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The Subarctic Precontact Life Ways Change During Contact and Colonialism

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Knowledge of the pre-contact way of life of Subarctic Native Americans is particularly important since it would help to explain how contemporary Subarctic Indians, particularly Chipewyan nomadic hunters occupy a vast but lightly populated territory. The subarctic region covers the northern zone of boreal coniferous-forests which broadens from arctic tundra, towards the mountains and deciduous forest across the south, and then from Labrador towards the Bering Sea (Oswalt, 2002). The majority of these regions are in the Canadian Shield, the Hudson Bay area, as well as Mackenzie River plains (Oswalt, 2002). The region is basically filled with numerous lakes, rivers, and mountain ranges. Even though the winters are harsh and lasting for longer periods, forest covers together with snow offers shelter for the inhabitants and the wild animals. Thus, the Chipewyan hunters belonging to Athapaskans resided in the northern section of Lake Athabasca, before migrating to the periphery of barren fields when pursuing caribou herds.

The Subarctic population numbers before contact and colonialism were certainly bigger, and Oswalt asserts that the introduction of European diseases like smallpox, wars, and displacement lowered the population to no more than 60 000 people (2002). The Chipewyan were for the most part animist as their religious viewpoints were founded on the notion of power acquired from animal spirits and the lands through dreams and visions. They had supernatural leaders referred to as Shamans or healers, and the powers possessed by such individuals were believed to have helped in curing ailments and diseases. They also had finders of big games, who used supernatural powers to control animals and numerous other natural phenomena during hunting and setting up traps (Oswalt, 2002). For my part, I find all this bizarre based on my scientific belief in medicine, especially by the explanation that Chipewyan sorcerers managed to cure illnesses, by simply performing Shaman songs and dances in order to summon the spirits.