Winter has always been a difficult time of the year for indigenous people. Survival was contingent on many things, including having the necessary shelter, food, and the ability to navigate the landscape without expending too much energy in the process.
Starting in the early fall, care would be taken to start gathering supplies such as wild rice, dried corn, pemmican, and smoked fish to store for the winter. Once a good stock was gathered, the group would start to move to the place where they would construct their winter camp – usually in a location known to have plenty of game, near a river or lake surrounded by adequate tree cover. Once there, female family members would work together to construct the winter wigwam. They cut saplings from the surrounding woods to form the lodge frame, covered them with rush mats and rolled sheets of birch bark sewn together. For additional warmth, a second row of rush mats was frequently placed around the entire lodge overlapping the first row. By working in a very organized manner, the women could construct a comfortable and inviting winter dwelling in a matter of a few hours.
The winter habitation represented the focus of life for the people. Winter evenings were social and pleasant, with a warm fire and storytelling. The young men would spend the evenings singing songs and playing their drums. The old women would tell wonderful stories, even acting them out for dramatic effect. At night, the family slept with their feet toward the fire, removing their moccasins and loosening their other clothing. If the weather was very cold, an old man or woman usually stayed awake throughout the night, smoking their pipe and tending the fire.
The core of most winter groups belonged to the same clan, or were intermarried families. Winter settlements composed of several households could numbering about 25 to 30 people, and their camps would usually be located within 100 miles of a nearby trading post. The territory used by each winter hunting group was fairly extensive, but the abundance of food and furs would set limits on the size of the hunting group as well as the extent of the territory exploited. A smaller territory might not be capable of supporting large winter groups.
The means of travel during winter months was by snowshoe. Without these, it was impossible to travel any distance when snow was deep. When possible, a dog team and toboggan or sled could be used to travel around. Basic equipment while out winter hunting included a packsack with food and matches, an axe, a rifle, and traps and snares. Even though men would trap together, they always set their traps separately, and each man claims only those animals caught with his own traps. Traps were usually checked every three to five days. It was customary to set about 20 to 30 traps per person. Even the women of the winter camp trapped when they could. Although they didn’t leave the immediate area surrounding the village, they would still set a few snares of their own and check them every few days – hoping for a rabbit or two.
Once spring came, it was time to break camp and head out to the maple groves and fishing camps, and the cycle of preparing for the next winter would began again.
Bishop, Charles A. 1974. “Northern Ojibwa And The Fur Trade: An Historical And Ecological Study.” Cultures And Communities, A Series Of Monographs : Native Peoples.
Buffalohead, Priscilla K. 1983. “Farmers, Warriors, Traders: A Fresh Look At Ojibway Women.” Minnesota History 48 (6). Saint Paul: 236–44.
Have you ever tried mapping your Metis family? With a little hard work, research, and some mapping skills, you can trace the geographic range of your family and determine many things about your family, including the various communities they lived in, the places where they hunted and traveled, and perhaps even what tribal nations and bands they were affiliated with.
When examining my ancestors, I was able to trace them to several key places associated with the historic Metis Nation, including places such as:
Not surprisingly, the area where my family derives from is entirely within what has been determined to be the official Metis Nation Homeland (see below map)
Have you tried mapping your family yet?
The Anishinaabe used cradleboards as part of the basic care for their infants. In constructing them, a general pattern was followed:
A board of cedar wood (or basswood) was cut to about 28 inches or so, a bit wider at the top than at the foot. About 5½ inches from the head end, a bow-shaped frame was inserted, the ends of which protruded beyond the reverse side of the board. The frame was held in position by a small peg of wood which had been inserted through it at right angles to the protruding end and parallel to the board. If desired, the frame was double bent with a dip at the center, creating a U-shape, but this was not always the case.
Historically, the cradle bag for the baby was made out of soft, tanned deer hides on the board. Under this, from baby's waistline up, rabbit (or other) skins were placed. From waistline down, a thick layer of dried swamp moss or rabbit skins was spread. The baby was placed on this. The ends of the deer hide would be tucked tightly around the baby. After this, strips of tanned buckskin were laced over the middle of the baby, beginning at the foot end. During more modern times the leather and hides were replaced by black velvet that could be intricately beaded upon.
It is said that a cradleboard will train a baby's back to be straight. They also help the mother to easily carry the baby on her back when traveling, and helped to keep the baby safe. A cradleboard can set flat on the ground or can be propped up against a tree or wall. If the board somehow falls, the frame keeps the baby from being injured. The cradleboard can also be hung up to keep the baby safe from dangers on the ground.
If a baby was premature and too small to be tied to the cradleboard itself, they might be placed in a birch bark container, and then tied to the board. This would last until the baby was finally big enough to be tied to the board itself.
Most babies who are cradle boarded like the firm feeling of being swaddled, and will cry to be put into it.