Domesticated mammals, including dogs and horses, were used by indigenous people as food in emergency circumstances. Feral populations of domesticated mammals, including feral sheep on islands and wild horses, were also occasionally hunted as food.
Dogs were commonly used for hunting; however many First Nations also used dog meat for rituals, feasts, emergency food, as well as a conventional source of meat . Inuit, Similkameen, Nicola, Plains Cree, Red River Ojibwa (Anishinabek), Micmac (Mi'kmaq), West Main Cree, Mohawk (Iroquois), Huron and Potawatomi (Anishinabek) are reported to have eaten dog meat, particularly during celebrations and special ceremonies [2-13]. The Lillooet, Attawapiskat Cree, Quebec Inuit, and Blood peoples ate dog when other meats or foods were in short supply [12, 14-17]. Domesticated dogs were also raised for food and were a significant part of the meat in the Huron diet [1, 4]. Dog meat was only eaten by elderly Similkameen people . The Carrier ate two types of dog often: a small dog that looked like a wolf and was compared to pig meat, and a larger dog that was said to have a pungent taste . Prehistoric archeological data suggest that dog was consumed by pre-contact Mackenzie Delta Inuvialuit . Skeletal remains of dogs are also reported to have been found at the Nuvorugmiut Kugaluk site and the Onondaga sites at Cabin, Brook, Bloody Hill, Keough, Burke, and Cemetery [21, 22].
The Micmac considered smoked dog head to be delicious , and also ate boiled dog meat served on birch bark dishes . The Ojibwa roasted dog meat for ceremonial events . The consumption of dog flesh was thought to ensure success in battle or hunting, clarify dreams, and heal the sick . The Westmain Cree shaman ate dog to augment his ability to find caribou herds .
Following its introduction in the mid-18th century, the horse became an important mode of transportation for the Blood People, Shuswap, Thompson (N'laka'pamux), Upper Lillooet, Assiniboine and Plains Cree [7, 15, 17, 24]. Horsemeat was popularly consumed by these cultures except for the Blood People who only ate horse in times of great need [15, 17, 24]. By the late 1800s and early 1900s, horsemeat fell into disuse in most communities as horses were of greater value alive than as meat .
Horses were first reported to be seen among the Nehethawa (Cree) by David Thompson in 1730 . They were traditionally known as the “Indian Pony” due to their small size; they required little food and water, and were well-suited for rough-terrain. They were later cross-bred to produce larger horses. The ancestors of the Blood People gave horses the name “ponokamitai” meaning “elk dog” due to the fact that horses resembled elk but were used like dogs .
Introduction of the horse changed the way of life in most communities, shifting from a reliance on dogs for transportation. Among the Blood People, a family had an average of eight horses while the village Chief reportedly owned over a hundred horses. The Blood People used horses not only for carrying loads during camp re-location but also for their hides to make drumheads [7, 15]. Among the Assiniboine and Plains Cree, horses symbolized stocks and wealth and were used extensively in bison hunting; for the Sinkayuse (part of the Middle Columbia River Salish) and the Kalispel of the Lake Pend Oreille area, horses were used for bison hunts and for long-distance traveling [7, 25, 26]. While there were many advantages to the arrival of the horse, the Nicola, of the Nicola and Similkameen Valleys in interior British Columbia, blamed the horses for a decline in their population and territory due to the simultaneous arrival of outsiders (Europeans and Shuswap) .
The Micmac ate feral sheep stomach as tripe: they rinsed, boiled, and fried it with greens, potatoes or pork. They used its blood to prepare blood pudding and used its head to make soup, which was considered a delicacy. From the 1930s to the 1950s, this delicacy was served on Christmas Eve. This tradition ended with the disappearance of the sheep population in the 1950s, which was attributed to dogs .
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Domesticated mammals include species from various families and orders, all having the size and behavioural attributes required for successful domestication. People have domesticated mammals as a source of food, fur, work, or companionship. Most commonly domesticated mammals are hoofed mammals, like cattle, sheep, and horses, but wild dogs are likely the first group that has been domesticated .
The domestic dog (Canis familiaris) is a direct descendant of the gray wolf (Canis lupus), which was tamed by humans around 15,000 years ago. Dogs and wolves share 99.8% of their DNA, while they share only 96% with their next closest wild relative, the coyote. Dogs have been bred selectively into numerous breeds of different shape, size, and temperament, sometimes up to having no resemblance left with their wild relatives.
Early domesticated dogs, like wolves, were predatory carnivorous mammals, hunting in packs and governed by a very complex hierarchical social system, which likely played a facilitating role in the domestication process. Domestic dogs are generally smaller and can first breed much earlier in life compared to wolves. Before becoming social companions, guardians, soldiers, rescuers, or fast runners, dogs have initially been domesticated mainly to be used as a source of food, tools, and ornaments, for transport, and for hunting. For wolves to become domesticated and even family members that were ritually buried, some modern aversions and fears about them must have once been replaced during hunting and gathering times by great admiration and respect .
The domestic horse (Equus ferus) is a large, hoofed, grazing mammal and is among the most common domesticated livestock. Their closest rel Domestic horses have remained quite similar to their wild ancestors, which was likely saved from complete extinction by domestication. Around 10,000 years ago, large wild horse herds were roaming across open plains of the world and were intensively used by people as food. However, in America, wild horses declined to extinction around 8,000 years ago, while European and Asian wild horses got gradually pushed eastward along southern Russian plains to only be found on the Mongolian steppes before recent captive breeding and reintroduction efforts assured their future in the wild. During that time, horses were likely tamed and traded for food, but soon surpassed other animals to carry loads and travel quickly over long distances. All domesticated horse breeds likely all originated from one stocky, large pony-sized, brush-maned ancestor, but like many other livestock breeds and wild species, selection has led to breeds with a larger, more compact body, with shorter limbs and ears, and a thicker fur coat in more northern latitudes .
The domestic sheep (Ovis aries) is a medium-sized, grazing, hoofed mammal that was herded and tamed by human around 11,000 years ago as a source of food, but also for their wool once artificial selection turned their stiff, bristly fur into a fleecy, ever-growing undercoat around 8,000 year ago. During that time, hornless females became also more and more common in domestic breeds. In North America, their closest wild relatives are species of mountain sheep, but domestic breeds most probably rather originated from the wild species of Asiatic and European sheep .
1. Clutton-Brock J: A natural history of domesticated mammals, 2nd edn. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press; 1999.
2. Moery DF: Dogs: domestication and the development of a social bond. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press; 2010.