Sunday, April 24, 2005

Ice Fishing on Lake Manitoba with the Saint-Laurent Metis

On a recent trip to Washington, D.C. I had the good fortune to visit the Smithsonian's new National Museum of the American Indian, an architectural wonder located near the United States Capitol. While exploring the "Our Lives" exhibit, which introduces contemporary Indian communities from around the US and Canada, I discovered a fascinating presentation of ice fishing traditions among the Saint-Laurent Metis of Manitoba.

The centerpiece of the Metis exhibit is a Bombardier "snow bus," a tracked vehicle with skis instead of front tires. Once used as a school bus in remote, snow-covered areas, this impressive vehicle is now used by the Metis to carry them out onto the ice of Lake Manitoba, where they set up their ice fishing rigs. The Metis drill holes in the ice and then run nets down through them, which they then haul up through another hole some distance away. (I'm still a bit hazy on the precise technique, but some kind of motorized device is used to pull the net between holes - the exhibit has a brief video showing how it's done.)

Here's a photo from the Saint-Laurent site showing a fisherman drilling a hole in the ice, with one of the snow buses parked behind him.

According to this article from Smithsonian Magazine, the Metis' main catches are pickerel, perch and sauger (a close relative of walleye).

The Washington Post offers this panoramic view of the exhibit, which allows you to scan back and forth by clicking and dragging your mouse. (You'll need Apple QuickTime to see it.)

If you're going to be in D.C. I highly recommend a visit to the Museum - in addition to the Saint-Laurent Metis exhibit, the art of George Morrison in the Native Modernism section was another of my favorites. The building itself is also amazing, with a vast central atrium overlooked by multiple balconies, and the grounds outside make extensive, evocative use of water to bring a sense of natural landscape to the urban environs of the National Mall. There's even a lovely, tree-lined pond that I half-expected to be inhabited by beavers...but no such luck. Perhaps some will have taken up residence by my next visit.


At 6:07 PM, Blogger Arlo said...

Ice Fishing on Lake Manitoba with the Saint-Laurent Metis was what caught my attention. I was just out browsing around today looking for information on ice fishing shelter, and happened accross your blog. Although it's not completely related to ice fishing shelter, it certainly made me stop and ponder. Thanks for the great read The Riverman...I'll be back.


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