Native Americans Cree

( - ) Rupert House, Quebec

Native Americans were hunting wildfowl and creating lures long before Europeans set foot in what is now the United States and Canada. Stones piled in shallow water simulated resting birds. Heads mounted on sticks or bodies impaled on stakes were jammed into the shore to lure passing birds. For deeper water, Indians stuffed actual skins with dried grass and floated them on the surface.

Whether the Cree Indians subscribed to all of these practices cannot be determined. However, evidence shows that they did construct decoys to lure blue geese within range of their arrows and guns. One of their most creative ruses, dating back to around the early 1900’s, involved the use of decoys made from willow-twig decoys (other pliable branches were sometime used.) Sometime during the mid-twentieth century, willow was replaced by tamarack, which is the strongest wood among the coniferous trees. Primarily used for spring hunts, these decoys were made by forming twigs into a ball for the body core and then covering them with a layer or longer twigs to form the shape of a goose, with a large open “eye” in the head. Against the snow, the eye imitated the white cheek patch of the Canada goose.

For the fall hunts, mud and wooden decoys were used most often. Hunters shaped chunks of clay along the shore to represent the body of the bird. A molded head painted white was set on a stick and inserted into the clay body. In either side, hunters stuck wings taken from a previous kill. According to the individual design, the clay bodies were covered with plucked feathers or left unadorned. As the day progressed, each hunter augmented his clay rig with birds he had shot, taking time to pose the bird in a natural position. These disposable decoys suited the nomadic lifestyles of the Cree. Traditionally, hunting decoys were made by men only.

Eventually when plastic decoys could be purchased quickly and cheaply, the handmade decoys fell more and more by the wayside and the tamarack decoys faced extinction. Today, however, the decoys have been refined and are sold to tourists regularly, allowing part of the Cree heritage and ingenuity to live on.