Traditional Animal Foods of Indigenous Peoples of Northern North America

For many Indigenous Peoples, goose was a common delicacy and important supplement to the diet. Goose continues to be important to many cultures. In addition to being used as food, goose was also caught for its feathers and bones. Some cultures relied greatly on geese for food. For the Cree, goose was a particularly important food source; it was the main meal at wedding ceremonies of Northern Quebec Cree where cooking of the goose over an open fire and the feast itself were held in wigwams or michuaps [4, 13 21]. Goose hunting was extensive among Northern Cree. The community had a “hunting steward” who designated hunting territories based on relations with the animal spirit and observations of the geese. The James Bay Cree also had a “goose boss” who conserved geese through rules and restrictions placed on local hunters [20, 21]. Other cultures relied less on goose, using it to supplement their diets. These cultures include the Haisla (who subsisted primarily on fish), Inuvialuit of the Mackenzie Delta (who subsisted primarily on beluga) and Nuxalk (who subsisted on fish and seafood), among others [9, 23 25].

Goose hunting seasons varied from culture to culture. Those reported to have hunted geese in spring include the Southern Okanagan, Chalkyitsik Kutchin (Gwich’in), Koyukon and Naskapi (Innu) [4, 36, 49, 50]. Upper Kutenai (Kootenai) are reported to have hunted in summer [30]. Haida and Micmac (Mi’kmaq) hunted in fall [9, 51]. Mistissini Cree hunted in early spring and fall; if a hunter was not returning home in spring, he would bury the goose in the snow to preserve it for when he returned [41].

Geese are readily hunted in fall and spring when they are migrating southward and northward, respectively. Cultures reported to have hunted during the migratory season include the Southern Okanagan, Coast Salish, Kwakiutl (Kwakwaka’wakw), Tahltan (in the Stikine Plateau), Tanana, coastal Inuit and Beothuk, [4, 28, 36, 43 46].

Geese molt (shed old feathers) in July to August. During this time, geese are unable to fly and seek sanctuary in lakes and ponds, making them easy to hunt. Geese were stalked and taken in great numbers using numerous methods such as shooting with bows and arrows or bird darts or catching with nets. Simply running down or out paddling birds and wringing the neck is also possible during the molting season. Northern British Columbia cultures, Yukon Kaska, Alaskan cultures (including Eyak) and coastal Inuit are reported to have caught geese in this fashion [47, 48]. It was customary for Eyak to assist in chasing the geese from small pools of marshy rainwater surrounded by trees (sloughs) onto shore where they could easily wring the necks or club them to death [9, 47].

Hunting weapons used were bows and arrows, bird darts and more recently, firearms. Bow and arrow was used by many cultures including Central Coast Salish, Kalispel, Upper Kutenai, Shuswap, people of Port Simpson (Tsimshian), Bella Coola (Nuxalk), Tlingit, Tagish, Tutchone, Kutchin, Copper Inuit, Cree (Mistissini and Eastmain), Huron and Anishnabeg (Anishinabek) [4, 7 9, 26, 27, 30 33]. Central Coast Salish often hid behind blinds on a canoe to get closer to the geese [9]. Geese were commonly hunted using bird darts (three pronged spears made of spruce with a head made of walrus ivory) and a throwing board [54]. Inuit, including Iglulik, often harpooned geese this way [8, 46]. In later years, many cultures replaced traditional methods of hunting with shotguns. These cultures were reported to include Southern Okanagan, people of Port Simpson, Hare (Sahtu), Chipewyan, Cree (from Hudson Bay, James Bay, Mistissini and Eastmain) and Montagnais (Innu) of Lake Melville, Labrador [4, 14, 16, 17, 26, 34 37].

Decoys and sounds were used to attract flocks of geese to the ground. Yukon Kaska, Mistissini Cree and Michigan Anishnabeg were among the cultures that used decoys [33, 41] [38]. Mistissini Cree used alder branches and willow trees to make decoys; more elaborate ones were made of actual goose heads and necks that had been stuffed. In later years, stuffed goose heads were considered wasteful and not used as extensively [41]. Some cultures imitated goose sounds using their voices or instruments. Interior Salish, Mistissini Cree and Anishnabeg are reported to have imitated the goose cry in order to lure them closer [14, 33, 41, 57]. The Shuswap used hallowed out bones to call geese [56, 57]. The Montagnais would camouflage themselves to look like floating ice while they canoed along the lake, making goose calls as they sat waiting [34].

Several trapping methods are also documented. The process of catching geese with a canoe while wading in lakes and rivers is referred to as night netting. Firelight blinds the geese, forcing them to a shaded area where they are easy to access. A fire is lit on a sand covered board lying across a canoe. As the hunter paddles he holds a mat attached to a rod, and as the geese attempt to escape the flame they swim into the shadow of the mat. When enough geese have accumulated under the mat, the hunter places the net over them and wrings their necks as the heads poke through [39]. The Stalo, Nootka (Nuu chah nulth) of Vancouver Island and Yukon cultures are reported to have used this method [39, 40, 42]. Nets and snares were also commonly used in goose hunting. In spring and late fall, Coast Salish trapped geese when they landed in snare nets placed in strategic locationsalong migration and stopover routes. Hunters typically killed captured geese by wringing their necks [28, 52]. The people of Port Simpson, Yukon cultures, Eastmain Cree and Huron are reported to have also used snares [4, 26, 32, 39]. Ahtna are reported to have used pole snares [4]. Mistissini Cree used nets with bait to trap geese [41]. Bering Strait cultures and Caribou Inuit are reported to have trapped geese using bolas (sinew strings entwined with weights of bone pieces tied to the ends). The heavy weights of bone are thought to have been used to knock out the goose or form a secure net around it so that it could not escape [8]. Central Inuit used whalebone nooses attached to a whalebone line placed along a lake, where geese would usually nest [55].

Location was an important consideration when hunting geese. For example, Inuit of Keewatin took geese from “fly away resting areas” and feeding grounds which were previously surveyed [58] and Southern Okanagan organized large hunting groups to stone or shoot geese known to have gathered in swampy areas [36].

Goose was often boiled. The people of Port Simpson plucked most of the feathers, singed the rest over an open fire, scraped the “fuzz” left on the skin and placed the bird in hot water [15, 26]. The Attawapiskat (Cree) soaked the legs, wings and head in water, plucked the bird and then boiled the meat [63]. Hot stones were used by some cultures to heat the water to boil goose. The Thompson (N’laka’pamux) and Kitimat (Haisla) placed hot stones in wooden boxes or baskets [23, 61]. Nootka boiled and steamed the goose with hot stones [62].

Open fires were also used to cook goose. Shuswap used birch bark vessels over an open fire [56]. Cultures of Southern Alaska and Northern British Columbia are reported to have cooked goose over an open fire after skinning it [48]. The Micmac plucked the feathers and roasted the bird over an open fire. When traveling, they would debone the goose and wrap the flesh over branches to roast it over an open fire. When a portion of meat was cooked, it was immediately cut off with a sharpened bone and eaten. The raw portion was placed back onto the spit for further roasting [59]. Beothuk are also thought to have cooked meat over an open fire [45].

Goose was also often prepared in a stew or soup. The people of Port Simpson added potatoes; Chalkyitsik Kutchin added rice, vegetables or macaroni [26, 49]. Chandalar Kutchin boiled goose in blood soup [60].

Goose organs were also eaten. Southern Alaskan cultures, Attawapiskat and Micmac are reported to have consumed the intestines [59, 63]. The Southern Alaskan cultures believed the entrails gave goose its delicious flavor [48]. The Attawapiskat usually boiled or fried the intestines [63]. Canadian Inuit consumed goose lung; the hunter always had first choice of organ meats before distribution to others [64].

Many cultures are reported to have preserved goose for later consumption. The Shuswap sun dried or smoked the flesh [56]. Tlingit, Tagish and Tutchone sometimes dried the meat [27]. The Hudson Bay Cree smoked or dried every part of the goose, including feet, to preserve for winter [16]. The Mistissini and Eastmain Cree also dried the flesh. They would preserve many geese and when enough was stored, they would hold a feast inside of a wigwam to celebrate with songs about the goose. As trading began, the Hudson Bay Company would purchase geese and preserve them in salt barrels [4]. Northern Quebec Cree smoked, dried or froze goose flesh [19]. Micmac preserved goose by cleaning and freezing it [51]. Beothuk were thought to have preserved goose by drying and smoking it in smoke houses [45]. In recent times, Cree (including those from Manitoba and James Bay) have replaced smoking and drying with freezing [17, 18].

Some cultures rendered the goose fat. The Coast Salish and Gitksan (Gitxsan) considered rendered goose grease a delicacy; cultures from Wood Buffalo National Park also enjoyed goose grease [67 69]. Mistissini and Eastmain Cree saved goose grease to be eaten with meals [4]. Grease was rendered from goose intestines for later use by the Attawapiskat [63].

Goose flesh was considered a delicacy by some cultures including Athapaskan (Tahltan and Kaska) and Upper Kutenai [30, 38, 43, 66]. The fatty flesh of the returning spring goose was particularly desired by the Tahltan and Hare [37, 43]. Geese were featured in celebrations for some cultures. For example, the Rappahannock feasted on goose, turkey and apple brandy for special occasions [22].

The large eggs of geese are reported to have been eaten and considered delicious throughout the North [65, 71, 72]. Tlingit, Tagish and Tutchone consumed the eggs; however in later years they stopped this tradition, considering them “baby like” [27]. Caribou Inuit and Chipewyan consumed goose eggs, however, in the 1980s conservation measures limited this activity [8]. Micmac and Inuit of Keewatin were known to eat goose eggs, as were the Kaska, particularly in summer and fall [38, 58, 73, 74]. The Micmac would use a canoe to search the shores for goose eggs [59]. At Eskimo Point and Lake Melville, Labrador, goose eggs were commonly eaten in late spring and summer [34, 75].

Goose eggs were boiled, pit cooked or eaten raw. The Shuswap always ensured that some eggs were left in order to keep the mother goose satisfied. Back at camp, the eggs were pit cooked. The Kalispel ate goose eggs in abundance, both raw and cooked. The eggs and meat of geese were cooked together by the Attawapiskat during minooskamin [7, 76 78].

Goose feathers, quills and bones were used for household and decorative purposes. The people of Port Simpson, Tlingit, Tagish, Tutchone and Mistissini Cree are reported to have made pillows and/or mattresses from the feathers [14, 26, 27]. The Coast Salish used the feathers for decoration [28]. The Lillooet used goose quills and feathers to decorate their bows and arrows [29]. Greenland Inuit made small sewing needles from goose bones [8]. Some cultures, such as the Chinookans of Lower Columbia River, traded goose for other goods and resources [9].

Canada Goose is reported to have been consumed by many cultures including Salish, Nuxalk, Han, Tlingit, Sahtu/Dene/Metis (from Fort Good Hope and Colville Lake), Yupik (from Yukon Kuskokwim Delta), Inuvialuit, Inuit (from Qikiqtarjuaq, Belcher Island and Labrador), Cree (Red Earth, Omushkego and Attawapiskat and those from Northern Manitoba, James Bay and Eastmain), Micmac (Mi’kmaq) (from Richibucto and Newfoundland), Montagnais (Innu) of St. Lawrence River and Naskapi (Innu) [17, 24, 25, 50, 71, 73, 76, 79 99]. Mackenzie Delta Inuvialuit are reported to have consumed a small subspecies of Canada Goose once referred to as Hutchin’s goose [100].

Canada Goose was hunted spring and fall. Yupik from Yukon Kuskokwim Delta hunted during molting season [71]; however in the early 1960s, they were reported to have hunted during spring and fall migrations. The primary Canada Goose hunting season for Han and Omushkego Cree was spring [80, 99]. The Attawapiskat and Micmac gathered the eggs in early spring [76, 92]. James Bay Cree hunted mostly in early spring as well, but also in fall [17]. Red Earth Cree and Newfoundland Micmac hunted in fall [89, 93].

The Northern Coast Salish used clubs, nets, bows and arrows or bare hands to capture and kill Canada Geese [96]. The Nuvorugmiut (Inuvialuit) of Kugaluk hunted Canada Goose with bow and arrow [88]. The arrow tips were made from a caribou metatarsal bone or antler. The Micmac from Richibucto hunted Canada Geese at night using a canoe and torch [73].

Canada Goose was cooked, smoked and/or dried. The Dene (Sahtu/Hareskin) reportedly cooked Canada Goose, but also smoked or dried it. [98]. The Han poached Canada Goose in a large basket heated with a hot stone [99]. The Belcher Island Inuit cooked Canada Goose meat; the gizzard was boiled but also eaten raw [82]. Western James Bay Cree smoked or roasted Canada Goose [81] and Eastern James Bay Cree are reported to have poached the entrails to recover fat [87]. The Attawapiskat cooked Canada Goose flesh with the eggs, when they were available [76].

In addition to the flesh, many cultures consumed other parts of the Canada Goose. The Dene (Sahtu/Hareskin) from Fort Good Hope and Colville Lake and Inuit of Qikiqtarjuaq (formerly Broughton Island) and Belcher Island are reported to have consumed the gizzard [82, 85, 98]. Belcher Island Inuit also consumed the feet and wings [82].

The 1970s and 80s brought changes to bird populations resulting in changes in diet and habit. In the early 1970s, eating habits of Northern Manitoba Cree changed consequent to the Churchill Nelson River Hydro project and Canada Goose was partially replaced by chicken [97]. Fish and Wildlife Service agreed to reduce hunting to safeguard against extinction (Yukon Kuskokwim Delta Goose Management Plan) [71]. In the 1980s Canada goose was reportedly no longer available for the Red Earth Cree [89].

Snow Goose was reported to have been consumed by many cultures including Inupiat (from Wainwright, Cape Halkett), Yupik (from Yukon Kuskokwim Delta), Inuvialuit (from Mackenzie Delta), Inuit (from Clyde, Grise Fiord, Belcher Island and Greenland), Cree (Attawapiskat, Omushkego and those from James Bay and Mistissini) and Montagnais (Innu) [15, 17, 24, 71, 76, 80, 82, 87, 88, 91, 95, 100 104]. The blue color phase of the Snow Goose was reported to have been hunted by the Cree including Plains, Attawapiskat, Omushkego and James Bay from Fort George [15, 17, 76, 80, 105]. Plains and Attawapiskat Cree consumed blue goose eggs as well [76, 105].

In Alaska, Yupik of the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta and Inupiat of Cape Halkett hunted Snow Goose during molting season [71, 100]. However, in the early 1900s, Inupiat hunted in spring rather than during molting season [100] and by the 1960s, Yupik are reported to have hunted during spring and fall [71]. Spring and fall were the hunting seasons for cultures from the Yukon and Northwest Territories, Inupiat from Wainwright and Cree (Attawapiskat, Omushkego, James Bay) [15, 17, 80, 102, 103]. During the spring ice break up, the Attawapiskat sometimes caught Snow Geese containing eggs [76]. Clyde Inuit are reported to have hunted Snow Goose in summer only [101]. Plains Cree men hunted on the lakes while women hunted on the shore [105].

Cape Halkett Inupiat lured the Snow Goose by mimicking its call [100]. Nuvorugmiut (Inuvialuit) of Kugaluk hunted Snow Geese with bow and arrows. The arrows had thin and dull tips made out of caribou metatarsals or antlers [88]. Clyde Inuit hunted Snow Goose from boats [101] and Mistissini Cree are reported to have used gill nets [15].

Snow geese, referred to locally as wavie, were hunted primarily during spring and fall migrations by Attawapiskat and James Bay Cree [4, 13, 15, 17, 63, 76, 87, 103, 106]. Peoples of the interior would hunt the flocks from May to June and from August to September. While flocks were passing, whole communities would stop all other hunting in order to catch the prized bird. [4, 76, 103, 106]. Attawapiskat, Omushkego and James Bay Cree are reported to have also harvested the blue color phase of Snow Geese in spring and fall [15, 17, 80]. The Attawapiskat caught blue geese holding eggs during spring break up [76]. Plains Cree also hunted blue geese during molting season [105].

Wainwright Inupiat stocked Snow Goose in subterranean rooms, and later goose was often prepared in soup [102]. Cape Halkett Inupiat dried Snow Goose breast for later consumption [100]. Attawapiskat boiled these birds to make a thick broth that was drunk with the meal. The heart, lungs and kidneys were also boiled. The fat was either rendered from the viscera, or given to dogs. A small percentage of Snow Geese were hung up to dry for winter storage. The birds were plucked and gutted and the flesh was slowly dried over a fire. The geese were also hung in their feathers to dry in a cool place. The viscera were removed for this, but the heart, lungs and kidneys remained. Snow Geese were also salted in barrels, producing tastier meat. It is reported that the birds were more easily spoiled in hot weather if they were salted rather than dried [15, 63, 76]. The Eastmain Cree also dried Snow Geese for winter consumption and some birds were brought back to Hudson’s Bay for salting in barrels. The grease was also saved for later use [4].