Indigenous Peoples have an implicit understanding of food security and sustainable diets derived from place-based knowledge and livelihoods spanning thousands of years. Informed by their local knowledge and guided by conceptions of living well, Indigenous Peoples are the custodians of a large part of the world’s biodiversity and natural resources.  Recent local, national, and international efforts are bringing forward the vast knowledge of Indigenous Peoples to better document food biodiversity and its cultural and nutritional contributions to human well-being. Our intent is for this publication to recognize the contributions of Indigenous Peoples in northern North America to our global heritage of food knowledge.

This web publication has the purpose to describe and to reference the published literature on traditional animal foods known and used by Indigenous Peoples of northern North America. We present information on the locations of the cultures whose peoples have used, and often continue to use, these foods. The publication focuses on Canada, Alaska, Greenland and the northern United States of America, but many of the animal species presented here also occur in the northern latitudes of Europe and Asia. In sum, we present data for 527 species of animals, drawing information from over 490 ethnographic sources, an additional 91 unique sources reporting nutritional information, and 357 sources containing basic biological information. 

Environmental changes (e.g. climate change, land-use change, contaminants, biodiversity loss), globalization, industrially produced foods, and dietary simplification threaten the nutrition and health of many indigenous cultures around the globe. These impacts are of major concern to Indigenous Peoples and are the subject of much ongoing research. Here we do not focus on the causes or the consequences of changing traditional food use, only because they are not consistently or reliably documented in the available ethnographic literature, much of which is dated. Instead we focus on describing traditional animal foods used by Indigenous Peoples, in the past and the present, including their use, biology, and nutritional value.

This is a reference guide that we hope will be useful to a variety of users: public health professionals, wildlife resource managers, Indigenous Peoples and the education of their youth, nutritionists, ethnographers, wildlife enthusiasts, the variety of organizations serving Indigenous Peoples, and academics working in several disciplines. The presentation is in academic style that is as user-friendly as practical for this large amount of information.

We have published this information as a website rather than as a book for three main reasons: 1) we want this information to be readily available to a wide community, 2) we want the depth of information available on this topic to be easily searchable and to enable cross-referencing cultural, biological, and nutrient information, and 3) we want this website to be a living, updating document that improves over time through the addition of new and corrected information. We are well aware that the sources we cite and summarize here are a vast under-representation of the food use and cultural diversity of Indigenous Peoples, much of which has been neglected and sometimes misrepresented in the published literature. We hope that readers noting omissions, discrepancies, and errors in the text will view these as opportunities to better recognize the contributions of Indigenous Peoples to our global heritage of food knowledge. Accordingly, we have included a feedback link on the top right of all pages and hope readers will use this link to direct us to additional academic literature, reports, or community publications containing pertinent information.

Navigating the Website

The information in this website can be accessed through three main tabs:

1) Animals The information under this tab is organized by animal taxonomic groups. For each animal group or species, the reader can access four different subtabs: a) Ethography: a full text description of published ethnographic work; b) Biology: a full text description of the basic animal biology and ecology; c) Cultures: a list of cultures mentioned linked to the main Cultures tab; and d) Nutrients: a searchable, sortable, and downloadable table of published nutrient composition of raw and prepared food.

2) Cultures The information is organized by regions and by language and culture groups. For each region, language, or culture groups, the reader can access a list of  animal groups or species mentioned and linked to the main Animals tab.

3) Nutrients The nutrient composition of raw and prepared food parts is organized by animal groups and species and is presented in a searchable, sortable, and downloadable tables.

Notes on Methodology (click to expand)

Acknowledgments (click to expand)

How to Cite this Website

Kuhnlein, H.V. and M.M. Humphries. 2017. Traditional Animal Foods of Indigenous Peoples of Northern North America: Centre for Indigenous Peoples’ Nutrition and Environment, McGill University, Montreal.

Centre for Indigenous Peoples’ Nutrition and Environment (CINE)
McGill University, Macdonald Campus
21,111 Lakeshore Rd., Ste. Anne de Bellevue
Quebec H9X3V9 Canada

About the authors:

Dr. Harriet V. Kuhnlein is the Founding Director of CINE. As a human nutritionist, her work brings recognition to the excellent nutritional qualities and cultural values of unique traditional foods known and used by Indigenous Peoples.

Dr. Murray M. Humphries is the Director of CINE. As a wildlife biologist, his work encompasses traditional and scientific ecological knowledge of wildlife in the food systems of Indigenous Peoples.