#13 The Desertion of Old Women
     (Lucian M. Turner, 1882-84)

…The dress of the Tahagmyut [Hudson Bay Inuit] differs somewhat from that of their neighbors on either side of them…

…The character of their dwellings is the same as that of the other Innuit. Their manner of living and their social customs differ, inasmuch as the Tahagmyut have had less to do with the white traders than their neighbors. They retain many of their ancient customs, long since discarded and forgotten by their eastern relatives.

They have no chiefs; the decisions and desires of the elders and wealthier men are carried out by the remainder of the people. The sentiment of the community is often disregarded, and transgressions of their unwritten law occur; but when the offender becomes notorious, there is usually some means found to stop further evil. The men are excessively jealous and passionate, though slow to avenge and insult. They will wait along time for their revenge, which is certain to result in the death of the offender; for, with these people the system of vendetta is faithfully carried out by the next of kin, who may or may not be a connection by blood of the murdered party. The females are exempt from participation, although they may be the inciting cause of revenge, and prompt the occasion of its commission. Theft, quarrelsome nature, peevishness, and fault-finding, are punished by banishment until the wanderer is expelled from tent to tent, and becomes a miserable outcast, who succumbs to starvation, and becomes food for the beasts, or else is driven to insanity, and when violent, is quietly strangled. Old persons—especially friendless old women, who have been a thankless burden upon the community—are frequently left behind, the people being suddenly impelled to remove their camp and thus desert them. If such a woman succeeds in overtaking the party, a second attempt is stopped by some of the men returning and binding her, as though ready for the grave, and then deserting her, when starvation and death shortly ensue.

…Their dead are treated with no ceremony. They simply lash the limbs of the deceased to the body and expose the corpse to the elements, removing it, however, from immediate sight of the camp. Old and infirm people are treated with severity, and when dependent upon others for their food they are summarily disposed of by strangulation or left to perish when the camp is moved.

…Aged people who have no relatives or whom they may depend for subsistence are often quietly put to death. When an old woman, for instance, becomes a burden to the community it is usual for her to be neglected until so weak from want of food that she will be unable to keep up with the people, who suddenly are seized with a desire to remove to a distant locality. If she regains the camp, well for her; otherwise, she struggles along until exhausted and soon perishes. Sometime three or four of the male retrace their steps to recover a lost whip or a forgotten ammunition bag. They rarely go farther then where they find the helpless person, and if their track be followed it will be found that the corpse has stones piled around it and is bound with thongs.

An old woman at Fort Chimo had but one eye, and this was continually sore and very annoying to the people with whom she lived. They proposed to strangle her to relieve her from her misery. The next morning the eye was much better and the proposed cure was postponed.

Cases of suicide are not rare, considering the few people of that locality. Pitching themselves off a cliff of producing strangulation are the usual methods. Sometimes a gun is used. Remorse and disappointed love are the only cause of suicide.

[#13] Lucien M. Turner, “The Indians and Eskimos of the Ungava District, Labrador,” Proceedings and Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada for the Year 1887 (Montreal: Dawson Brothers, Publishers, 1888, p. 102); also see Lucien M. Turner, “Ethnology of the Ungava District, Hudson Bay Territory,” Bureau of American Ethnology, 11th annual report, 1889-90, 1894, pp. 178, 186;

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