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FOOD

From Fort Selkirk, we started up the Pelly River there, pulling boats too. We came back with dry meat, on a big raft lots of fresh meat and grub. We had everything at that time. They killed a whole bunch of moose and caribou and sheep and all that. They didn't need to buy anything at the store. They used that fat out of the moose and caribou meat, whatever they can get a hold of. They used that for lard. They used to have a pile as big as this house when they came back with dry meat.
... We didn't let anything go, if we got anything. Sheep - they got fat sheep in the falltime. We dried meat. We got enough until springtime, everything.
Nobody was hungry.... We helped all the time one another too. We trapped for fur. We trapped lynx. It tastes as good as turkey! We ate beaver meat and muskrats.

-Johnny Alfred in Part of the Land, Part of the Water, p. 297.

See Dad's cache, 10' by 10'. One side king salmon, one side dry meat, down the middle all kinds of berries. Everybody do that not only us.
-Stanley Jonathan, 1993

THE STORY

Food Sources

Selkirk First Nation people hunted the following animals for food: moose, caribou, sheep, mountain goat, beaver, lynx, hare, porcupine, ground squirrel (gopher), muskrat, marmot (ground hog), porcupine, and squirrel.

They netted and trapped several species of freshwater fish including: pike/jackfish (táli), grayling (t’a), burbot, broad whitefish, lake whitefish (yok degay and tezrá lake trout (mbyaat), ling cod (telyók) lake herring (least cisco), round whitefish (shaankay), long nose sucker (tats'aat), and inconnu (sru). Less common were pygmy whitefish and slimy sculpin. During the summer spawning run, people moved to fish camps on the main rivers to catch chinook or king salmon (gyo) and chum or dog salmon (thi).

People hunted migrating geese, ducks and swans and in spring, collected eggs from nesting sites.

Plants eaten in the past included certain roots (bear root), berries, young leaf shoots, and mushrooms. People picked rosehips and various berries including soapberries (ninghro), mossberries or crow berries (dent'ro), high bush cranberries, low bush cranberries, blueberries, raspberries, and bear berries.

Different food resources were obtained from different areas according to the season. For example, people went to the rivers during the summer salmon runs, netted fish through the ice at inland lakes in winter, harvested berries and other plants and hunted sheep, moose, and caribou in the mountains in fall.

Preparation & Preservation

When a hunter was successful in obtaining a large animal, people set up camp at the site of the kill. They sliced the meat into thin slabs for drying and/or smoking. People caught fish in summer during the salmon runs and in winter, at fishing lakes. Summer fish camps were a time of getting together, everyone working hard to catch, cut up and dry the salmon.

Sometimes berries were dried and stored in a cool place. Berries were also put in birch bark containers or the stomach bag of an animal and stored in a hole in the ground. Blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries were harder to keep so they were cooked well, mixed with grease, sometimes with fish eggs and stored. Sometimes berries were cooked up with meat and grease then stored in an animal stomach.

Extra food was stored in caches. A high cache could be a platform in the trees or a small shed mounted on four poles. People dug ground caches on dry hillsides or in the uplands and, in later year, under floors. Each family had four or five caches at different locations. A single family would try to cache about 500 salmon, five or six moose, and a quantity of small game.

Using Traditional Foods Today

Today, many First Nation members still rely on the land for much of their food. People go hunting for moose each fall and every summer, numerous fish camps are set up on the Pelly and Yukon Rivers. While people now have access to freezers, many still dry and smoke fish and game, as their grandparents did before them. Pelly Crossing children learn about hunting, fishing and food preparation methods as part of their school programs.

Further Reading:

Council for Yukon Indians, 1993. Land of My Ancestors - Plants as Food and Medicine, Yukon First Nations perspective on our environment.

Council for Yukon Indians, 19??. Walking With Grampa, Tommy McGinty's stories of traditional lifestyles with illustrations by Norman Silas.

N.A. Easton, 1989. Fort Selkirk Culture History Report: 1989 Oral History Program Report.

Ruth M. Gotthardt, 1987. The Selkirk Indian Band. Culture and Land Use Study.

McClellan, C. et al, 1987. Part of the Land, Part of the Water.

Moose

Salmon strips drying

Cranberries and blueberries
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