The Hare Indians and their Bushmen, Lariyi n
by Dr. Hiroko Sue Hara
The Hare Indians are a group of Athapaskan-speaking people whose ancestors lived in small, nomadic bands along the lower Mackenzie River Valley of Canada’s Northwest Territories (NWT). The Hare had a population of 700-800. They pursued a hunting, fishing and gathering way of life centered on caribou, moose, freshwater fish, small game and berries, and exploited a territory from the Yukon border to forested zones west and northwest of Great Bear Lake. Several cultural features distinguished the Hare from neighboring Gwitch’in, Mountain, Slavey and Dogrib bands. They spoke their own dialect of Athapaskan and were noted for their timid relations with other native groups. In this instance, they share a differing belief in the Bushmen. The name Hare was given to them by early first Europeans who arrived and noted the Hare’s heavy dependence on the snowshoe hare rabbits for food and clothing. Since the hare rabbit goes through a population cycle every 7 to 10 years, these Indians periodically experienced devastating starvation.
According to the Hare, "Bushmen" are anthropomorphic beings who roam around in the bush during the summer and steal women and children.
The Bushmen wander in the bush during summer. In winter, they sleep in the ground like a hibernating bear, according to a few informants, although several others simply said that they did not know what the bushmen would do in winter.
One of the informants described the bushmen as follows:
Bushmen make house under the ground. They stay there all winter. In springtime they come out. They never make fire. They kill moose, and any animal. They might have guns, but usually they have knives, snares. I do not know if they have matches or not. They might smoke tobacco, maybe. They wear any kind of hide in winter. They are just men. There are not women in bushmen. They steal women but not children. They are in all sorts of ages--old ones and young ones. When there is no grub, they die and lie on the ground. Ewe' n (ghosts) might come out from the bushmen, too.
In the Government report for 1952, there is an account containing no citation which reads:
“Two natives told their tales of bushmen wandering through the area and one of them was very convinced that they were Russians as he had "heard" that they were in Aklavik. “
J.H. MacNeish (1954:185-188) gives a detailed account of naka n beliefs among a (Cree) Slave Indian Band, which correspond to the Hare notions about Bushmen. She also writes: “The belief in naka n has a well-documented history among the interior Athabascan Indians, and there is good reason to believe that in earlier days it had a good grounding in reality -- in accord with the surreptitious wife stealing and warfare practices of the region. (MacNeish 1954:187)
Besides Bushmen, the people are very much afraid of ghosts (ewe n), which also roam around in the bush. Belief in ghosts will be described in the section on Religion.
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