Canadian History/The People of the Lands/Sekani

A bark lodge present in the few Sekani family that settled in one place more for longer than a week.



Living in the Rockies, food was hard to come by. The most common foods were:

Moose - Moose were one of the most common game in the Sekani area. Caribou - Just like moose, Caribou was very common. Bear - The Sekani's hunted bear as much as they could manage. It was very tasty and put up much more of a fight for the hunters. Porcupine - Many Sekani's were injured trying to hunt this tricky animal. It was only after they actually got one that they found out it wasn't very tasty. Beaver - Like Porcupine, the only reason that these were hunted would be lack of food or the tough skins that beavers yielded. Fish - Fish was the thing the Sekani's hated the most. It didn't fill them up, and they only hunted fish out of necessity.

The only reason the Sekani did not continually hunt Moose, was because they were in scarce quantities. Almost everything else was hunted out of hunger.

Most of the Sekani diet was constructed of protein, with very little vegetables present. Some sources say they ate medicinal herbs, to ease pain or induce sleep.



Even though these aren't Sekani hunters, it still gives you the general idea of the fishing techniques.

Bow and arrow were the prime hunting weapon, as they provided excellent speed and range. A common hunting technique would have around 10 hunters all fire arrows aimed at the head of the prey. This tactic worked very well, except on smaller animals, where accuracy was vital. They used bow and arrows on fish, where sheer numbers of arrows would be the deciding factor on the kill.

Nets constructed of willow bark or nettle fibre were used to catch fish when they could not find any other food. They did not use very many boats. The small lakes iced over enough to allow the nets to be dragged across the lake, yielding plentiful catches of ice fish. Another effective method was shallow water trident fishing.

The Sekani preferred to use almost every material but stone. The only things they used stone for were the fishing tridents and the animal hunting arrows and spears. The most popular material for a blade was a beaver tooth filed to a sharp point.



As the name suggests, these people live in harsh conditions that are the Rocky Mountains, sleeping in caves and open, unprotected brush huts. Although they almost always dwell close to clear, clean rivers, they never bathe in them because they are much too cold. Even when taking water from such streams, they must bring it into a sheltered area to let it increase in temperature before drinking.

Most prefer to stay in the plentiful area at the base of the mountain, just a few kilometers from the treeline, where the water is warm and the berries are plentiful. It is a mystery to most historians why some would choose to stay in the harsh conditions of the upper mountains. Some suspect that no competition from other tribes would be a great factor in this choice. Also the fact that the journey up to the upper Rockies is treacherous for large groups of people.

The Tse'Khene (Sekani) territory. If you compare it to the map on the left, it matched exactly with the rocky mountain estimate. (Tse'Khene is an alternative name for the Sekani.)

A rough area estimate of the Rocky Mountains.



The Sekani People have their own unique language, yet it is very similar to most Athabaskan languages. Some very brief rules are listed below:



Sekani has two tones, low and high. High is the default. That is, syllables normally have high tone. Syllables phonologically marked for tone are low.

Even though most Athapaskan tribes used tattoos, the Sekani People did not. Paint did not seem to be discluded, as it was freely seen on their ceremonial clothes and headdresses. The Sekani People lacked major gods. Instead, they believed in the connections between man and animals. They believed that each animal had a minor god associated with it. The Sekani's believed that each man had an animal protecting his spirit, and that the traits of that animal were present in that man's abilities. A man with a black bear spirit would be very strong and have a large build. Each band had a shaman. A shaman was like the witch doctor of the Sekani tribes. The shaman knew of medicinal herbs and was said to be able to cure illnesses with spirits. On the flipside, if someone offended a shaman, he could inflict sickness upon the offender.



This Sekani pattern would have showed a family of great status. Notice the massive amounts of purple dye used in this piece.

The Sekani people used skin from every animal they hunted, including fish. They found that the skin on the heads of the fish, once dried and sewn together, makes tough, durable shoulder and knee coverings. The reason this worked for them was because the fish they hunted were used to the cold and had tough, hard skin.

Paint was a major part in clothing for this tribe. Different colors often showed how rich each family was. Purple is the most blatant example of this, as purple paint was difficult to come by. It first had to be harvested from crushed bugs, then cooked at just the right temperature so that it would turn a purple color. Too long/short to cook would mean that it would turn an ugly brown color, which is the worst possible outcome, because brown was the most common color of paint.



Hargus, Sharon. (1988). The lexical phonology of Sekani. (Outstanding dissertations in linguistics). New York: Garland Publishers. ISBN 0-8240-5187-4 Mithun, Marianne. (1999). The languages of Native North America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-23228-7 (hbk); ISBN 0-521-29875-X.