In their primeval state, which has been preserved longer and purer among the eastern Athabaskas, these tribes roamed, united in hordes, without rigid social organization, through the forests and tundras.
According to Ehotelat, hunting formed the basis of their economy; and at the same time the women and children were busy picking berries and roots. Fishing was practiced everywhere, and in some cases (for example among the Takulli) salmon represented the daily food. Alongside the hunting of animals that were used for food (caribou, deer, even bison, in the S.), there was hunting for fur animals (Canadian marten, various other kinds of marten, ermine). The methods used in hunting were very varied: snares and traps were used, animals were pushed into corrals, or men approached the herds of deer disguised to resemble these animals; the Hares carried on their belts bundles of deer hooves and with the noise they produced they attracted curious caribou. Next to the great winter hunt, in which the animals were chased in snow shoes, and were easily caught if the snow was abundant, a summer hunt was practiced, which consisted of killing the animals from the boat, when they swam across rivers and lakes or, especially in August, when they sought a desperate defense from flies and gadflies in the water. The terror of suffering the shortage of food, which continually threatened them, meant that these populations carried out real massacres en masse, when a favorable opportunity presented itself; many hundreds of beasts then remained to rot on the field of such a massacre. Fishing by women (with nets) and by men (with harpoons, pots and other means) was especially important in the east and north. Particularly greedy mouthfuls offered the half-digested contents of a reindeer stomach, mixed with blood, as well as the embryos cut from the bodies of the killed animals. If you didn’t have the fire (which was produced with a drill) you ate everything raw; cooking was generally done by throwing heated stones into containers filled with water. Particularly greedy mouthfuls offered the half-digested contents of a reindeer stomach, mixed with blood, as well as the embryos cut from the bodies of the killed animals. If you didn’t have the fire (which was produced with a drill) you ate everything raw; cooking was generally done by throwing heated stones into containers filled with water. Particularly greedy mouthfuls offered the half-digested contents of a reindeer stomach, mixed with blood, as well as the embryos cut from the bodies of the killed animals. If you didn’t have the fire (which was produced with a drill) you ate everything raw; cooking was generally done by throwing heated stones into containers filled with water.
Given these habits, a sedentary life could not be developed. In the summer these populations generally lived in certain shelters, covered with branches, joined two by two, of a semicircular shape; nor were the winter dwellings very different, since hunting, which was practiced in this season with snow shoes, also required a nomadic life. But the shapes of the houses of the Athabaska show their great ability to appropriate the cultural heritage of other peoples: the tribes of the SO. they adopted the type of multi-family homes used by the coastal peoples of the NW, or the Salish underground home. The conical tent covered with skins or tree bark of the Cree was widespread among the eastern Athabaskas. Boats made of tree bark served as a means of communication in the summer, toboggan (Canadian sled), which was once not pulled by dogs, but by women. The birch or fir rinds provided the material from which boats, vessels, etc. were made. For clothes, skins were used: the dress consisted of a shirt, which ended in a pointed front and back, and trousers that formed a whole piece with the shoes. The Cree got tattooed, the Takulli and others wore Dentalium shellsin the pierced nasal septum. Already in ancient times the tribes exercised a certain trade, initially fueled by copper, which was found on a mountain leaning against the river that took its name from it, and with which they made knives and more; later, mainly skins and objects imported from Europe were traded. Some individual tribes, which found themselves in especially favorable conditions, had turned into real trading peoples: Fr. ex. the southeastern Athabaskas sold European knives to their neighbors, often earning up to 1000% from them; knives also served as currency, while among the Kutchin strings of pearls and in the SO were used for this purpose. the shells of Dentalium. The main weapon was the bow. Although not really warlike in nature, the Athabaska had to wage wars for several centuries, especially with the Eskimos and Cree. Only in the tribes under the influence of the NW coastal culture. a strong autocratic ruling regime and slavery had been established; however, the leader of a joint hunt often enjoyed great authority. The marital forms show a great variety. Very particular were the marital relations among the oriental tribes and the Kutchin, where the possession of women was resolved with a public duel (however bloodless) between the rivals, a fight in which the contenders came to pull each other by the hair. Stable marriages were almost impossible. Each took as many wives as he was able to support. Infants, who were a heavy burden during periods of travel, were often killed. Girls were severely isolated during menstruation; circumcision was practiced among the eastern tribes. The hunting grounds were often divided between single families or clans. Originally there were exogamous groups with paternal descent everywhere; under the influence of the north-western coastal culture, two maternal-right siblings settled among the western Nahane (Tahltan), and three exogamous clans with maternal descent among the Kutchin. The dead were placed on platforms or in trees, or buried or burned. Among the Takulli, the widow had to carry her husband’s ashes everywhere in a basket for three years before being able to recover: Carriers (porters). The doctor-sorcerers treated the sick, attracted the hunt by means of spells, ensured the success of hunting and fishing expeditions with amulets. Religious ideas revolved around animistic and magical concepts; the mythology everywhere shows reflections of that of the neighbors: among the eastern tribes it reflects above all that of the Cree; among the tribes of the SO. that of western coastal culture. Among the Cree there is already the rich Pantheon of the central Algonquians, headed by the “great Mystery” (Kitche-Manitu) and with the secret society Midewin, which they will certainly have drawn from the Ogibways (see below). Their hero Tšibes appears among the Montagnais under the name of Tsekabeš. Currently Christianity has spread widely among these populations through the work of the French missionaries. Very few things have survived from the early days, as these tribes, after having mingled with other peoples, have adapted to European civilization. Some retain their consistency: the number of Cree is still estimated at 15,000 individuals.