Role of Men

In the primitive economy of our ancestors, farming was the major and most important food source. Indians with hoe agriculture built up no great surplus, and it was the men’s responsibility to supplement the vegetable foods with a fairly constant supply of meat. In times of crisis when crops were inadequate or when stored foods were destroyed by accident or warfare, the survival of the community depended entirely on the success of the hunter. The game of the countryside could not support the people adequately, or for long, but it was their only salvation in times of famine.

Such times of near-starvation must have been frequent; every Indian hunter thought in terms of them, and of his game as essential to the survival of his group. “We must hunt to feed our children” was the Indian’s explanation for his tremendous effort in the chase. Eastern Woodlands

Indians were not hunting in virgin territory, but in woodlands which had been coursed by expert hunters for ten thousand years. The game supply was in some sort of balance with the hunting population, and the hunter could only take his quarry through patience, skill, and great effort. In a culture where hunting is not a sport but a necessary source of food, women are useless as hunters and men cannot be spared to work with a hoe. Hunting and warfare were men’s twin activities, and in both there could be no hesitation, no avoidance of hazard, for the community lived too close to disaster. The agricultural activities of women, and of deities concerned with with agriculture were central themes in Indian ritual. In the same way, men’s activities and the supernatural world of the hunter held a central place in religious ideology. Game animals were gifts of the Creator and of lesser supernatural to the hunter, provided the hunter did his work properly and well and conducted his affairs in a precisely correct fashion. This involved matters of conservation, ritual and taboo. Some of the greatest differences between Indian and white hunting practices are revealed by examining the Indian’s religious attitude toward hunting activities and toward game animals. The white man regarded game animals as meat from which to supply his needs, as mere objects to be taken. The Indian considered the animal as an intelligent, conscious member of the same spiritual kingdom. His own destiny was linked with that of the animals by the Creator, and he felt both he and his prey understood the roles they played in the hunt — the animal, in other words, was resigned to its fate.

Source: “The American Indian As Hunter”, 1990
by: John Witthoft of the Pennsylavania Historical and Museum Commission