. There is greater use for large quantities of meat than one, at first thought, might imagine. Indians are voracious eaters at all times, particularly in the intense cold winter weather, and they eat Caribou meat extravagantly when they have it, and eating it, and it solely, three or four times a day, as they often do, a single animal is soon devoured. Then, too, and this is the chief factor to be borne in mind, Caribou are extensively used for dog-feed whenever procurable in numbers. If an Indian has ten sled-dogs to feed, one carcass cut into portions will barely feed them for three nights ; the number of dogs is more often twenty, sometimes thirty or more, and the call on the food-supply accordingly greater. So it will be seen that, though Indians kill large numbers of Caribou, they have a definite need for them in a land where food is not bought; where red men wrest a livelihood from rivers and lake-waters, virgin wildernesses, and dreary snow-wastes; and where to be without food is to die.
It is hardly necessary to say that the flesh of the Caribou is splendid food. The choice parts the Indians select, when opportunity occurs, are the tongue, the heart, the kidneys, the brisket, all fat, and the limb-bones (after most of the meat has been removed) for the marrow therein. The tongue is undoubtedly the choicest part of all, and a delicious delicacy. In past days the Hudson Bay Company used to send out from Du Brochet Post many tongues and barrels of Caribou fat.
Indians, as I have already said elsewhere, have an observant and very intelligent knowledge of wild life. This is borne out in the Chipewyan manner of speaking of Caribou, when hunting them. They will not say, " There is a caribou" but will use a name which describes its individuality as well, since they have a series of names which discriminate at once the condition, or age, or sex, of the animals they encounter. Thus names mean: "a fat Caribou," "Caribou in poor condition," "a Caribou doe in fawn," "a young fawn," " a yearling Caribou," " a three-year-old Caribou," " a five-year-old Caribou," " a doe Caribou," " a buck Caribou "-and so on.
As well as providing the Chipewyans with great stores of winter food the Caribou supplies them with skins for clothing. In the past, Caribou skins furnished them with all their material for clothing and the covering for their teepees. Now, when they can, they get white man's clothing, and canvas for their teepees, in fur-barter with the Hudson Bay Company and Revillion Brothers-a change which is decaying native skill and native beauty. There are still, however, smoked Caribou-skin teepees in use, while winter fur clothing, and moccasins made from Caribou hides, are universally worn. Summer clothing-top-boot leggings and shirts, made from flexible native-tanned skins, are now entirely out of use.
Caribou-skin products are prepared by the Chipewyans as follows :
Long lengths of tough leather lace, or thong, made from raw hide. Process of preparation : hair scraped from skin; skin dried ; then skin soaked till soft, and cut into long strips by circular cutting. Skin in nowise prepared by the lengthy process required when dressing skins for moccasins, etc.
Lengthy process requiring, chiefly, industrious hand-working. Skins soaked, and dried in the open air, and worked with hands ; process repeated many times, each time becoming more soft and more white. When lying out, the clear, fresh air purifies the skins, as in ordinary bleaching. Skins finally soaked and rubbed in a solution of Caribou-brain (in the absence of brain ordinary soap is used) : brain contains grease, which has the essential softening quality. The skins, when finished, are very soft and flexible like Chamois leather, and are, particularly if they be fawn skins, often pure white.