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The Ojibwe Rules of the Hunt

During the summer, the entire Ojibwe band would move onto the plains in search of buffalo. When a herd was located it was announced through the camp by a crier, and the men would gather around the Ogichidaa (leader) who was chosen as the leader of the hunt and would mount their horses. They would proceed as a body and would follow the leader to the best approach point where they would wait until the right moment to attack. Once there, they would spread out under as much cover as possible until they were all positioned so that they were surrounding the herd. When all were ready, the chief would shout a single command, and the band would move in for the kill, guiding their horses by the pressure of the knees. Guns were used, although bows were preferred because they could cause wounds that bled more, and they allowed the individual hunters to know which animals they killed by the personal markings they left on each of their arrows.

In the rare occasion where any individual broke away from the band and hunted by himself, scaring the herd before the call to hunt was given, no notice was taken at the immediate time, but that night a party of ogichidaag would approach the man’s lodge and call him out. When he came, he was grabbed and his shirt was cut to shreds. He would then be flogged by the leader of the ogichidaag. When the punishment was over, the man would be asked if he would ever again violate custom by hunting ahead of the party. If he said no, he was freed. If he said he would, he would be driven from the camp. If a man violating the rules agreed to follow the rules, but failed to honor his word, he might be killed or else his property would be smashed and destroyed, his lodge cut up, and he would be shamed publicly. If, after this chastisement, he truly repented, at the end of a few days the ogichidaag would go about the camp and collect new items for the man and restore his property so that he could take care of his family.

This system was learned and used by the Metis of Red River – most who came from Ojibwe families and spent significant time living and hunting with them. Much like their Ojibwe family, the Metis would elect hunt leaders and eventually enacted “laws of the hunt” which were based on the Ojibwe rules. The Metis rules of the hunt were as follows:

  1. No buffalo to be run on the Sabbath-day.

  2. No person or party was to fork off, lag behind, or go before, without permission.

  3. o person or party to run buffalo before the general order of the leader.

  4. Every captain with his men, in turn, to patrol the camp, and keep guard.

  5. For the first trespass against these laws, the offender to have his saddle and bridle cut up.

  6. For the second offence, the coat to be taken off the offender's back, and be cut up.

  7. For the third offence, the offender to be flogged.

  8. Any person convicted of theft, even to the value of a sinew, to be brought to the middle of the camp, and the crier to call out his or her name three times, adding the word "Thief," at each time.

For more information:

Ross, Alexander (1855) The Fur Hunters of the Far West: A Narrative of Adventures in the Oregon and Rocky Mountains, Volume 1. Smith, Elder and Company.

Skinner, ​Alanson (1914) Political Organizations, Cults, and Ceremonies of the Plains-Ojibway and Plains-Cree Indians. ​the University of California.

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