Thursday, March 8, 2018

Description of the Athabascan Indians


Few linguistic families on the continent can compare in geographical distribution with that known as the Athabascan, Chepewyan or Tinné. Of these synonyms, I retain the first, as that adopted by Buschmann, who proved, by his laborious researches, the kinship of its various branches. These extend interruptedly from the Arctic Sea to the borders of Durango, in Mexico, and from Hudson Bay to the Pacific.
In British America this stock lies immediately north of the Algonkins, the dividing line running approximately from the mouth of the Churchill river on Hudson Bay to the mouth of the Fraser, on the Pacific. To the north they are in contact with the Eskimos and to the west with the tribes of the Pacific coast. In this wide but cold and barren area they are divided into a number of bands, without coherence, and speaking dialects often quite unlike. The Loucheux have reached the mouth of the Mackenzie river, the Kuchin are along the Yukon, the Kenai on the
 ocean about the peninsula that bears their name, while the Nahaunies, Secaunies and Takullies are among the mountains to the south. The Sarcees lived about the southern head-waters of the Saskatchewan, while other bands had crossed the mountains and wandered quite to the Pacific coast, where they appear as Umpquas near Salem, Oregon; as Tututenas on Rogue river; and in California as Hupas, on and about Trinity river. These are but a small fraction of the great southern migration of this stock. The Navajos belong to it, and the redoubted Apaches, who extended their war parties far into Mexico, and who were the main agents in destroying the civilization which ages ago began to reveal fair promise in the valleys of the Gila and its affluents, and who up to very recent years defied alike the armies of both Mexico and the United States. Their southern migrations beyond the valley of the Gila probably do not date far back, that is, much beyond the conquest. Although the Mexican census of 1880 puts the Mexican Apaches at ten thousand, no such number can be located. Orozco y Berra mentions one of their tribes in Chihuahua, which he calls Tobosos; but Spanish authors refer to these as living in New Mexico in 1583. The only Apache band now known to be in Mexico are the Janos or Janeros in Chihuahua, made up of Lipans and Mescaleros. (Henshaw.)
Wherever found, the members of this group present a certain family resemblance. In appearance they are tall and strong, the forehead low with prominent superciliary ridges, the eyes slightly oblique, the nose prominent but wide toward the base, the
 mouth large, the hands and feet small. Their strength and endurance are often phenomenal, but in the North at least their longevity is slight, few living beyond fifty. Intellectually they rank below most of their neighbors, and nowhere do they appear as fosterers of the germs of civilization. Where, as among the Navajos, we find them having some repute for the mechanical arts, it turns out that this is owing to having captured and adopted the members of more gifted tribes. Their temperament is inclined to be gloomy and morose; yet in spite of their apparent stolidity they are liable to panic terrors, to epidemic neuroses, temporary hallucinations and manias—a condition not at all rare among peoples of inferior culture.
Nowhere do we find among them any form of government. Their chiefs are chosen without formality, either on account of their daring in war or for their generosity in distributing presents. The office is not hereditary, there is rarely even any war chief, their campaigns being merely hurried raids. A singular difference exists as to their gentile systems, and their laws of consanguinity. Usually it is counted in the female line only. Thus among the Takullies of the north a son does not consider his father any relation, but only his mother and her people. When a man dies, all his property passes to his wife’s family. The totems are named from animals, and as usual a wife must be selected from another totem. This does not stand in the way of a son being united to his father’s[71] sister, and such a marriage is often effected for property reasons. Among the Sarcees the respect for a mother-in-law is so great that her son-in-law dares not sit at a meal with her, or even touch her, without paying a fine. Among the Navajo and Apache tribes the son also follows the gens of the mother, while in the Umpqua and Tutu branches in Oregon he belongs to that of his father. In all the southern tribes the gens is named from a place, not an animal. Marriage is polygamous at will, wives are obtained by purchase, and among the Slave Indians the tie is so lax that friends will occasionally exchange wives as a sign of amity. Usually the position of the woman is abject, and marital affection is practically unknown; although it is said that the Nahaunies, a tribe of eastern Alaska, at one time obeyed a female chief.
The arts were in a primitive condition. Utensils were of wood, horn or stone, though the Takully women manufactured a coarse pottery, and also spun and wove yarn from the hair of the mountain goat. Agriculture was not practised either in the north or south, the only exception being the Navajos and with them the inspiration came from other stocks. The Kuchin of the Yukon make excellent bark canoes, and both they and their neighbors live in skin tents of
 neatly dressed hides. Many of the tribes of the far north are improvident in both clothing and food, and cannibalism was not at all uncommon among them.
The most cultured of their bands were the Navajos, whose name is said to signify “large cornfields,” from their extensive agriculture. When the Spaniards first met them in 1541 they were tillers of the soil, erected large granaries for their crops, irrigated their fields by artificial water courses or acequias, and lived in substantial dwellings, partly underground; but they had not then learned the art of weaving the celebrated “Navajo blankets,” that being a later acquisition of their artisans.
In their religions there was the belief in deified natural forces and in magic that we find usually at their stage of culture. The priests or shamans were regarded with fear, and often controlled the counsels of the tribe. One of their prevalent myths was that of the great thunder-bird often identified with the raven. On the Churchill river it was called Idi, and the myth related that from its brooding on the primeval waters the land was brought forth. The myth is found too widespread to be other than genuine. The Sarcees seem to have had some form of solar worship, as they called the sun Our Father and the earth Our Mother.
The Navajos, who have no reminiscence of their ancestral home in the north, locate the scene of their creation in the San Juan mountains, and its date about seven centuries ago. Their story is that the
 first human pair were formed of the meal of maize brought by the gods from the cliff houses in the cañons.
The Athabascan dialects are usually harsh and difficult of enunciation. In reducing them to writing, sixty-three characters have to be called on to render the correct sounds. There is an oral literature of songs and chants, many of which have been preserved by the missionaries. The Hupas of California had extended their language and forced its adoption among the half-dozen neighboring tribes whom they had reduced to the condition of tributaries.
  • Apaches, in Arizona, Chihuahua, Durango, etc.
  • Ariquipas, in southern Arizona.
  • Atnahs, on Copper river, Alaska.
  • Beaver Indians, see Sarcees.
  • Chepewyans, north of the Chipeways.
  • Chiricahuas, in southern Arizona.
  • Coyoteros, in southern Arizona.
  • Hupas, in California, on Trinity river.
  • Janos, in Chihuahua, near Rio Grande.
  • Jicarillas, in northern New Mexico.
  • Kenais, on and near Kenai peninsula, Alaska.
  • Kuchins, on Yukon and Copper rivers, Alaska.
  • Lipans, near mouth of Rio Grande (properly, Ipa-ndé).
  • Loucheux, on lower Mackenzie river; most northern tribe.

  • Mescaleros, in New Mexico, W. of Rio Grande.
  • Montagnais, north of Chipeways.
  • Nahaunies, on Stickine and Talton rivers, Alaska.
  • Navajos, northern New Mexico and Arizona.
  • Sarcees, on upper Saskatchewan and at Alberta.
  • Sicaunies, on upper Peach river.
  • Slaves, on upper Mackenzie river.
  • Tacullies, head waters of the Fraser river, Brit. Col.
  • Tinné, synonym of Athabascan.
  • Tututenas, on Rogue river, Oregon.
  • Umpquas, Pacific coast near Salem, Oregon.