Central Canada Illustration

Far North & Arctic
Native Americans

Central Canada
in Olden Times

The early people who lived in central Canada in olden times were very inventive. They created a weapon to kill birds called a bola. A bola was a collection of ivory balls on a string. A hunter hurled it at birds. If any of the ivory balls hit a bird, the rest of the ball would quickly wrap around the bird and bring it down.

Other early people learned how to wait patiently by a seal air hole in the ice. Sooner or later, a seal would surface to breathe. They made nets. They dropped part of the nets into air holes made by seals in the ice. They anchored the rest of net on the surface with weights. They checked the nets. When the caught a seal, they killed it quickly with harpoons. They used seals for everything, for skins, food, and oil for the lamps they made.

Lamps were made with pottery bowls. They filled the bowls with seal or whale oil. They used a bit of moss or a twist of fur as a wick. These lamps were used to cook food and to give light during the long winter nights.

They also made fire by striking two pieces of iron pyrite together. They made iron hooks for their harpoons. And they made cooking utensils.

Ice Houses: These early people are credited with the invention of igloos. Their homes were well constructed. They fit blocks tightly together. Then, using lamps, they applied heat to the walls of their home, both inside and out. The ice melted a little, and quickly refroze. This sealed the blocks into one sheet of ice, and made their homes nearly air tight.

One oil lamp could heat a home. Homes had windows made of clear sheets of ice. They had doors of ice that could be opened and closed.

During construction, they built in an ice shelf around the entire inside wall. They used the shelf to spread out bedding and for a place to sit. The ice shelves stayed frozen because one side of the shelf was part of the outside wall. The people stayed warm while sleeping on the shelves because they were tucked inside fur sleeping bags.

Clothing: They made waterproof rain gear from the intestines of sea mammals. They made ice-free mittens from polar bear fur. They used soft caribou skin to make tailored pants and shirts and boots. They had hooded coats. They put polar bear fur around the hood, again to keep ice away from their face. Ice does not stick to polar bear fur.

Government: There was no central government. These first people did not have chiefs. Their central unit was the family. The most important person around was the shaman - the medicine man.

Ghosts: If someone died inside an igloo, a hole was cut in the side of the home. The body was removed though the hole. The hole was closed with blocks of ice, which were quickly subjected to heat to melt them tight. This was to block any chance that the ghost of the departed might return. They could not take a body out a doorway. There was no way to forever close a doorway to keep out ghosts. So, they used a hole in the wall instead.

Burial Practices: They could not bury their dead. There was no way to dig a hole in the ground in the frozen north. Instead, they covered the body with stones. Typically, they buried tools that person owned with the body, so they could hunt for food and clothing in the next life.

Games/Festivals: These early people were fun loving. They had comedians whose job was to make people laugh. The comedians invented a dance that mocked their fierce neighbors, the Kutchin. The comedians would dress up in masks and feathers and dance a jig. All the people knew they were mocking the Kutchin. Everyone laughed.

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