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Catalogue number: III-B-108

Name (English): spear

Name (French): lance

Name (Innu): shimakan

Culture: Barren Ground Innu

Institution: The Rooms, Provincial Museum Division

Place made: unknown

Maker: displayed as example of Naskapi hunting equipment

Collector: unknown

Date Collected: unknown

Description: pear consisting of round, wooden shaft, tapering at end and a metal point (approximately 7 long) with a small diamond-shaped head. Point inserted tightly into hole at end of shaft which is grooved. There is a narrow band of paint at the top, middle and bottom of the shaft.

Innu narrative: There's a place called Kashukutakepinants, you know, where the buildings are? Also, towards Mishta-nipish, you'd always find caribou swimming across the lake, and you would chase them in canoes. There were no guns, but we'd used muzzle loaders, black powder guns and spears. You'd chase caribou
and stab them with spears. It was hard work - Etuat Mistenapeo.

This all happened at Mushuau-shipu [George River] where the big herd usually crossed the river. Sometimes spears were used. I've seen them. When the herd crossed the river, they took their canoes and went after them, and would spear them. There were no guns. Spear heads used to be made out of pieces of metal - Pinashue Benuen.

I heard the caribou were speared at Mushuau-shipu [George River]. This is where the caribou migrated a long time ago. And that's where the caribou were speared. I heard that the people used to chase the caribou with their canoes. They used to wait until they were swimming across [the river/lake], and then they would chase the caribou with their canoes. I heard women used to spear caribou, too, when their husbands were not home. I heard they had something they would shoot the caribou with. These are called mipisha - they are shot at the caribou. It is made out of wood and uses a sharp metal at the end of the spear. And that was used to shoot at the caribou - Matinen (Rich) Katshinak.

I didn't see the use of bow and arrows, but I've seen the spearing of the caribou, when the caribou was being chased in the water. There were two canoes, one at each side of the caribou. The caribou was in the middle of these canoes. You could not paddle too close to the caribou because it would strike at your canoe with its hind legs. You had to learn to read its body language, because the caribou would turn its head to look at you. It measured the distance between your canoe and it so it would know the right time to give you a kick. So you had to be careful when it looked back at you like that. You can see a place in between the shoulder blades. It pulsates when the lungs are expanding in a chase. You aim for that crucial spot on its back. Right in the artery, the blood gushes and shoots up very fast, and can really mess up the front of the canoe. It also splashes on the hunters' faces. It [the blood] travels a long way, especially when the spear is removed....They were elders. They are all dead now. The young men didn't spear them because you had to outsmart the caribou. It's dangerous if they kick your boat. They would tip it. You had to know what you were doing. The elders were Atika, Ustinitshu, Nepatiuk, Kanikuen, Pineshinau, Mishtinapeu, Manteu (Sam), Kamuakess, Enushiu, my father and my grandfather. A lot of these elders chased them in a canoe. There were also a lot of makushan.That's the place where they swam across the lake. The hunters who went after the caribou in their canoes, they carried their spears in their teeth. They would push the caribou aside and go after more. These were very skilled hunters. I would be very afraid of the caribou attacking the canoe - Tshishennish Pasteen.

Yes, [women] did kill caribou, too, but not with the spears that the men used. They had their own knives. It was a blade tied on to a stick. There weren't enough spears for the women. This blade was similar to a spear. When they were chasing caribou in the water, they speared them from behind, into the anus. They had to do this because the men were gone, and they were not going to watch the caribou go by. When [my mother] and my father were spearing, she would steer the canoe while my father did the spearing. A caribou tried to attack us once. Atika was with us that time. We saw a caribou walking on the shore and getting into the water. We went after it. Atika wanted this caribou. He told my father, "let's get this one. I want this caribou." It was a fat, huge bull. He noticed us coming at him and turned to meet us, or challenge us. When we were closer to him, he turned and tried to hook his lower antlers on to the front of the canoe. He was trying to turn us

Other info: "The wooden shaft is 6 feet long, and the steel point, which is made of a flat file beaten down to a quarter of an inch square, is 11 inches long. It is set into the end of the shaft and fastended (sic) by a whipping of sinew. The weapon is held by the hand in a manner peculiar as well as uncomfortable. The closed hand over the butt end of the weapon is so placed as to have the fingers upward and the outside of the hand toward the point, this rather awkward grasp enables the person to let go of the weapon in case of threatened disaster resulting from a misdirected thrust" - Turner (1979[1894]:149-150).

"The collection contains four caribou spears for killing these animals as they swam in lakes. All have round wooden shafts varying from 129 cm to 152 cm in length. The distal ends of the shafts have raised knobs. The blades are made from steel files beaten to a flat triangular point. The long, then tangs of these points have been fitted into a groove in the distal end of the shaft, which is then covered with a piece of wood and reinforced with babiche lashing" - VanStone (1985:13).

"Strong...was told that the bow canoe paddler held the spear in his teeth while approaching a swimming caribou. He then took the weapon in his right hand and stabbed the animal toward the back under the ribs, a downward thrust, then made an upward probe for the heart. If he hit the heart, the animal died in the water; otherwise, it swam to shore and died there. The fact that caribou could be killed or wounded in the water made spears far more efficient than guns for this important type of hunting" - VanStone (1985:13).

References: Lucien M. Turner. 1979[1894]. Indians and Eskimos in the Quebec-Labrador Peninsula. Quebec: Presses COMEDITEX. James W. VanStone. 1985. Material Culture of the Davis Inlet and Barren Ground Naskapi: the William Duncan Strong Collection. Chicago: Field Museum of Natural History. Fieldiana, Anthropology New Series No.7.