Rabbits and Hares General
The terms “hare” and “rabbit” have been used interchangeably in the ethnographic literature; however “rabbit” has been more frequently used to describe both [3-6]. We follow that convention here when referring to rabbits and hares in general, but clarify below and in the biology section that most of the species involved are more appropriately referred to as hares. Although frequently characterized by fluctuating availability, rabbits were important to many indigenous cultures. When and where available, they were used as a staple food item, a supplemental provision in a varied diet, a substitute for when large game were scarce, and as an emergency food.
A large number of rabbit remains was found in Salishan kitchen middens suggesting that it was a commonly consumed animal in the past . Rabbit remains were also found in archeological sites on the Pacific Coast of Washington .
Rabbits are reported to have been important to the Tsimshian, Koyukon, Beaver, Iroquois, Saint-Lawrence Montagnais-Naskapi (Innu) and Penobscot [8, 15-22]. It was a primary resource for the Ingalik in winter . Thompson (N'laka'pamux), Chipewyan of the Stony Rapids and Greenland Inuit also ate rabbit [6, 7, 24]. Rabbit was available to the Netsilik Inuit, Kotzebue Sound Inupiat, Huron and Cree (Mistissini, Attawapiskat, West Main and Woodland) [25-33]; it was an important food source for Shuswap and Cree (Eastmain and Plains) and Northern Ojibwa (Anishinabek) throughout the year and for the Mistissini Cree in winter [59-63]. Rabbit meat was reported to be frequently consumed by modern First Nation households in the Yukon and Inuvialuit households in Aklavik [32, 109].
Rabbit is reported to have been commonly eaten by the Coast Salish, Spuzzum, Northern Okanagan, Shuswap, Lake, Similkameen, Kaska, Moose-Deer Island House People (Dene), Fort Nelson Slave (Dene), Peel River Kutchin (Gwich’in), Crow River Kutchin and Iroquois [19, 36-47]. Rabbit was occasionally consumed by the Nuxalk . It has been reported that rabbit meat was one of the most consumed traditional foods by the Sahtú Dene/Métis between 1988 and 1990 . According to Lowie , Crow people caught rabbit to amuse themselves and only men ate it during times of starvation. For Tahltan and Plains Ojibwa (Chippewa), rabbit was considered a supplement or eaten only in times of scarcity [69-71]. In more recent times, Copper Inuit hunters in Holman sometimes harvested rabbits . Rabbit was a traditional country food for the Northern Manitoba Cree however access to traditional foods in some Cree communities was affected by hydroelectric development in 1977; however a study conducted in 1997 showed that people living in these communities continued to harvest rabbit meat . Rabbit was a country food consumed by Inuit in Makkovik but was not a significant part of the more recent Labrador diet . Rabbit was one of the most important small game animals for the Southern Okanagan [1, 2].
The People of Kitimat (Haisla) and Chinookan of Lower Columbia River used rabbit meat to supplement their marine-based diets [34, 35]. Rabbits were commonly used by Lillooet and Kalispel for their flesh and fur [65-67]. When large game was available, rabbit meat contributed a small percentage of the Inuit, Han and Cree diets [29, 48-50]. Rabbit were valuable small game animals used by the Salish, Chilcotin, Gitksan, Sekani, Upper Tanana, Tutchone, Wood Buffalo National Park Cree, Western Woods Cree and Waswanipi Cree [50-58].
Rabbits were available throughout the year [69, 77]. Some groups preferred to wait for specific times of the year to hunt them. Inuit generally did not start catching rabbit until September, at which time they waited until nightfall to hunt . Similarly, the Mistissini Cree hunted rabbits mostly in fall . Cultures living near Wood Buffalo Park caught rabbits for its fur: they waited until winter when the fur was thick . Similarly, the Chipewyan, Southeastern Ojibwa, Slaves, Waswanipi and Montagnais caught rabbits primarily in winter [30, 81-84]. The Micmac normally caught rabbits between May and September or in winter [85, 86]. Rabbit was an important source of nourishment during the early spring and late winter for the Ahtna people . The Micmac only consumed rabbits at certain times of the year .
Rabbits were known to be caught by women and children, who were often responsible for setting snares around the village and checking them [8, 23, 40, 89-91]. While generally caught with snares, rabbits could also be clubbed and shot with arrows or guns [1, 2, 66, 69, 87, 92-98]. Mistissini Cree men also set rabbit snares while they were trapping other animals and used arrows to shoot them [23, 79]. Inuit waited for nightfall to catch rabbits, while they were eating, with noose snares . Bella Coola (Nuxalk) villages had a small number of specialized hunters that were responsible for hunting land mammals, including rabbits . The Okanagan men trapped rabbits as soon as they completed building their underground winter homes . Southern Okanagan used beaters to herd rabbits into nets after which they were clubbed to death [1, 2]. Imitating bunny cries, was a strategy used to lure mother rabbits into the open so she could be taken [4, 8]. In addition to arrows and snares, Huron men used spears to kill rabbits . Traditionally, snares were set until rifles became more common .
Rabbits were skinned and cut into sections, washed in cold water and boiled with their organs for 30 minutes or until the meat was soft. Generally, the visceral organs were removed before cooking. Fetal rabbit was a delicacy and eaten fried [85, 101]. The Vanta Kutchin typically caught and ate rabbit meat while on hunting trips for larger mammals . The Great Slave Lake and Nelson Slave dried whole rabbits after they were skinned . The Salish savored barbequed rabbit, but would also add rabbit meat to mixed small game stews . Rabbit lungs, head, eyes, brain, liver, kidneys, paws, and marrow were eaten by some cultures . Meat was taken off the bones, roasted and pounded. The bones were also pounded and boiled; the grease that floated to the top was skimmed off to be eaten with the pounded meat. Meat was also sliced and dried along with the bones. The dried bones could be powdered and eaten with the dried meat and grease . The contents of the hare stomach were occasionally left to ferment before eating and provided some form of vegetation to the Arctic Inuit diet . The Southern Okanagan roasted or boiled rabbit, but never dried it [1, 2].
Uses other than food
Rabbit hides were used for clothing and blankets [12, 49, 69, 79, 105]. Southern Okanagan used the skin to make socks, winter vests and hats [1, 2]. Typically, only poor Tlingit made garments from rabbit fur . The skins were pieced together to make larger pieces of fabric for garments and blankets. Skins were also used to make decorations and trim common items . Rabbit was a particularly important resource to make stockings for Inuit . Rabbit carcasses were used as dog food . The Sioux stuffed rabbit skins to use as bait for eagles which could be easily shot when the bird flew down to pick up the dead animal . The Vanta Kutchin removed the claws from rabbit feet that were then used to wash their faces .
Beliefs and taboos
The Naskapi believed that a child who easily caught rabbit would be a good hunter one day. Young rabbit hunters were given a ceremonial string to transport their catch back to camp. Rabbit skulls were hung in branches of trees and the feet were often kept as good luck charms [79, 91]. The Shuswap believed that burning rabbit skin would make it rain .
Depending on resources available to different cultures, snowshoe hare was an important part of the diet, a supplementary food source, or a food source used in times of scarcity . Snowshoe hare was consumed by the precontact Mackenzie culture although it was not a major part of their diet . Hare remains were found in Micmac middens suggesting the animal was used . Remains of the Sylvilagus genus were found at Onondaga archeological sites . To Yukon cultures, it was an important emergency food source in times of scarcity [4, 5]. Snowshoe hare was an important food source for the Gitksan (Gitxsan), Wet’suwet’en, Hare (Sahtu), Tahltan, Tanana, Vanta Kutchin (Gwich’in), Inuvialuit in Aklavik, Red Earth Cree, Moose River Basin Cree, Micmac (Mi'kmaq) of Richibucto and Labrador Inuit [3, 102, 111, 113-121]. Snowshoe hare was also consumed by the Spokane, Lillooet, Bella Coola (Nuxalk), Tlingit, Tagish, Tutchone, Dene/Metis, Dogrib of Lac la Martre and Cree (including James Bay Cree) and Chipewyan [4, 9, 65, 122-127]. Snowshoe hares, frequently called bush rabbits or varying hare, were known as qax to the Nuxalk [75, 128], as ga by the Lac la Martre People , and gax to the Tlingit .
Many Western James Bay Cree households hunted snowshoe hares ; it was one of the most numerous mammals caught by the James Bay Cree, and represented the third highest protein source in the diet . During times when hare was abundant it represented almost a quarter of the country food collected in the Eastern James Bay . Snowshoe hare was a country food consumed by Makkovik Inuit but was not a significant part of the contemporary indigenous Labrador diet .
Snowshoe hare populations fluctuate greatly in a given region [8-10] with population cycles varying between five and ten years, which are quite predictable in some areas [7, 11, 12]. These fluctuations usually did not pose a significant challenge to indigenous cultures . However, if an absence of snowshoe hare coincided with the scarcity of other species, the Hare and Yukon cultures were susceptible to starvation [3, 5]. Although hare could be consumed throughout the year, many preferred to eat it when other meat sources were low in winter [4, 123].
The fur of snowshoe hare changes color from pure white in winter to brown in summer, making it difficult to catch in winter against the snow or in summer against the foliage . Because of the variability in fur colour, it was frequently referred to as a varying hare [3-5, 111]. The optimal time to hunt the snowshoe hare was at the beginning of the winter after early snowfalls but before the coat turned white . The Alaskan Kutchin only hunted snowshoe hare in spring or during early snowfalls . The Hare found the best time to catch the animal was when its tracks were visible on fresh snow .
Snowshoe hare was generally caught by women, children and old people using snares, either spring-pole or tossing-pole. Elderly women could contribute to the family by checking the snares closest to the camp while collecting firewood [3, 4, 9, 102, 115, 132-134]. James Bay Cree and Lac la Martre Dogrib men were also involved in snaring hare [9, 130]. Because hares caught in ground snares could be eaten by predators, many hunters preferred to use lifting noose snares to keep them out of the reach of scavengers until someone could check the snares. Steel traps were rarely used because their expense made them too valuable to waste on the small hare. Typically, between 30 and 60 snares were set at any given time and checked every second day [3, 11]. Traditionally, snares were made from sinew and flexible branches and were checked by small groups of women. Communal drives to herd hare into enclosures, set with snares were also practiced in winter, when people needed food. More recently, snares were made of wire and checking snares became a solitary chore, and in modern times, guns and skidoos were more frequently used [4, 9, 130]. During years that hare were scarce, hunters would not bother setting snares. There were no government regulations in place regarding hare hunting, allowing Indigenous People to hunt them when they felt the need. Snare carriers were used by men and women to transport the carcasses back to camp. Large catches were distributed among community members .
Snowshoe hare meat and organs were generally boiled or fried in lard, while the intestines and mammary glands were sometimes reserved for elderly people. Brains were considered an excellent substitute for breast milk when a lactating woman produced little [3, 9]. The Lac la Martre Dogrib boiled and ate the entire hare, except the visceral organs, which were fed to dogs. Hare meat was normally eaten fresh, but when it was not eaten immediately it was dried in summer or frozen in winter. It was not acceptable to cook hare and ground squirrel meat together; however they could be mixed after they were cooked [4, 9]. Hare was considered to be a supplement in the average diet and could not sustain a family. In addition, the meat generally contained little fat and therefore was not suitable for sole sustenance .
Uses other than food
Cultures that used snowshoe hare for purposes other than food included the Gwich’in, Hare, Dogrib and Micmac (Mi'kmaq) of Richibucto. Snowshoe hares in winter pelage were skinned and the hide was dried immediately for winter socks, garments, undergarments, moccasin packs, baby wraps, yarn and hats. Hare yarn was made by cutting a continuous string from a pelt, moistened and twisted; this string was used to net blankets, underwear, jackets, pants and leggings. It took at least 50 pelts to make a single blanket from hare yarn. Hare bones and summer skins were fed to dogs [3, 4, 9, 11, 111].
Beliefs and taboos
One belief about snowshoe hare was to rub the nose of the dead hare on the stove so that he could not smell his killers and would not warn other hares away from the snares . It was unacceptable for Yukon Indigenous People to mention the hare while hunting ground squirrels or mention ground squirrels while hunting hare .
Inuit considered arctic hare a good food source . Bering Strait Yupik caught large amounts of arctic hare  and Labrador Inuit hunted them regularly on the barren headlands . Some cultures regarded arctic hare as an important emergency food. It was one of the important small land mammals sought by Clyde Inuit and Chipewyan when other food sources were unavailable [44, 127, 137]. Hare was available to the Naskapi (Innu) in Labrador, although it was not a resource that was fully exploited . Arctic hare supplemented the typical caribou diet of Inuit in the Keewatin District . Archeological sites in Northern Greenland provide evidence that arctic hare was regularly used . Arctic hare was consumed by several Belcher Island Inuit households a few times a year . The small animal was consumed in Makkovik but was not a significant part of the Labrador Inuit diet .
Arctic hare was generally available year-round, but most often caught by women and young boys from September to May when the meat was lean and dark . The skins were also used for various purposes .
Mountain cottontails were reported to be one of the most important small game animals for the Southern Okanagan [1, 2]. When cottontails were abundant, Southern Okanagan used beaters to herd them into nets after which they were clubbed to death [1, 2]. The Southern Okanagan roasted or boiled cottontail rabbit, but never dried it [1, 2].
As it is widespread and common in the central east, southeast, and northeast of North America, several reports of rabbits for cultures like Hurons  and Iroquois  might have included the eastern cottontail.
White-tailed jackrabbits are an open country hare reported to have been used by many plains cultures [1, 7].
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