The food quest of the Woodland Indians was based primarily on hunting, fishing, and gathering wild crops.
They practiced some agriculture, but it was definitely of secondary importance and consisted mostly of the Indian staples -- corn, beans, and squash. Wresting a living from the forest and prairie demanded a great deal of time and effort. It necessitated considerable mobility, with outlying camps and special purpose gathering and processing stations. Native people operated out of fairly permanent villages and within a radius of perhaps a hundred miles, but their seasonal cycle kept them on the move much of the time as they cycled between different harvesting areas and processing points.
Since different foods were available seasonally, a ceremony -- the Offering of the First Fruits or Game -- was observed with the first preparation of each seasonal food. When the first sugar of the year was cooked, the people always offered a small amount to the Great Spirit, or Manido. The manidog (spirits) were asked to insure good health, long life, and the safety of everyone at the feast. Small portions of the first fruits were also carried to the graves as offerings to those who had passed on.
Diverse Food Sources
The Woodland Indians were extremely knowledgeable concerning the properties and uses of trees and other plants, and they exploited that knowledge to the fullest. Foods such as wild rice, nuts, berries, and fruits were an essential part of their diet. The Woodland area had an abundance of wild food, including cranberries, gooseberries, juneberries, blueberries, black and red raspberries, grapes, cherries, and chokecherries. Nuts were also important, including acorns from the pin oak and the white oak, hickory nuts, hazelnuts, beechnuts, and butternuts. A variety of vegetables were also gathered and eaten, including wild potatoes, wild onions, milkweed, and the root of the yellow water lily. A great variety of medicines were concocted from plants, some of them being used today in our own medicines.
The forests also provided every kind of animal life. The food secured by hunting and trapping formed a considerable part of Woodland diet. Deer and moose were hunted, as were several kinds of fox-the red, the black, and the silver gray. Timber wolves, a large prairie wolf, and a smaller prairie wolf were also hunted. The bear was not killed without a special ceremony and apology, for this animal was greatly revered by the Woodland Indians. In addition to those animals which were regularly eaten, smaller animals were valued for their furs, including otter, beaver, mink, marten, muskrat, raccoon, wolverine, lynx, and rabbit. Partridges, turkeys, geese, ducks and other birds were trapped or hunted.
Reliance on Fishing
To the Woodland Indians, fishing was a year-round occupation. With plenty of streams and lakes to draw from, they depended on fish for a great part of their diet. A wide variety of methods were used by nearly all the Woodland groups including the use of fishhooks, nets, spears, traps, lures, bait, and a line for trolling. Important fish included trout and other small fish, walleye, sturgeon, and others. Turtles of various kinds were also eaten.