Traditional Dena'ina Use of Snares

Six traditional Dena'ina snares
A person holding a traditional dena'ina snare

Used to capture birds like grouse and ptarmigan as well as ground squirrels, these small snares are made of bird feather shafts, sinew and wood. If snares like this were placed in a wet environment, they were sometimes waterproofed with spruce pitch. A Dena'ina Athabascan elder in Lime Village once commented that if a person is very hungry and they have no snares, they can remove the lines from their snowshoes to make snares, replacing them after they have caught the game.

Snaring, one of the most common methods of harvesting small game, was traditionally done during the fall by women and girls in the area around what is now Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. During fall hunting, local Dena'ina families went in to the mountains in search of caribou, Dall's sheep, and moose. While the men hunted big game, one woman would watch the infants and the rest of the women and children went out into the mountains, trapping ground squirrels and birds with snares such as these, or more recently, with small steel traps. Individual snares would be set where the birds tended to rest, land or feed.

Young Dena'ina girls were taught how to set snares for ground squirrels among other chores - this way they would never be totally dependent on males providing them food and raw materials. Ground squirrel meat was eaten, and their pelts were made into many things - parkas, underwear, pants, blankets, and other clothing.

These snares were accessioned into Lake Clark's park museum collection in the early 1990s with no indication of when or where they were made, or even who gave them to the National Park Service. It's a mystery! While this is not uncommon in museums, the items still hold cultural significance and value for those who wish to learn about the traditional items past generations crafted and relied upon.