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Six Nation Indian’s Mode of Life
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A mode of life will be suggested by the individual’s estate and surroundings, and will, naturally, be accommodated to the exactions merely of the society in which he moves. With the Indian, poverty shapes his habits of life, and he bends to compulsion’s decree in the matter. If we consider his hypothetical translation to a higher sphere, the Indian might develop and maintain a course of living which should not, in those altered circumstances, discredit him.
As our notions of early Indian life are so associated with the wigwam, a description of the manner and stages of its construction may be interesting. Poles, twelve or fourteen feet long, are placed in the ground, these meeting at the top, and leaving an opening through which the smoke may escape. Over the poles are placed nets, made of flags, or birch bark, and, sometimes, the skins of animals.
The Indian, in defining comfort, evidently does not mean soft beds and generous covering. His couch, as often as not, is the bare floor, without mattress, or, indeed, aught that might be conceded to a weak impulse; and his covering nil, as a rule, in summer, and a buffalo robe, or some kindred substitute, in winter. He adopts very frugal fare, doing high honor to maize, or Indian corn. Indeed, to the growth and cultivation of this order of grain he appropriates the greater part of his land.
In walking, the man usually goes before the woman, as he thinks it undignified to walk alongside. Nothing like social intercourse ever goes on between man and wife; and in their domestic experience they have no little pursuits in common, such as cheer and brighten life with us.
The hut (for, in the majority of cases, it is really little better) that, with excess of boldness, commingles its cramped, unpleasing outlines with the forest’s wealth of foliage; and has reared its unshapely structure on the site of the historic wigwam, obliterating, in its ruthless, intrusive, advent, that lingering relic of the picturesque aspect of Indian life–a relic that, with its emblems and inner garniture of war, bids a scion of the race indulge a prideful retrospect of his sometime grandeur, and pristine might; that has power to invoke stirring recollections of a momentous and a thrilling past; to re-animate and summon before him the shadowy figures of his redoubtable sires, and re-enact their lofty deeds: in view of which, there is wafted to him a breath, laden with moving memories of that glorious age, when aught but pre-eminence was foreign to his soul; when, though a rude and savage, he was yet a lordly, being; when he owned the supremacy, brooked the dictation, of none; when his existence was a round of joysome light-heartedness, and he, a stranger to constraint–this habitation of the Indian, to my mind, emphasizes his melancholy, and, perhaps, inevitable decadence, rather than symbolizes his partnership with the white in the more palpable pursuits of a practical, enlightened, and energetic age, or co-activity with him on a theatre of enlarged and more vigorous action. It is in some respects more comfortless than even was his experience under his primitive style of living, and is usually composed of one room, answering all the purposes of life–eating-room, bed-room, reception-room, principally, however, for the snow and mud, which have been persuaded here to relax their hold, after antecedent demonstration of their adhering qualities.
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