Hunting-Traditional Hunting Methods and Gear

Hunts depended on the timing and movements of the animals and the Sinixt paid close attention to the cycles of nature. This, coupled with their spiritual preparedness, allowed them to be in exactly the right place and time to have a successful hunt. Spring hunts revolved around mountain goats, big horn sheep, and deer, while fall hunts included bears, moose, deer, and big horn sheep. In mid-winter they hunted moose, mountain caribou, and deer. In terms of small game, both rabbits and groundhogs were preferred.

From a young age, boys would spend large amounts of time with their fathers and other men in the tribe learning about the skills needed to be a successful hunter. They had to learn stalking and killing techniques, the animal migrations and seasonal rounds, how to make spears and arrowheads, along with the spiritual aspects of having a successful hunt. When a large seasonal hunt was approaching, the men would separate themselves from the rest of the tribe for days while they took in sweats and fasted in order to prepare themselves.

In regard to hunting in general, Lawney Reyes wrote, “During the late fall, hunters went out alone or in teams to hunt deer, elk, moose, bear, and caribou in the mountains. This was the best time to hunt large game.” Black bear hunts occurred in the Syringa Creek area and the Sinixt used a variety of techniques to acquire highly valued bear meat, grease, and hides. Traditional techniques included baited ‘death fall’ traps and capturing the bear while in hibernation.

More specifically, Lawney shared information pertaining to deer hunting techniques used by Sinixt hunters: Over the years, the Upper Sin-Aikst [Sinixt] developed a unique way of hunting deer. They trained dogs to drive the deer from the hills and mountains to the banks of the Columbia River. Hunters waited in canoes until the deer were within range. When they were close enough, the hunters used their bows and arrows. Other game, like caribou, was hunted as the herds passed through the Sin-Aikst country near Nakusp. Mountain sheep and mountain goat were pursued at higher elevations as hunters combed the mountains.

Weapons used for hunting were made from the surrounding landscape. Flat and double-curved bows, spears, and different traps were constructed for hunting. These tools were used in a variety of hunting techniques in order to kill animals of all sizes. While the flat bow could be made from a variety of species (e.g. cedar, willow, ash, or juniper), the double-curved bow came from yew or red cedar wood. Straight yew trees were also used for arrows, with bones and rocks being carved into arrowheads of all sizes. Mostly the arrowheads were finished with a fine, sharp cutting edge but some were left blunt for hunting birds (Parent 1991).

In order to honor the spirit of the animal that had died to feed and clothe the people, nothing was wasted. Meat was eaten, fat could be rendered down to cook with, bones were pounded down to extract the marrow or cooked in soups, hides became blankets and clothing, goat hair was made into yarn and cord or stuffed into moccasins during cold months, antlers became needles or handles for tools, and jewelry was made from bones, teeth, and claws. Lawney Reyes offered his explanation to illustrate how valuable and respected the animals were to Sinixt People. He wrote, “After the kills, the game was skinned. Meat was cut with the grain into long strips and dried for future use. Hides were processed and tanned for making clothing, gloves, and footwear. Horns became tools or utensils. Hardly any part of the large game animal was left unused.”