Culture Blog

The Gifts of Animals

The Gifts of Animals

Jan 30, 2020
Category: General 

By Jordan Cryderman

The Carrier people say that there are many animals in our region that have characteristics associated with them, and that you can bestow somebody with these characteristics by using parts of the animal.


In 2003, CSFS and UNBC collaborated on a research project focused on traditional food and medicine. From the research, a curriculum titled Aboriginal Health Philosophy was created. A number of the research participants noted the use of animals in traditional medicine, including Emma Baker, Bernie Ketlo, and Doris Thomas.


Emma Baker of Stellat’en said that a beaver is considered a hard worker, the fox is cunning, and the bear is strong. Empowering a child with parts of a beaver can provide them with some of many characteristics of the beaver, including a hard work ethic. Animal properties can differ depending on the community. For some, using parts of the beaver can bestow great strength, while other traditions say you can transfer great swimming ability from a beaver.


Bernie Ketlo of Stellat’en said that by patting a child on the back with a beaver tail, the child will become strong later in life.


The paws of the beaver can also be used to empower a child with a multitude of strengths. If you rub a child’s hands with a beaver paw, they will grow up to be artistic. Others say that if you want your kids to have busy hands all day, you can also rub their hands with the beaver paws.


It is not just human beings that can be bestowed with the powers of other animals. In the research project, Doris Thomas of Skin Tyee said that by wrapping a dog in beaver hide and dipping it in the water, you can grant the dog the swimming aptitude of a beaver.


We recently spoke with Rita George who says she has had numerous experiences using parts of beaver, both as a child and as a parent.


“When we were little kids, our ancestors gave us beaver paws and they told us to put it in the oven, and go play outside. They tell us not to time it, but whoever remembers the beaver paws that’s in the oven – whoever comes in to take the beaver paws out – the term for that was ‘we will always remember what we had done’ in life. The children that forgot about the beaver paws, they said that ‘they’ll be forever forgetful’.”


George still remembers this lesson to this day, and has passed on a similar tradition onto her own children.


“We turn them on our lap upside down and heat up the beaver tail and tap them through their body, then we touch them with the beaver paws. I’ve done that with every one of my children, and they became really good swimmer(s). They (can) automatically dive underwater and come up at another spot – that’s what the beaver tail does.”


Here's Rita George sharing her story with us on video.



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Aboriginal Health Sciences FNST 282-3 (2004) Carrier Sekani Family Services and the University of Northern British Columbia


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Last modified: Wednesday 03-Apr-24 12:36:28 PDT