Topic – Hunters of the Eastern Woodlands

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Hunters of the Eastern Woodlands

In southeastern Canada lived the hunters of the Eastern Woodlands. From south and southwestern Ontario, through southern Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island to Newfoundland, these First Nations farmed some crops but mostly survived by fishing, gathering wild plants, and hunting. These peoples were known as Algonquians and included the Maliseet (Malécite), Mi’kmaq, Odawa (Ottawa), and Ojibwe (Ojibway), among other nations.

Eastern Woodland Villages

Bark-covered wigwam

In summer, Eastern Woodlands hunters lived in small villages that could hold as few as one or two small dwellings or as many as several hundred people. Some First Nations who lived by lakes or swamps worked together to harvest wild rice. In the fall and winter, they spread out into small groups to follow and hunt wild animals.

Most hunters of the Eastern Woodlands lived in wigwams. These were dome-shaped homes that fit just one family and could be built and transported easily.

Birch Trees

White birch trees

Birch trees were very important to the hunters of the Eastern Woodlands. They used the bark to create canoes, wigwams, and baskets, among other things. Birchbark is lightweight and waterproof, and sticky oils in it make it strong and flexible. The bark could also be used to wrap and store food, or it could be rolled into a cone to make a moose call or placed on a wound to help it stop bleeding and heal faster.

Birchbark biting was a craft these First Nations practised to make intricate spiritual and religious designs. Sometimes they just partially bit through the bark and sometimes they pierced it completely to decorate boxes, drums, and other items.

Birchwood burns well, so it was often used for cooking fires. The frames for snowshoes were usually made from this strong wood. As well, these First Nations drank the sap from birch trees to help cure colds.

Gathering Meat and Medicine

Willow tree bark

Using spears or bows and arrows, the hunters of the Eastern Woodland hunted beaver, deer, moose, porcupines, and more. In winter, they used snowshoes to follow animal tracks, then hauled the meat back to their camps on toboggans.

The Eastern Woodlands peoples gathered berries, nuts, and plants not only to eat but also for medicine. A tea made from cedar bark and leaves provided vitamin C, while the bark of the willow tree has a pain-killing drug in it.

Eastern Woodland Clothing

First Nations porcupine quill knife sheath

Most of these First Nations wore clothes made of animal, bird, or fish skins. Deerskin was especially popular because there were many deer in the area. These hunters wore pelts, which are animal skins that still have fur on them, or hides, which are skins with no fur. The skins could be processed to make leather that was sewn into dresses, leggings, moccasins, shirts, and robes. In cold weather, the Eastern Woodlands peoples wore mittens, heavy coats, and warm hats.

Women made the clothes for their families and often decorated them with feathers, paint, shells, stones, and embroidery made using porcupine quills.

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