They ate salmon and caribou as the main part of their diet, supplementing it with berries, roots, moose, eggs, and birds. To catch salmon Athabascans usually used fish traps, but sometimes they speared them. The caribou they drove into large fenced areas where they could then kill them (as needed). They hunted using bows & arrows and spears.
Athabascans dressed a lot like their southern cousins. Men wore caribou skin pants and parkas, with the fur to the inside. Women wore caribou skin leggings and caribou skin dresses over them. During the winter they wore moccasins insulated with moss. In the summer it was too wet for any footwear. Children who were old enough to walk wore the same clothing as the adults.
Little babies were carried in birch skin baskets, on the mother's back. There was an almost diaper-like piece of moose skin inside the basket. It was attached to the inside of the basket and it was used to hold the baby in place. They would line the skin with some moss, or even better, with the lining from a squirrel nest.
If the baby was a boy, the mother would tie small things from very strong animals around the outside of the basket, and sometimes on the baby's tiny moccasins. Usually she used bear teeth, but wolverine teeth were considered the best. If the baby was a girl, they would sew weasel tails, and lynx toenails. This was good luck to make her rich.
Athabascans used something very similar to the modern day pacifier. They would take a piece of animal fat and poke a stick through it. Then the baby could on the fat without swallowing it, because the stick would be parallel to the baby's face, ie the ends of the stick would stick out the sides of the babies mouth.
When a woman would give birth to a baby she would go about a mile away from the village. There she would build a little hut and she would stay there, with only a few women to help. The woman giving birth would squat down in the center of the cabin, with a helper to grab the baby. A second helper would stand behind her and squeeze her stomach to help push the baby out. After she gave birth to the baby she would then rejoin the camp. Sometimes, if the family had lots of girls and no boys, if the new baby was a girl they would just leave it to die.
Girls were married at about the age of 13. The men they married could be anywhere from sixteen on up. The deciding factor for marriages was whether or not the man had blankets, tent, sled, snowshoes, and hunting materials. Also he should be a pretty successful hunter. The girls had to be good workers and strong enough to give birth to children. Sometimes the marriage was arranged when the girls were still babies. This wasn't done as frequently as the Eskimos did it, because of the higher infant mortality rates.
During the summer the Athabascans had housing made out of spruce poles covered with bark, skins, and tree boughs. During the winter, because of the extreme cold, the housing was fully wood structures covered with a lot of skins and moss. There was a small hole in the ceiling to let the smoke from the fire through.
© Copyright 1997 Elizabeth Beckett and Sarah Teel
If you have any questions or comments please send them to (Sorry, this email link is outdated.).