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2.1 Historical Use of the Land The first ethnographic information on the Sekani is found in the journals of early explorers Alexander McKenzie and Simon Fraser, and fur traders Daniel Harmon and Samuel Black.
Other sources include Father A.G. Morice, an Oblate missionary who gathered information about the Carrier and the Sekani in the 1890s; and Diamond Jenness, an anthropologist who visited Fort McLeod and Fort Grahame during the summer of 1924. This section will give a short ethnographic description, followed by a more detailed examination of Black’s journal of his exploration of the upper Finlay and the Thutade Lake area.
The main activities of the Sekani were hunting, fishing and gathering. Jenness (1937:2)
describes the winter and summer seasonal round as he observed in the 1920’s as follows:
The Sekani were primarily hunters, depending on big game such as caribou, moose, bear, mountain sheep and mountain goat for their subsistence. Smaller animals such as beaver, porcupine, hare, and groundhogs were also hunted. Groundhogs 9 were of particular importance as they were easy to hunt and abundant in certain areas.
Like other hunting and gathering peoples, the Sekani developed their hunting methods and technology over many generations. This hunting technology was not only linked to the resources in their territory but was highly specialized for the specific game they sought. The principal method for hunting big game was stalking with the aid of a dog. Harmon (2006) noted that this was made easier during the winter months when there was a crust of snow that would hold dogs but not large game. The dogs would chase the game until they became mired in the snow and unable to escape. Another technique was to set snares along a brush fence so that the game would run into a noose (Morice 1895:132). Pounds were also The Hoary Marmot, often called a ‘groundhog’ or ‘the whistler’, is a member of the genus Marmota in the rodent family of Scuiridea, species name, m. caligata. In Sekani the word for this animal is dəje. It is the largest of the North American ground squirrel.
constructed to entrap large animals. Several of these were noted by the explorer Samuel Black (Rich 1955).
The ingenuity of Sekani hunting technology is well noted in the literature. Bows and arrows of various sizes and forms were designed for large and small game including birds. Snares, traps, nets, and deadfalls were also constructed in artful ways (Morice 1895:95-104). Nets were made out of strands of caribou skin and used for a variety of purposes including the ‘babiche’ used to catch beavers. Another technique for trapping beavers was the use of a casteoreum lure to attract the beaver away from its lodge (Morice 1895:66). Groundhogs were snared in their holes or were smoked or flooded out.
In the summer months the Sekani dried and cached their meat in strategic locations for later use. No part of the animal was wasted. Hides were used for tent coverings, bedding, bags, and clothing while furs from small mammals were important for clothing and later for trade.
Bones were used to make scrapers and awls, while knives were made out of beaver teeth.
As well as hunting, the Sekani fished the many rivers, creeks and lakes in their territory for white fish, suckers, Dolly Varden, and trout. Except for Bear Lake there were no salmon bearing waters. Fish was abundant, particularly in the summer months when the water was high with the snow melt. Sekani fishing technology consisted of hooks, weirs, and nets made of nettles and willow roots. In the winter months they speared fish through holes in the ice using three pronged leisters.
Plants were also important for food, medicine and equipment (see Appendix A). The territory of the Sekani had a great variety of plants, and their uses were well known to the Tse Keh Nay. Both men and women participated in the gathering of plants.
Westward there was a route from McLeod lake via Carp lake to Fort St. James on Stuart lake…; one up Nation river to Nation and Takla lakes; one up Manson river to Manson creek, thence south to Stuart lake or west to Takla lake; one from Fort Graham up the Mesilinka to Bear Lake; one via Ingenika river and another by the Finlay itself to Thutade and Tatlatui lakes, whence there were trails across the divide to the headwaters of Stikine and Skeena rivers. (1937:2-3) Sekani religious beliefs and world view were closely related to theland and the animals they depended upon for survival. In order to be successful in life, the Sekani believed that each hunter had to secure a relationship or power from a special animal. This is a common belief in hunting and gathering societies and is reflected in the puberty ceremony when a young man
is sent out to camp alone in order to acquire his ‘hunting medicine.’ Jenness writes:
Every youth, then when he reached the age of puberty, was sent forth alone to seek a ‘hunting medicine’ that he could summon to his aid in after life. …He left in early morning, fasting, and wandered all day in the woods, beside a lake, or up the mountain side. He might return in the evening, eat a scanty meal, and go out again the next morning; or he might remain away two or three nights.
Some youths were fortunate and gained their medicines in a single day; others sought for three or four weeks. Few failed…. (1937:68-69)
2.2. Samuel Black’s Journal This section analyzes Black’s journal of his voyage up the Finlay River to Thutade Lake. The journal is a key source of information on “Thecannie” 10 historical use of this region.
In 1824, Samuel Black journeyed up the Finlay River and west to the upper reaches of the Liard River in order to assess the potential for expansion of the fur trade. He set off from Rocky Mountain Portage in May of 1824 with his assistant Donald Manson, a Chippewyan hunter named Le Prise and his wife, and six crew members. At Finlay Rapids at the head of
the Peace River he met a family of “Thecannies” fishing that became his guides. He writes:
…we are now 13 growen [sic] persons & 2 children… I had agreed with the [Sekani guide] to leave part of his relations which he has done but retained more than I wished, however they say they will walk when the River is bad, & they are the only Indians that would go…. In the afternoon the [Sekani guide] arrived… he is on bad humour & seems to regret his bargain in undertaking this voyage…. (Rich 1955:12) As they traveled up the Finlay they ran into several bands of “Thecannie” who were eager to trade their cached beaver skins for ammunition. Black obtained a few dressed skins to equip them better for their trip but he disappointed the “Thecannie” by not trading ammunition for Black used the term “Thecannie” for the people he encountered along the Findlay River and Thutade Lake region.
beaver as he had only enough ammunition for his own needs. He urged them to make the trip to Rocky Mountain Portage to acquire their needed trade goods (Rich 1955:14).
Black’s assignment was not to trade, but to assess the viability of the Finlay River as a transportation route. In order to do this, he was determined to make the trip solely by navigating the river. The difficulty of this mode of travel was immediately evident when two of Black’s crew deserted at one of the canyons before the Akie River. Black attributed their desertion to the “roaring of the rapid through the chasm before us and the steep hill to carry up the canoe and baggage and prelude to further toil and harder duty” (Rich 1955:19).
He noted that although “Thecannie” trails were easy to traverse by foot they were difficult for Black and his party with their large canoes and packs. Black complained that the “Thecannie” did not blaze trails but tended to follow the animal trails.
Thecannie passes over the asperities of his Mountains and his Wild Vallies[sic] without drawing his hatchet from his Belt or Bundle to smooth the way for his Friends or family coming behind, except when he falls on a space of natures clearing, generally a drie[sic] level spot of Sand or gravel covered wt Pine & dry short moss when he takes his axe & cuts a branch in the way & whites the Trees by cutting a small piece of the bark & wood of each as a present and future Guide to keep the same Track, they are Natures children & have the Gift of choosing the passes in the intricate Vallies[sic]. The Reindeer have great instinctive powers in this way, the most of any large animal…. The Indians in such cases follow the Rein deer Roads & the deer in their turn follow the Indians Roads seeming with confidence of being the best pass & already traced, hence all nature feels the effects of the curve on the earth (Rich 1955:98).
On June 1st, Black reached the confluence of the Finlay and Kwadacha Rivers. It was here that his Sekani guide advised him to take the northern route up the Fox River to reach the upper reaches of the Liard River. This was the easiest route and the one the “Thecannies”
often used to reach the Liard River. As for the upper arm of the Finlay he advised:
…that we will take a long time to get to the Rapids being very far & bad Roads on which we will find some Beaver on this Branch but not so much as we have seen coming up, that we find some Fishing Lakes about the hight[sic] of Land but few Rein deer or other animals until we get down for some distance when we will find plenty also Moose deer. That the other Major Branch cuting[sic] the mountains here confining the valley, takes its rise out of a large Lake the natives call Thutade & in which there are plenty of Fish, but that he does not know the Rout[sic] only from hear say (Rich 1955: 26).
Black however was determined to take this westerly route and continued on. After a difficult passage on the river through a series of rapids and canyons they fell upon an ‘Indian Excerpt of the map of Black’s 1824 route, showing Thutade Lake (Rich 1955).
road’ and came upon another band of Thecannies who were harvesting licorice root which Black noted was quite ‘good & palatable’ (Rich 1955:33). He went on to describe how men
and women within this small band worked together. He wrote:
…they are however often going about setting snares for Siffleu [marmot] &c geathering [sic] Roots & herbs & Fishing—The women…make the encampment & cut Fire Wood also the accustomed domestic employments more congenial to their Weaker frames, otherwise they are by no means the Slaves retaining influence & seem to have much their own way…. The Thecannies … have the art of teaching their small Indian Dogs with erect Ears to hunt alone & the little hairy Beagles will sometimes go a great distance by themselves & teaze [sic] the animal they fall in with by their constant barking until their Master come up [n]or will the Thecannie stir from their seat before the accustomed signal, When they go off perhaps the whole Camp surrounding the amased [sic] Animal & drawing near on all Sides to prevent an escape made... (Rich 1955: 35-36) During these weeks on the Finlay River, Black and his party had seen evidence of game but had not successfully shot any. He lamented on the scarcity of game but it should be noted that the “Thecannie” regularly traded large game with Black’s party. The fact that this area was rich in big game was well recognized by many big game hunters that came into the area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries (see Haworth 1917). Jenness (1937:2) also made the point that the “grassy plateau to the northwest, around the headwaters of Finlay River, is still one of the finest game areas on the continent.” That the “Thecannie” were successfully hunting large game in the region was evident by the large caches of meat that Black observed as he traveled up the Finlay River to Thutade Lake.
He made particular note of the skillful way the “Thecannie” secured their caches from
The Indians often secure their property in a less laborious manner by smoothing Trees by peeling of the Bark cutting [sic] off the Knobs &c so that the blows of the animals may not catch on the smooth surface, this with the Poles prepared in the same manner & different contrivances and constructions they seldom loose their Property all these kinds of caches are secured from the Earth & Rain by Bark & other coverings wood frames &c. (Rich 1955:85) Black’s luck was to change. On June 6th by Bower Creek his Sekani guide brought back a mountain sheep weighing about 30 pounds. At this camp site he noted a Sekani caribou pound located close to two winter encampments. When he enquired if the “Thecannie” wintered in the region, he was told that the band of Old Chief Methodiates and his followers often passed the winter here and that this chief was presently at the Fishing Lakes a little ways ahead (Rich 1955:41).
The Fishing Lakes, or Tototade, are located after the big bend in the Upper Finlay River, in a valley where the Finlay River becomes a lake for six or seven miles. When Black (1955: 48) arrived at these lakes he noted the presence of two families of “Thecannie” successfully fishing in pine bark canoes. One of the “Thecannie”, who was named Menaye, brought Black and his party a mountain goat (1955:50). They next day they were joined by Chief Methodiates and his followers which included seven married men and seven young men. The Chief told him that two other families, presently at Bear Lake, made up their band. Black does not give a total number of this group but Lanoue (1983:215) suggests a size of at least
twenty-five people. Black writes:
The Old Chief Methodiates arrived with the Remainder of the Indians in this quarter in all 7 Married men & about as Many young Men, the Old Man has a prepossessing appearance, he looks like a good Man…. The Old Chiefs [sic] information is as follows, that the Band Now here are all the Thecannies in this quarter except there may be two families at Bear Lake three days Journey from the Sources of this River Lake Thutade that the Thluckdennis or Tholadennis live on the otherside of these Mountains to the North (Peak Monts) but come to these Mountains in Summer to Hunt when the Snow is melted… (Rich 1955:51) Chief Methodiates told him that he often wintered here and that he and his followers had 160
Beaver skins to trade. He went on to say: