Coming of Age
In early days, our young people were mentored by parents, aunts and uncles and community elders, all teaching them the skills they needed to make a living and the values necessary to be a good person. At puberty, there were special ceremonies marking their transition to adulthood. Today we continue many of these traditions with adaptations to contemporary times.
Young boys were trained in skills necessary for a good hunter: speed, agility, endurance and sure-footedness. They practiced with smaller versions of adult-sized weapons to develop accuracy and strength. Charlie Isaac recalled that there were certain taboos. For example, young men shouldn’t eat fish skin as it might cause them to slip when chasing caribou. Boys should not sleep with their legs straight in case they became stiff-legged on snowshoes. When a boy killed his first moose or caribou, a feast might be held to formally recognize the new hunter. It was customary to present part of the catch to the headman and elders.
By age 10 or 11, girls spent more time learning adult duties. They looked after younger sisters and brothers, tanned hides and improved their sewing, cut meat and fish, prepared food and learned to trap small animals. When a girl reached the age of puberty, she underwent rigorous training. She moved to a special shelter outside the encampment for an extended period and practiced several rituals. There were restrictions on what and how she could eat and drink, for example she could not eat fresh fish or meat as this might limit the presence of game for the group. When she left the shelter, she wore a large hood that limited her vision. During her seclusion, she kept busy sewing, repairing and making clothes. Her paternal aunties instructed her in rituals and proper behaviour. At the end of her seclusion, she dressed in new clothes and her old ones were discarded.
Today, both boys and girls learn the skills of hunting, fishing and food preparation. First Fish camp, 2013.