Wolverine narratives and historical references

Innu myths

Episode 1- Wolverine and the black bear

Episode 2 - Wolverine and the moss

Episode 3 - Wolverine and his ass

Episode 4 - Wolverine and the geese

Episode 5 - Wolverine and the rock

Historical references

Lucien Turner. 1979 [1894]. Indians and Eskimos in the Quebec-Labrador Peninsula Ethnology of the Ungava District. Quebec, Presses COMEDITEX. p.163.

"The Indian conceives the wolverine to be an animal embodying all the cunning and mischief that can be contained in the skin of a beast. To its cunning is added great bodily strength, enabling this medium-sized animal to accomplish destruction apparently much beyond its strength.

Every other animal in the forests where it dwells prefers to give it the path rather than engage in struggle with it. When seized in a trap a wolverine offers a sturdy resistance. Even a famished wolf, to my personal knowledge, will stand and look at it, but not attempt to cope with it.   In this particular instance, however, the wolf may have considered the predicament of the wolverine another means of strategy employed by that animal to entrap the wolf, and so deemed it wise to remain at a respectful distance.

Every form of torture which the Indian mind is capable of conceiving is inflicted upon this animal when it is captured. All manner of vile names and reproaches are applied to it. The Indian enjoys relating how he singed its fur off, broke its bones, and tormented it in many ways, as it slowly expired under his hand" (p.117).

William Brooks Cabot. 1920. Labrador. Boston: Small, Maynard & Company, pp.146-147.

"In the afternoon a wolverene (sic) came loping, wood-chuck like, across the way, at eighty yards.  W. sat down on the sloping ground for a steady shot and I whistled sharply.  The animal faced and stopped.   A handsome shot W. made, just under the chin and from end to end.  It was a strong-looking brute.  An autopsy proved it full of mice.  We skinned it and took the broad skull.  I chiefly had officiated, and an astonishing musty smell remained on my hands.  To live it down might take weeks, I thought, but in a day or two it faded away.

We were pleased over our wolverene episode, for one might be a long time in the country without seeing one, especially in summer, and it is an interesting species.  This one may have weighed forty or fifty pounds.   No creature is so hated in the north, for none is so cunning and destructive, none so hard to destroy.  Its practice of carrying off and hiding what it cannot eat gives the impression of actual malice, especially as it burglarizes not only eatables, but all sorts of equipment, even to the camp kettle.  Once snow has leveled over its tracks its hidings are safe.  Caches have to be placed high for any security, with an over-hanging platform.  Many an Indian, and even many a family, has perished by the agency of this evil genius of the north. 'We know he is possessed of an evil spirit,' Indians say, 'because he has been the death of so many persons.' Steel traps he understands, and is rarely caught, but pulls out the back of the pen and gets the bait without penalty.  He may follow a line of traps for forty miles, taking every bait and whatever game has been caught.  Sometimes he is out-done by the 'double set' - one trap set as usual, for him to avoid, another concealed with all art in an unusual position.  Stories of the occasional circumvention of the pest are cherished among the hunters.

When the Indians do catch one they sometimes torture him in mere exasperation, as well as to deter the other wolverenes from pursuing their evil ways, for by agencies we do not recognize they will know the victim's fate.

The beast inspires vindictiveness in most amiable persons.  While McKenzie was at Chimo he had some traps out and was troubled by a wolverene family.  Although he managed to catch the young ones, the old mother was too clever for him, and he finally resorted to a spring gun with a bait, and four steel traps set about.  When the beast pulled on the bait the gun only snapped without going off, but, startled, the animal jumped and landed in one of the traps, and by the time Peter came along she had picked up two or three more. 

Peter related that he sat down and looked at her awhile, then took a stick and beat her well, and so on for some time before he killed her.  As Peter had a singularly amiable temperament the incident may be taken as showing that few dispositions can bear the wolverene test."

Leacock, Eleanor B. and Nan A. Rothschild (eds.). 1994. Labrador Winter: the Ethnographic Journals of William Duncan Strong, 1927-1928. Washington, D.C.:Smithsonian Institution. pp.67-68.

"The purpose of racks...in camp is to raise damageable articles and food above the reach of dogs, while those away from camp are for the protection of stores from wild animals.  The wolverine (kwiwa'tchu) is the worst offender in this regard and the solid log storehouses are especially designed to circumvent the wiles of this powerful and ingenious animal.  The Indians stated that they often left a special wolverine trap by such storehouses.  This particular trap has much of the diabolical cleverness of the animal it is set for.  A long slanting pole is set firmly in the snow or ground and from its tip an enticing piece of meat is hung just beyond the reach of any animal climbing the pole.  A dense circle of needle-pointed stakes is placed directly beneath the bait so that when the animal, tempted beyond caution, drops onto the bait and then to the ground he will be impaled.   Such a device is known as ka'capwaiaskwi'cinandji.  A description of this trap, to my surprise, demonstrated that these pointed stakes are associated in the Barren Ground and Davis Inlet people with stockades around villages.  Their only knowledge of such villages at present seems to be derived from legendary references.   The term for a stockaded village, used in the legend, is k'tcimuta'ginue."

References for Innu atanukana about wolverine

Legends Project: Legends of the Mushuau Innu of Natuashish. CBC Ideas.

Desbarats, Peter (ed.). 1969. What they used to tell about. Toronto: McClelland and Stewart Ltd.

Henriksen, Georg. 2009. I Dreamed the Animals: Kaniuekutat, the Life of an Innu Hunter. New York: Berghahn Books.

Savard, Rémi. 1972. Carcajou et le sens du monde: récits montagnais-naskapi. Quebec: Ministère des affaires culturelles, série cultures amérindiennes.

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