VuntutGwichinand Caribou Hunting for Survival in the Old Crow Flats MorningStar Leon University of the Arctic BCS321 December 10th, 2010
An Ancient Area? • Old Crow may be one of the oldest almost continually-inhabited areas in the Canadian North. Some researchers believe carbon-dating proves human inhabitation from 50ka BP, which a gap between 21 and 14ka BP, when the Porcupine River was dammed by the Laurentide ice sheet and flooded the area. (Pielou1991, 153-155) • Others believe that the stones, bones, and tusks which show flaking are not artifacts, but were shaped by natural forces such as animals gnawing or trampling; freezing, thawing or tumbling in water; even volcanic explosion. If natural means cannot be ruled out, purposeful human activity cannot be proven (Meltzer 2009, 109). • Cinq-Mars and his team have studied artifacts from Old Crow and the nearby Bluefish Caves. They describe a well-preserved flake and core from a mammoth or mastodon. The flake appears to have been retouched, and neither bear evidence of animal gnawing, as do most other animal remnants from the cave. The average of the dates of the flake and core is 23.5ka BP. He has found similar artifacts at Old Crow Flats, and believes the areas were settled 40,000 years ago, and that the people moved from Old Crow Flats to the Bluefish Caves while the flats were submerged. (Cinq-Mars et al. 1994 in Bonnichsen and Turnmire1999, 204-05, 208)
Cinq-Mars discusses tools and providesphotographs. For stone tools from the Bluefish Caves he lists microblade cores and microblades, burins and burin spalls. Microblades were used for spear points, burins for cutting and engraving. Stone Tools in pre-WisconsianBeringia Photograph from Cinq-Mars, Jacques and Richard E. Morlan 1999, 204.
This is a photograph of a diorama at the Yukon BeringiaInterpretive Centre. This is a representation of what they believe life was like at the Bluefish Caves about 15ka BP. The male figure in the background is striking flakes from a mammoth bone. The foreground figures are butchering a caribou. I doubt you can see it here, but one of them is using an ulu-shaped blade. Bluefish Caves Photograph of an exhibit at the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre, www.beringia.com
The Boy Who Went to the Moon • In these days the people believed in Medicine Man only. There were a lot of Medicine Men. This happened to be the best Medicine Man. He usually brought home meat but this particular one could not get any meat for the people. One night one little kid was crying for meat (caribou) so the people decided to tell the little boy, "We'll bring you meat." • The kid said, "Let's make a fence." There was no sign of caribou or moose tracks even that they built a fence in one day. This fence was to capture caribou with. The boy directed the people in building the fence. • After the fence was completed the boy told the people to set all their snares in the fence. He sent the people out to round up the caribou and chase them into the fence. They drove a big herd of caribou into the fence. They caught caribou in every snare. Whatever got into the fence were caught in the snares. After all the caribou were killed and were being cut up the boy said to his dad, "Carry me all through the camp to each person who are cutting the caribou."
They came upon the boy's uncle who was butchering a fat caribou. The boy asked his uncle for a piece of fat. The uncle was stingy for the fat. He didn't want to give the kid any fat. So the boy started crying when he couldn't get the fat. Lots of people offered him fat but he refused it. He wanted fat from his uncle's caribou. The people told the uncle that they would give him the same kind of fat to give to the boy but the boy didn't want it. All the men that cut up the caribou completed their cuts and carried meat home to their families who were all starving. • While all the men were leaving for their homes with their pack of meat the boy was still sitting there crying. He was crying because he knew all the people were going to starve to death. The boy's dad had one caribou so the boy told his dad to put all the cut up meat on the skin and put the load and himself home. When they got home the boy's dad cooked up the whole caribou except one ham and blood from inside the stomach. The boy was still crying. Everyone went to bed after they had eaten. During the night the people found the little boy missing. The boy had a marten skin pants but when the boy was missing they went out to look but found nothing but his pants hanging from the roof of the tent.
Next day the men went out to bring the rest of the caribou back. When they go there, all the caribou had come alive and ran away. Then the people realized that they weren't going to live so they all started crying. • Three nights later the boy came back home. He stayed with them for awhile and he said he was going to tell them something. He asked if they had any meat left. They replied, "One ham and some blood left". The boy said, "Every night eat piece of meat off the shoulder but don't break the bones." After you've finished the meat wrap the bone in a white tanned caribou skin and bury it under the snow. • Every morning when they take the shoulder bone out from under the snow it is covered with meat and there is always blood with it. The boy said to his parents, "Don't share the meat with anyone." He also said he was going to the moon and live there as long as the earth is still here so don't cry for me. He said if the moon eclipses forward this means the people are going to starve but if it eclipses backwards that means there's going to be lots of meat. He also said when the moon eclipse backwards each person should be happy and carry a little bag of food around with them and give food to the old people and to the helpless.
Everyone should sing during this time as follows: • "I'm going to drink caribou blood." "I'm going to drink caribou blood." • And when the moon eclipse forward everyone should cry because this means starvation for everyone. • The boy saved his mom and dads' lives and from then on the population started to increase. This is why there is people in the world today. • On a clear night you can see the boy in the moon holding a piece of the caribou blood in his right hand. (http://www.oldcrow.ca/stories.htm) Woodland Caribou. Photograph from the Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board website. http://www.yfwmb.yk.ca/index.cfm?method=pages.showPage&pageID=0cac26c8-d72e-ecf3-d3ca-2d7b9f1338e1
Introducing Old Crow • The present-day community of Old Crow is above 67 degrees of Latitude. Survival in its harsh climate required adequate supplies of food and clothing, fire and shelter. The people did and do travel between summer and winter hunting and fishing ranges. In this harsh environment, not just food and clothing, but hunting and working tools would have been from animal sources. (Pielou 1991, 155) Shown is the SE portion of this region, known as the “little flats”. The photo is taken within VG FN lands R-10A, ~30 km NE of Old Crow. Photo by John Meikle. http://www.cpawsyukon.org/articles/old-crow-flats-sma.html
Introduction, Continued • The people of this area are the VuntutGwitchin, one band of the Gwich’in Nation which inhabits northwestern North America. “VuntutGwitchin” means “The People of the Lakes,” so named because in summer, the people travel north to the muskrat-trapping grounds. • Although this area may have been inhabited from ancient times, the name “Old Crow” is recent. Deetru` K`ahvidik was a chief in the mid-19th Century. His name means “Crow May I Walk” and the people named the river, mountain and area after him, following his death in the 1870’s. • The harsh environment can support a relatively small community. The current band at Old Crow numbers about 300 people, who still subsist mostly on the Porcupine Caribou Herd. (VuntutGwitchin First Nation. http://www.oldcrow.ca/history.htm)
Primary Food Sources • The Porcupine Caribou Herd is the primary source of food, still, for the people of Old Crow. In older times hides were used for clothing, bedding and shalter; bones and antlers for tools. The herd passes through the VuntutGwitchin lands spring and autumn during their migrations. The people leave the village to camp near the herd to harvest and prepare the animals. (VuntutGwitchin First Nation. http://www.oldcrow.ca/caribou.htm)
Many of the present-day sources of food have been available in this area for thousands of years: fossils of waterfowl, shore birds, ptarmigan and grouse have been found in the area; as have fossils of freshwater fish include northern pike and arctic greyling(Pielou 1991, 155). • Traditionally fish,including chum and chinook salmon, trout perch, inconnu, lake trout, whitefish and arctic char, were trapped or netted, for human food and to feed dog teams, necessary for winter travel. Fish were especially important sources of food in the winter, and they are the food source for mammal species and waterbirds (Yukon at a Glance: Economic Sectors: Fishing; Old Crow Flats Management Plan 2004, 22). The fish roe is used for food, as well as the flesh (VuntutGwitchin First Nations: Whitefish Egg Recipes. http://www.oldcrow.ca/recipe25.htm) • Much of the information here is from the Old Crow community. Their extreme isolation (the village can be reached by boat in summer, snowmobile in winter, and plane year-round) has kept traditional prey and practices intact. • As previously mentioned, summer trapping of muskrat is important in this area (VuntutGwitchin First Nation. http://www.oldcrow.ca/history.htm)
Moose is secondary as a large-mammal food source in the area, but it is important, especially if the caribou migration varies and does not pass near Old Crow (Old Crow Flats Management Plan 2004, 23). Grizzly and black bears may be found in the region, but are scarce (Environment Yukon: Hunting/Trapping: Big Game. 2009. http://www.environmentyukon.gov.yk.ca/huntingtrapping/biggame.php) • Waterfowl are also important traditional food, especially geese and black ducks, but also scaup, wigeon, scoters, Tundra Swan, White-fronted Goose and loons (Old Crow Flats Management Plan 2004, 24-5)
Porcupine Caribou Herd • Caribou Crossing • The caribou wades the creek in silence. Through the river, rocks and barely a ripplemarks the caribou passage.The caribou travelling through north woods of blue greens.The caribou travel through a Land coveredwith rich pouring of sun ripenedberries of different kinds. Caribou crossing through weaves of brilliant green colour leaves.Plush, cool grass.Caribou galloping through the riversand across the plainsThe caribou roams the mountains,covered with carpets of flowersthrough the cool summers.A tranquil window of fleeting sunlight;after a gray floatingneither ready to concede to the slowly clearing clean blue sky.Nights are turning chillwinter’s gentle sun....The caribou roam the country by the thousands,thundering hooves across the mountains. • ~Nancy Flitt, Old Crow~ (VuntutGwitchin First Nation. http://www.oldcrow.ca/caribou.htm) . The darkest areas show the winter range of the herd; the pale green area is protected land. http://www.oldcrow.ca/caribou.htm
How long has the herd been there? • "The range of the PCH is in the Yukon-Alaska Refugium, a region considered by geologists to have been unglaciated throughout the four glacial epochs. Paleontological evidence suggests that caribou have continually inhabited the Alaska-Yukon Refugium for over 400,000 years, through Wisconsin Glaciations (Kelsall 1968; Urquhart 1986). As Banfield believed, "[Caribou] were present throughout the Wisconsin Glaciation in the Alaska-Yukon Refugium and probably in the Penultipate Illinois Glaciation as well" (Kelsall 1968:25)." • Jacques Cinq-Mars foundbones and tools in the Bluefish Caves, and the bones include caribou. These have been radiocarbon-dated and show that the caves were in use at least and the inhabitants using caribou at least 15,000 years ago. (McGhee1996,17) • The Parks Canada website says: "For thousands of years, the herd has been a source of food, clothing, tools and shelter for the Gwitchin and Inuvialuit peoples who inhabit this region. The importance of the herd both as a subsistence resource and as a source of cultural identity continues today."
When the people take a caribou’s life, no part of the animal is wasted. Meat is cooked fresh, dried, frozen, smoked, or otherwise prepared for storing for the other seasons. Bones are used in cooking, and have been traditionally been used for tools, as have antlers. The heads are roasted or made into head soup for feast days. The hooves are boiled for jelly and also dried, and hung from the hunters’ belts. They clatter together and mimic the sound of the caribou, providing a sound camouflage (VuntutGwitchin First Nation. http://www.oldcrow.ca/ccpage2.htm) Pictures are taken from VuntutGwitchin First Nations website; http://www.oldcrow.ca/ccpage2.htm
Hides and hair are still used for clothing and traditional crafts, particularly festival clothing. Mittens, gloves, moccasins and boots are an important protection against the winter climate (VuntutGwitchin First Nation. http://www.oldcrow.ca/ccpage3.htm) Daily mean temperatures in January are -31.1C, and the extreme minimum recorded on January 5, 1975 was -59.4 (El Dorado County Weather. http://www.eldoradocountyweather.com/canada/climate2/Old%20Crow%20A.html) Pictures are taken from VuntutGwitchin First Nations website; http://www.oldcrow.ca/ccpage3.htm
Caribou Fences The VuntutGwichin report having used caribou fences to trap animals from the herd and spear them, for many generations prior to contact with Europeans (Kassi 2000, http://yukon.taiga.net/vuntutrda/archaeol/hist.htm) . The fences surround a long feeder chute into a corral, where animals were kept alive until they were snared or speared, prior to butchering and storing the meat. In the early post-contact period, the entire fall season, and longer, was spent tending the fences and managing the animals and meat preparation and storage (Balicki 1963; Morlan 1973, http://yukon.taiga.net/vuntutrda/archaeol/hist.htm) Caribou fences are believed to have been located throughout the Old Crow Basin in the pre-contact period. Many sites have been reported to researchers, but the fences no longer exist. Greer believes the only extant caribou fences in the Yukon are in the Gwitchin area (Greer 1991, http://yukon.taiga.net/vuntutrda/archaeol/hist.htm) The Gwitchin are known to have continued using them as long as 50 years after they first received rifles, because this old style of hunting allowed them to save their ammunition (Balikci 1963, http://yukon.taiga.net/vuntutrda/archaeol/hist.htm) One of the most important camps was located at Klo-Kut, about 10 km upstream of the Old Crow village on the Porcupine. Even in the early post-contact period, the people at Klo-Kut were using stone bifaces, arrowheads and scrapers, and bone points and fishing lures (Morlan 1973, http://yukon.taiga.net/vuntutrda/archaeol/hist.htm) It was more than a hunting camp; it was a traditional meeting place for the VuntutGwichin, where councils were held and decisions made for the local village and the Gwitchin Nation as a whole (Kassi 2000, http://yukon.taiga.net/vuntutrda/archaeol/hist.htm) Photograph of the Caribou Fence at Black Fox in Vuntut National Park of Canada. Photograph by R. LeBlanc. http://yukon.taiga.net/vuntutrda/archaeol/fig_7.htm
Morlan was directed to the site of a post-contact fishing camp by Charlie Peter Charlie Sr. of Old Crow. Charlie Sr. remembered it as a good place to gather bird’s eggs. Morlan excavated Tsdu-ho-ko, off a small tributary stream of the Black Fox Cree, and found a number of artifacts. • Among the artifacts were wooden pieces for two V-shaped weirs, used as a basket trap for fish. A former chief had the traps and camp built in the late 1800’s and the site was used until about 1930. As well as remains of fish, they found remains of moose, caribou, muskrat, snowshoes hares, a fox and a number of waterfowl (Morlan 1973 http://yukon.taiga.net/vuntutrda/archaeol/hist.htm) Fishing Camps This is neither traditional, nor Gwitchin, but it serves to illustrate the type of V-shaped weir used at camps like Tsdu-ho-ko. Photograph from Grayling Camp Enterprises, 2005. http://www.daltontrail.com/yukonrrelaxpackage.htm
Seasonal Hunting & Trapping • Spring • In the spring, the caribou are moving north to the Arctic calving grounds. Their migration crosses the Porcupine River. Hunting camps were established along the river, usually between high outcroppings of bedrock, which served as look-outs. • Along the river and on the Old Crow Flats, the bird and muskrat hunting would begin in spring as well. (Gray 2000, http://yukon.taiga.net/vuntutrda/history/precont.htm) Porcupine Caribou Herd crossing river. http://www.vgfn.ca/caribou.php
Seasonal Hunting & Trapping • Summer • Traditional summer activities including going to the fishing camps, to trap freshwater fish including salmon. The traps and camps were large, so these were community gatherings. The fish traps and camps were used annually to the end of the 19th Century, and fell out of use by about 1920 (Balicki 1963, http://yukon.taiga.net/vuntutrda/history/precont.htm) • In early summer, the Gwitchin gathered eggs; later in the summer they trapped and caught moulting birds. The muskrat hunt continued in summer; rabbits were snared; and berries were gathered in late summer. (Gray 2000, http://yukon.taiga.net/vuntutrda/history/precont.htm) A Modern Fish Camp Alestine Andre's fish camp at Diighe'tr'aajil (near Tree River) on the Mackenzie River. Margaret Mitchell, James Cardinal and Alestine Andre in camp, with Erika Kritsch walking up hill in foreground. Photo taken in 1993. Photo credit: Ingrid Kritsch. http://gwichin.ca/include/PhotoPopup.asp?PhotoId=66
Seasonal Hunting & Trapping • Fall • In fall, the caribou herd began its southern migration, and the people moved to the northern limits of the Flats to trap and kill caribou. Maintaining caribou fences, butchering and storing meat, took the whole season. • The caribou fences were owned and operated by particular family groups, with historic attachments to their own areas. (Gray 2000, http://yukon.taiga.net/vuntutrda/history/precont.htm) Caribou Fence at Thomas Creek in Vuntut National Park, 1991. Photograph taken by R. LeBlanc. http://yukon.taiga.net/vuntutrda/archaeol/fig_7.htm
Seasonal Hunting & Trapping • Winter • Morlan interviewed Old Crow Elders, who reported that in winter, the people remained together in smaller camps than the fall. The Old Crow Flats are wide and barren. The extreme winter cold and strong winds led the people to move to valleys in the hills along the southern side of the Flats. The Potato Hill Camp was used by many families, as were others on Potato and Surprise Creeks (Morlan 1973, http://yukon.taiga.net/vuntutrda/history/precont.htm) • Ice fishing, especially for Arctic char, and hunting for moose and caribou continued on a smaller, family scale, in the winter months (Balikci 1963, http://yukon.taiga.net/vuntutrda/history/precont.htm) Western Gwich'in winter camp drawn by Alexander Hunter Murray in 1848. Engraving by Alexander Hunter Murray. http://gwichin.ca/include/PhotoPopup.asp?PhotoId=51
What of the Future? • Members of the Porcupine Caribou Management Board are concerned about oil and gas development in ANWR, but as it is a Canadian body and ANWR is American, they have no direct input. The herd's primary calving grounds are in the ANWR refuge, which is a no-hunting zone. When the herd is forced to calve outside the usual grounds, calf survival rates drop. The herd reached a peak population of about 180,000 in the 1980's. Efforts to make a new survey of the population in the last 10 years have failed, but there is concern that the herd size is dropping and that calf survival rates are a factor in that. • The PCMB is not opposed to responsible development of gas and oil resources, but its position is that any development in the calving grounds is irresponsible. The Mackenzie Valley pipeline project is not a direct threat to the herd, but increased traffic on the Dempster high way will be one result of the pipeline. This could have a negative impact on their food supply, by bringing in dust and fumes from the highway, and the increased traffic might inadvertently bring invasive plant species in to the area. There could also be an increased loss because of traffic accidents, and increase of pressure on the herd from hunters.
And then … • The Gwitchin Nation, and particularly the community at Old Crow, has relied upon the Porcupine Caribou Herd for millenia, for food, for shelter, for clothing. And more than these, for their culture and their identity. Should the herd be lost, to careless use of northern resources, the community wiay well disappear. The people are strongly tied to the existence of the herd. If they could remain in that place, they would still have lost who they are.
References • Balikci, A. VuntaKutchin social change: a study of the people of Old Crow, Yukon Territory. Ottawa, Department of Northern Affairs and Northern Resources. 1963 cf. D.R. Gray and B.T. Alt, Resource Description and Analysis for the Vuntut National Park of Canada: “History of the Old Crow Basin: Recorded History of the VuntutGwitchin.” Parks Canada, December 2000. http://yukon.taiga.net/vuntutrda/history/precont.htm • Cinq-Mars, Jacques and Richard E. Morlan. “Bluefish Caves and Old CrowBasin: A New Rapport,” in Robson Bonnichsen and Karen L. Tunmire, Ice Age People of North America: Environments, Origins and Adaptations. Corvallis, Oregon: Oregon State University Press for the Centre for the Study of the First Americans. 1999. • Environment Canada. “Old Crow A, Yukon Territory Canada Yearly/Monthly/Daily Climate Statistics: Average Monthly Temperatures, Precipitation, Snowfall & Weather Extremes”. On El Dorado County Weather site, 2010. http://www.eldoradocountyweather.com/canada/climate2/Old%20Crow%20A.html • Government of the VuntutGwitchin First Nation. “Caribou Coordination” 2010. http://www.vgfn.ca/caribou.php • Government of the Yukon: Yukon at a Glance: Economic Sectors. Whitehorse. 2009. http://www.gov.yk.ca/aboutyukon/industry.html • Gray, D.R. and B.T. Alt, Resource Description and Analysis for the Vuntut National Park of Canada: “History of the Old Crow Basin: Recorded History of the VuntutGwitchin.” Parks Canada, December 2000. http://yukon.taiga.net/vuntutrda • Grayling Camp Enterprises. 2006. http://www.daltontrail.com/yukonrrelaxpackage.htm • Greer, S.C. “Old Crow Heritage issues – Preliminary Analysis.” Edmonton: Canadian Parks Service. 1991. Cited in Gray, D.R. and B.T. Alt, Resource Description and Analysis for the Vuntut National Park of Canada: “History of the Old Crow Basin: Recorded History of the VuntutGwitchin.” Parks Canada, December 2000. http://yukon.taiga.net/vuntutrda
References • Gwich’in Social & Cultural Institute. 2003. http://gwichin.ca/index.html • Kassi, D. Personal Communication. 2000. Reported in Gray, D.R. and B.T. Alt, Resource Description and Analysis for the Vuntut National Park of Canada: “History of the Old Crow Basin: Recorded History of the VuntutGwitchin.” Parks Canada, December 2000. http://yukon.taiga.net/vuntutrda/archaeol/hist.htm • Kofinas, Gary Peter. 1998. The costs of power sharing: community involvement in Canadian Porcupine Caribou co-management. PhD thesis, University of British Columbia. 471 pp. Cf. Lemke, Diana, Porcupine Caribou Management Board, personal communication, December 14th, 2010 • LeBlanc, R. Photographs of Caribou Fences. cf. D.R. Gray and B.T. Alt, Resource Description and Analysis for the Vuntut National Park of Canada: “History of the Old Crow Basin: Recorded History of the VuntutGwitchin.” Parks Canada, December 2000. http://yukon.taiga.net/vuntutrda/archaeol/fig_7.htm • Lepson, Peeter, Biologist and Interpretive Guide. Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre, Whitehorse, YT. Private conversation, November 21st, 2010. • McGhee, Robert. Ancient Peoples of the Arctic. Vancouver: UBC Press. 1996. • Meltzer, David J. First Peoples in a New World: Colonizing Ice Age America. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. 2009.
References • Morlan, Richard E. “The Pleistocene Archaeology of Beringia” in Matthew H. Nitecki and Doris V. Nitecki, The Evolution of Human Hunting. Springer Publishing. 1988. • Morlan, R.E. NbVk-1: an historic fishing camp in Old Crow Flats, northern Yukon Territory. Ottawa, National Museum of Man, National Museums of Canada, 1972. cf. D.R. Gray and B.T. Alt, Resource Description and Analysis for the Vuntut National Park of Canada: “History of the Old Crow Basin: Recorded History of the VuntutGwitchin.” Parks Canada, December 2000. http://yukon.taiga.net/vuntutrda/history/precont.htm • Old Crow Flats Van Tat K`atr`anahtil : Special Management Area Management Plan. Whitehorse: Government of the Yukon, Department of Environment. 2006 http://www.environmentyukon.gov.yk.ca/mapspublications/documents/old_crow_flats.pdf • Pielou, E.C. After the Ice Age: The Return of Life to Glaciated North American. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 1991. • Porcupine Caribou Management Board. Website updated 2010. http://www.taiga.net/pcmb/ • VuntutGwitchin First Nation. Old Crow – Yukon: Home of the VuntutGwitchin First Nation. 1988 – 2010. http://www.oldcrow.ca/index.htm • Yukon Fish and Wildlife Management Board. Whitehorse, YT. 2010. http://www.yfwmb.yk.ca/index.cfm?method=pages.showPage&pageID=0cac26c8-d72e-ecf3-d3ca-2d7b9f1338e1