Our people have a strong connection with all animals including fish and birds. Like plants, the ability to use animals for sustenance and medicine is traditionally viewed as a gift from the creator. Animals are there for regarded and treated with respect. This final article in our Traditional Medicine series is intended to provide a brief overview of some aspects of use of animals for medicine, as noted by the participants in our 2003 Traditional Medicine Research Project.
“Animals, they’re just a part of us like animals, plants, trees. People sometimes say 'dumb animals'. We don’t believe that, we don’t think an animal is dumb. We’re not superior to animals. We see them as the same level as we are. We’re not superior to them and vice versa. And we talk to the animals; they can feel us, especially if we are scared of them. If you go out hunting, a moose will sacrifice his life and give himself to you - and we thank him. Everything on earth is a gift to us to use; we don’t take things for granted. People aren't like that anymore I'm sad to say because some animals are extinct and people are killing trees. Its very sacred." - Emma Baker
Young men at a 2009 CSFS Culture Camp learning about hunting from Peter Gagnon
Different animals are harvested for different reasons. Many are used for food and medicine, and some are used to make various other items such as tools and clothing. As much of the animal is used as possible, to prevent waste. Various animals are harvested at different times throughout the year.
“Indian food we eat are salmon, and our salmon we smoke it half, we smoke it fully, we can our salmon, we salt our salmon to make salt salmon. We eat moose meat, we dry that and can moose meat. We make jerky from moose meat. Beaver meat is eaten but its smoked. We eat porcupine meat, its really good. We just boil off the quills if its sticking out. Porcupine is good as medicine. Its boiled, its good for colds. Any kind of colds. We eat grouse, ducks, da cho (goose); it’s found on the lake in the fall time. Goose is shot. Loon, rabbit; we make rabbit soup and rabbit stew. Bear meat is smoked and the bear grease is good for colds. You use bear grease like vicks.“ - Mary Michell
“In the fall time my mom set net and catches (ducks) in the lake eh. Like when there is ice along the lake, that’s when my grandpa and my mom they go out and set the net eh. That's in Stoney Creek not here. Those black and white ducks. “ – Ida George
“I had lots of bear grease. Everybody wants bear grease, Its good for the flu and its good for cold sick. You have to boil the bear fat in a pot to make grease. You just start with a little bit of water then you separate it from the fat and then eat it with bread or fish.” - Bernie Ketlo
“They would dry fish eggs and it was called gon tun (dried fish eggs). Rotten fish eggs is also used as medicine, it would turn black.” - Martha Patrick
Peter Gagnon teaching young women at a 2009 CSFS Culture Camp about setting snares
There are important cultural practices taught to individuals learning how to hunt. These practices ensure that hunting will be successful. It is mostly a male’s traditional role to hunt, although a few women hunt as well. Some cultural practices include conduct around sleeping the night before a hunt, handling guns, and preparing for a hunt using spruce smudge or a medicinal plant called kon’yeh (Indian Hellebore).
“In our area before they go hunting they use to smudge themselves with spruce boughs. Some of the people they go to sweat houses to purify themselves before they go hunting.” – George George
“When men go hunting they bath in the kon’yeh and they smudge their guns with kon’yeh before they go hunting.” - Doris Thomas
“If you’re married you have to sleep apart from each other for three or four days before you bath in (Indian Hellebore). Its really strict, you can’t just grab it and use it.” - Eleanor Skin
“We went out to mosquito hill to get some kon’yeh (Indian Hellebore). We picked some and before I picked it we offered a prayer and tobacco. We are going to use this plant to clean our gun. We shave the bark into a saucer into a saucer and then you clean your gun with it. This is very powerful medicine.” - Teddy Morris
“Sometimes I just use the kon’yeh and what I do is burn it and rub the ashes on my gun. Besides, grizzlies don’t like the smell of kon’yeh. - Leroy Adam
Deer photo by Evan Luggi via his trail camera
Many of our people have been traditionally taught that animals can understand our language, and that people and animals can communicate with each other. For this reason, hunters are taught to always think of animals in a good way. Some people can communicate directly with animals and use this gift in their hunting practice.
“The things that you have to think about while you are hunting is because maybe the animals can hear your thoughts”. - Warner Naziel
“We had to be very quiet the night before my dad went hunting because he said the animals could hear the kids around him when he was out in the bush hunting. That’s true because my grandfather said the same thing and he passed away at the age of 115. He was still trapping and hunting when he was 90 years old.” – Julie Jacques
“My mother told me to speak to them (wolves) and tell them to send you a moose or a bear. I guess it’s almost like praying to them.” - Leroy Adam
“Chief Louie and my mom, dad and cousins - we had two canoes and we went up (by) the hill. The mountain goat (was up) on the hill and my dad was going to shoot him. Chief Louie said ‘No, just wait. I’m going to do something.’ So he stood in the canoe and he kneeled down like this. He went up and put his hand up like that and then hollered at them. He shot twice and the mountain goat just came down. Chief Louie is strong. He’s got Indian power.” - Elizabeth Jack
“About five or six years ago I ran into this medicine guy and I told him about how every time I go hunting I always see an eagle flying around us. The medicine man told me to follow the eagle because they know where the animals are.” – Leroy Adam
Youth at a CSFS culture camp learning how to stretch a moose hide from Maryann Adam
It is common practice for women to prepare the hides once they are brought back by the hunters. We have been very blessed to have had women with this knowledge teach these skills to young people at our culture camps. The T’ongwut is a tool used to ‘flesh’ hides. The t’ongwut is carved from the leg bone of a deer or a similar animal. The t’ongwut is a hollow cylinder of bone that has a bevel with a serrated edge. It is used with a downward motion to scrape the excess flesh from the hides during preparation.
We hope you enjoyed this post on animal medicines; the last of five posts in our Traditional Medicines series. You can learn more about the philosophy of respect when harvesting medicine, types of healing, preparation, intent and sharing medicine by checking out our previous posts in this series. Awetza.
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© Carrier Sekani Family Services, 2016. Written/compiled by Marlaena Mann. All rights reserved.
The information in this post is intended to help preserve Carrier First Nations health and sustenance knowledge, for educational purposes and historical record. This information is not a guide to the preparation or prescription of food or traditional Carrier medicine, nor are these references to be used in the treatment of ailments or conditions without extensive hands on training from a knowledge holder, in collaboration/consultation with a medical professional.
Aboriginal Health Sciences FNST 282-3 (2004) Carrier Sekani Family Services and the University of Northern British Columbia
Aboriginal Medicines I – Harvesting and Preparation FNST 280-3 (2004) Carrier Sekani Family Services and the University of Northern British Columbia.
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Last modified: Wednesday 27-Sep-17 04:14:39 PDT