The Rules of the Red River Ojibwe & Metis Buffalo Hunts

One of the most important roles of the okitcita (or warriors) was to regulate the tribal buffalo hunt of the Anishinaabek. Their main job was to ensure that the hunt was successful and organized in a way that would ensure success during this most important event – especially to prevent individuals from rushing ahead of the main party and hunting alone and possibly scaring the herd, leading to a loss of food for the entire band.


Each summer, the okitcita (or warriors) had particular jurisdiction over the buffalo hunts of the Anishinaabek. Under their leadership, the entire band would wander on the plains in search of the herds. When one was located it was announced through the camp by a crier, and the men would mount their fastest ponies and go out in a body which was in charge of the chief of the okitcita.


The Anishinaabek would approach the buffalo under as much cover as possible until they reached a place where they could surround, or charge the herd. When all were ready, the chief okitcita would shout a single loud, “hau,” and the band would surge forward as one, guiding their horses by the pressure of the knees and a single rope bridle. Their guns were loaded with a light charge of powder, or they would use a bow and arrow, because arrows would often make an injury which bled more than a bullet wound, and made it easier to trail wounded buffalo. In addition, the arrows furnished marks by which the men who had killed the buffalo could claim their game for themselves afterwards.



If any individual broke away from the band and hunted by himself, no notice was taken of his defection at the immediate time, but that night a party of okitcita would approach his tent and call him out. When he came he was seized and his shirt was cut to shreds. Then, he was severely flogged with a quirt by the leader. When the punishment was inflicted he was then asked whether he would ever again violate custom by hunting ahead of the party. If he said no, he was freed. If he was defiant he was driven away from the camp. If the man agreed not to disobey again and neglected to keep his word, he was likely to be killed. At any event his punishment would be much more severe than before.


In the case of a man receiving his punishment in a good way, at the end of a few days the okitcita would go about the camp and collect goods from others in the group and restore his property to him, usually with considerable addition.


The influence of Plains Ojibwe was seen in their half-breed relatives. Alexander Ross, speaking of the annual buffalo hunt from Red River in 1840, gave an account that showed just how much the Metis were influenced by their Ojibwe kin in how they regulated their own hunt.


For the Red River Metis, the first step was to hold a council for the nomination of chiefs for conducting the hunting expedition. Ten captains were elected, the senior of these was usually a man of good standing, with a strong sense of fairness and much experience. Each of the ten captains had ten soldiers under his orders. Their duties were to guide the camp, each in his turn, throughout the expedition.



Each morning a flag was hoisted that it was time to prepare for the march. A half-hour was given for the camp to gather up their things and be ready to move. The flag would fly all day until it was time to camp again. Everything moved with the regularity of clockwork.


The rules of the Red River Metis hunt, as learned from their Ojibwe kinsmen, but adopted to be their own, were as follows:

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

  • No party to fork off, lag behind, or go before, without permission.

  • No person or party to run buffalo before the general order.

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

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

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

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

  • 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.

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SOURCE

Skinner, A. (1914). Political and ceremonial organization of the Plains-Ojibway. Anthropological Papers of the American Museum of Natural History, 11(6), 475–511.

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