Au Pays de l’Ours Noir: Part 20

Excerpt from Au Pays de l’Ours Noir,

Dispatches of a Missionary 1897, by Father

Adrien Gabriel Morice



Translated by Neil Wylie and Garry Girvan

Arms of the Carrier and Sekani

…The arrows used by our Natives were of three sorts: as to the materials they were made of, some were of wood, others of bone and the majority were of flint or augite-porphyrite stone.

We have already mentioned the arrow with a wood head intended for hunting rabbits; add to that the play arrow, all of amelanchier wood (Canadian Serviceberry), and trimmed with two feathers only, instead of three as all the others were.

The arrow heads of common bone were made from the front teeth of the beaver, reduced by rubbing to the desired shape. These arrows were thought to be the most sure. Two other kinds, used by the Carrier were of Sekani origin. The horn of caribou forms the point on each of these shafts. The first, kra-tchoen-kwoel, arrow cut across, was like an enormous shoemaker’s awl and was not less than six inches long. The larger end was hollowed so as to receive a handle made of wood, like the shank of an ordinary arrow, by means of which the sharp projectile was set in flight by the bow string. This head once it found the target, detached itself from the shaft. It was lethal and was only used against an enemy in time of war or in hunting to bring down the biggest game. Lesser game was killed either with the arrow with a thick wooden head, or with an arrow with a triple edged bonehead curiously fashioned.

The arrows of flint or stone were of different sizes, shapes and materials. Those made of obsidian were thought to be the best. Other points made of quartzite had the same finish as those of obsidian.

IMG_20141106_0006Stone Arrowheads 

The war bows of the Sekani were of maple wood, the maple of the mountains (Acer glabrum Touv.) They were not less that five and a half feet long and were covered with bands of caribou sinew to give them more strength. Another kind of bow intended only for hunting and which is still used for this purpose is made of willow and does not have the wrapping of sinew attached to it at the other end. The Carrier bow was never much more than four feet long and was made of juniper (Juniper Occidentalis).

An arm which was, I believe peculiar to them and not used by any other tribe was althi-la-dinai, the equivalent to our bayonet. It was made of common flint hewn to a point like the steel of a lance and fixed at the end of a bow. The Carrier used it as a javelin when thy could not use the bow in the ordinary way, the enemy being too close. They had the regular lance as well with a fine point fixed on the end of a pole…

For defensive arms the Dene had two sorts of armour and a shield. The latter was oval shaped like the clypeus of the Romans. It was generally made of interlaced withes of amelanchier.

On a war campaign they used a breastplate made with dried rods of the same wood. These rods were arranged parallel to each other and thongs of deerskin held them together from the two edges to the middle of the breastplate. This defensive armour was in use among the tribes of the coast and we believe that it was borrowed from them. A piece of armour proper to the Dene people is the pesta in which one puts oneself. This has the shape of a tunic without sleeves, falling to the knees so that it protects the whole body except the head. I say the whole body because the Dene always used the bow from the kneeling position. The pesta was made of caribou skin covered over with several layers of roughcast sand and small pebbles cemented so as to form a whole. This made the parts of the body which it protected invulnerable.

All of these arms for offense and defense were in use here immediately before and even a little after the discovery of the country by Sir Alexander Mackenzie in 1793.


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