Bigfoot Encounters

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.

An out-take regarding the Hare Indian’s bushmen, lariyi n

According to the Hare, "Bushmen" are anthropomorphic beings who roam around in the bush during the summer and steal women and children.

They are considered to be foreign people who lost their way and became transformed into evil dwellers of the wilds. Both Indians of the neighboring tribes and white men are believed to have become Bushmen. "Since various Indians stopped fighting wars, there have been few Indian Bushmen.

These days Bushmen are only white people," said my informant. I have never encountered the mention of a bushman of Eskimo origin. Bushmen are usually males. Before the turn of the century, it is believed that there were more Bushmen than there are today, and that they actually took women and children. On the other hand, several people have recently reported that they saw a bushman or heard one.

For example, they say that an Indian was out hunting alone and was just about to shoot an animal, when suddenly it dropped dead before he had discharged his gun. It had been shot by an unseen bushman!

However, there has been no recent cases in which a Hare person is said to have been caught or killed by a bushman although a medicine man (shaman), still living, is said, when 12 years old, to have killed a bushman who was roaming around in the woods.

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.

During the winter, they eat fresh meat. Even in winter, there is no fire. One or two people live together. But never three or more. They whistle. [It is taboo for the Hare to whistle in the dark.] They do not have dogs. I do not think they start forest fires. I don't know how they would do with mosquitoes. They speak white man’s language. All the white people who got lost in the (Indian) wars became bushmen. I have never seen a bushman. But my dad saw a bushman's track.

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. “

Tales of wandering white man have persisted from these camps all summer, but it is felt that they have been started by wise old natives to keep too many numbers of natives from camping on their fishing areas. (Information from the Northern Co-Ordination and Research Centre)

Thus, Bushmen are actually very strongly feared by the people in general. Some men, however, try to calm others by saying that "You do not have to be scared of Bushmen. Nowadays, Bushmen are only white people and they cannot harm us, so you don't have to be scared."

It is interesting to note that there seems to be an assumption here that the white people come to the Hare country primarily to help the natives and that the bad white man will be caught by the policemen.

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.

Hara, Dr. Hiroko Sue, Anthropologist: The Hare Indians and their World. (Diamond Jenness Memorial Volume) National Museum of Canada January 1, 1980 314 pages; Canadian Ethnology Service Paper No.63, ISSN 0316-1854

This article begs the question, -- if the Bushmen do not use fire, do the captive Indian maidens use fire to cook with and warm themselves? If the Bushmen do not know how to "make" fire, do they watch and steal logs from campfires or were they taught the use of fire by the women they captured/kidnapped?

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