Caribou won’t go there anymore: Building relationships with caribou in Gwich’in country

Lead Author Robert, Wishart
Institution Contact University of Aberdeen Department of Anthropology Edward Wright Building Aberdeen Scotland, UK AB24 3QY
Theme Theme 3: Local and Traditional Knowledge
Session Name 3.1 Arctic Human-Rangifer Communities: Vulnerability, Resilience, Adaption to Global Changes
Datetime Wed, Sep 14, 2016 04:30 PM - 04:45 PM
Presentation Type Oral
Abstract text The Gwich’in of Canada’s northwest subarctic like many of their Athapaskan neighbours are strongly associated in academic and popular sources with the hunting of migratory caribou. Many of these sources create an image of Gwich’in hunters forming punctuated interactions with caribou as they migrate through their country in the autumn and spring with some sources arguing that this periodic abundance is the driver for unique forms of complex social structures. A more nuanced approach to these interactions indicate that Gwich’in sensibilities about these meetings are governed by relationships that are not focused on the momentary encounter but are instead attentive to shared bodies and understandings of positive reciprocity. The title of this paper is a quote from a Gwich’in elder who explained this understanding with a story of mutual grief between humans and caribou resulting in the avoidance of a particular location. The paper will then move to discuss changes in the caribou-human relations that have come with climate change and managerial policy shifts which have both made the cultivation of positive relations difficult but have also refocused attention on how one learns about the world from the caribou.
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