American Indian Heritage Month: Commemoration vs. Exploitation
Teaser Image


"Hare" comes from the people's reliance on the Arctic or snowshoe hare. Their self-designation was Kawchottine, "People of the Great Hares," or Kasogotine, "Big Willow People." They were culturally similar to the Kutchins and Dogribs. This description of "aboriginal" culture includes some postcontact influences.

Hare Indians lived and continue to live west (to just past the Mackenzie River) and northwest of Great Bear Lake, in the present-day Northwest Territories. They ranged in parts of Alberta, the Yukon, and Alaska. This territory includes tundra, taiga, mountains, and intermediary areas. There were probably no more than 800 Hares in the early eighteenth century. Hare is a Northern Athapaskan language.

Guardian spirits formed the basis of Hare religious belief. Spirit helpers were not formally sought out but appeared in dreams. Shamans were able to attract particularly powerful guardians through dreams and visions. Cures were effected by using medicinal plants, singing, and sucking. Shamans sometimes hung by ropes from trees or tent poles when communicating with the spirits. Religious feasts included a memorial to the dead a year after death and on the occasion of a new moon.

There were perhaps five to seven small, autonomous, nomadic bands of fluid size and composition. The bands had defined hunting territories but only informal leaders, with little authority other than their people's respect for their hunting and/or curing abilities.

Sharing and generosity were highly valued. The bands gathered together several times a year for ceremonies, socializing, and hunting and fishing during migration and spawning seasons. Girls entering puberty were isolated in special huts and required to observe food and behavior taboos. Certain of these taboos, such as those regarding fish and animals, were continued during every monthly period. A feast would be held for young men who killed their first big game.

Intermarriage was common with several peoples, such as the Bearlake Mountain (Kaska and other tribes) and Kutchin Indians. Marriage occurred in the early teens and was generally arranged, although divorce was readily available. There was some period of bride service after marriage.

The elderly as well as some female babies were killed or left to die. Corpses were wrapped in blankets or moose skin and placed in aboveground enclosures. Relatives cut their hair and disposed of their own property. Ghosts were feared and provided with offerings to keep them at bay. Souls were said to be reborn at a later date.

In the winter, people lived in rectangular or A-frame pole-frame houses with gabled roofs, covered with spruce boughs, brush, and snow. Caribou hide teepees date from the nineteenth century. Summer lean-tos were common as well.

Caribou and musk ox were staples, although small animals (especially hare) and fish (such as trout and whitefish) contributed the bulk of the diet. Surpluses might be frozen or smoke dried. There was a severe lack of food every seven years or so when hares became scarce. Women gathered a few plant foods, such as berries and material predigested by caribou and other animals. Mosses and lichens were used to make beverages and medicines. Wolves and dogs were not eaten.

Trade partners probably included fellow Athapaskans such as the Yellowknife, Dogrib, Beaver, and Slavey Indians. Items exchanged included animal skins, copper, and various minerals. There may have been some trade in Inuit knives. Women decorated a number of items, such as moccasins, shirts, belts, and bags, with fringe and woven quillwork or moose hair. Musical instruments included drums and caribou hoof rattles. Most travel was overland. Snowshoes were used in the winter. Women pulled wooden toboggans before dogs took over in the twentieth century. Men also made spruce, birchbark, and occasionally moose hide canoes.

Most clothing came from hare pelts, supplemented by caribou and moose hides. The standard summer wardrobe was shirt, leggings, moccasins, and possibly a breechclout. In the winter, the people wore robes, mittens, and hats and added hoods to their shirts. The people wore caribou or hare hair-bands. There was very little personal ornamentation except for facial tattooing and painting.

Shortly after the people encountered Alexander Mackenzie in 1789, the North West Company built Fort Good Hope (1806) in the area. Rapid involvement in the fur trade brought dependence on items of non-Native manufacture. Non-Native traders created trade chiefs among the people, so that their political organization eventually became more hierarchical.

The people were decimated by epidemics throughout the nineteenth century. A local Catholic church was built around 1866. Gradually, nomadic band life was mitigated in favor of a growing concentration around the trade posts. As the government created "bands" for administrative purposes and assigned subsistence areas for such groups, ethnic and group identity became stronger. The people were largely acculturated, as Hare Indians, by 1900.

Treaties signed with the Canadian government in the early twentieth century provided for payments and services in exchange for land title, although the Indians retained the right to use land for subsistence activities. Children began attending Catholic boarding school in 1926. Tuberculosis was rampant between the 1930s and the 1960s, and the people suffered periodic outbreaks of other diseases as well.

During the 1920s, many people built log homes and left traditional manufacture further and further behind. The fur trade continued to flourish until World War II. People increasingly worked at seasonal wage labor after the war, mainly in the oil and construction industries. The more traditional Colville Lake community dates from around 1960.


©2011 ABC-CLIO. All rights reserved.

  Chronological Essays
  People and Groups
  Southwest Nations
  California Nations
  Northwest Coast Nations
  Great Basin Nations
  Plateau Nations
  Great Plains Nations
  Northeast Woodlands Nations
  Subarctic Nations
  Arctic Nations
ABC-cLIO Footer