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AN201 - Western Subarctic Notes.docx

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Wilfrid Laurier University
Byron Williston

PART 2 The Western Sub-Arctic The Region o Northern Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Northern Alberta, NWT, Yukon, North East British Colombia o From the boreal forest to the tundra barrens o Broad common exploitive patterns but has linguistic uniformity o Athabaskan Dene languages similar to one another Climate o Taiga Cordillera (NW Yukon, NWT, Alaska) o Mountain slopes, low wetlands, alpine tundra, mixed habitats o Boreal Cordillera (North BC, SW Yukon) o Mountains, valleys, lowlands, permafrost in alpine areas, richer forests o Taiga Plains (Mackenzie Valley) o Open forests, black spruce, white birch o Taiga Shield o Flatlands, stunted black spruce, tundra, permafrost, cold winters, short summers, shared areas between cultures (Caribou Inuit and Chippewyans) o Southern Arctic (Great Bear Lake) o Permafrost, shrubs, open tundra Flora o Oligotrophic environment o Limited biotic diversity o Short food chains o Poorer soils o Discontinuous permafrost o Coniferous trees o Black and white spruce o White pine o Larch o Fir o Northern deciduous o Birch o Willow o Aspen o Poplar o Bushes o Dogwood o Blueberry o Mosses and lichens Fauna o Caribou o 3 subspecies in Arctic-Subarctic  Tundra  Woodland  Peary o 4 major herds  Qamanirjuac  Beverley  Dawson  Porcupine o Migratory  North in the spring, South in the fall o 90-180kg o Meat, hide, bone, fur, antlers, sinews o Moose o Largest food animal – 800kg o Forest habitat  non migratory o Live in small groups o Fish o Lacustrine, riverine o Anadromous Mackenzie valley, Yukon o Many species in each o Reflects migratory/resident birds  Ducks, geese, swans, grouse Peoples/Languages o Scattered evidence of occupation: 15000 years o Predominant language in the area  Dene (Athabaskan, Tlingit) o Maximum time depth: 2500 years o Archaeological o Major migrations of people o Absence of “tribes” o Band structure loose and changing o The groups represent regional adaptations Social Structure o Strong ecological constraints o Local game availability o Exploitative  Seasonal harvesting patterns - trapping, netting  Game cycles of sheep, moose, caribou o Sustainable exploitation  The “foragers problem”  Must allow for renewal of population  Independent/Dependent ratio  Group size and composition o Basic “glue” of society o Two kinship patterns o Cousins = siblings o Distinction between older and younger siblings o Creates enlargement of nuclear family o Defensive, supportive group  “Kindred‟s” Kindred  Bilateral kinship group  Extended family made into close family web e.g. Beaver people Organization o Small, fluid groups o Bilateral kinship o But designated as blood or in laws o Blood  “Consanguine” o In laws  “Affine” o “Wedene” o Bilateral kindred‟s o One group including blood and in laws and cousins o Among some groups: matrilineal kinship (Tlingit) o Distinguishes cross/parallel cousins Parallel Cousins  Siblings  Mother‟s sister‟s children  Father‟s brother‟s children  Linked through same sex Cross cousins  Potential spouses/in laws  Mother‟s brother‟s children  Father‟s sister‟s children Worldviews/Beliefs th o Impact of 19 century Missionaries o Catholic, Anglican o European influence: o Almost entirely converted, but elements of shamanism persist  Folk Christianity o Values o Strong emphasis on reciprocity o All food is shared o Forest/animals reciprocated o The “hau” of the gift o All animals have a spirit or soul o Must give back Beliefs: Strong Emphasis on Dreams o Soul leaves the body  travels to “myth time” which is the beginning o The time in which animals/humans are married o Time when giant animals hunted people o Hunters dreams tell them where to find animals o Find landmarks from their dreams during hunt o Spiritual power (medicine) o Song o Meyine  the peoples dreams o Vision quest  search for an animal song Swan: The Culture Hero STORY o Ya Ke Sede is the creator o Sent animals down to bring pieces of earth o Creator made it grow into the land o Image of cosmos represents the earth as an island o The „charter myth‟ o The death of swans mother o The new wife o The exile of swan o „Ya Ke Sede‟ saves the swan o The father returns o Swan has revenge on stepmother o Swan becomes saya (sun and moon) o Saya Cycle of Myth  Transformation of the animals  Teaching the arts of hunting  Departure to the moon  Saya is like the modern “santa claus” – brings good things The Cosmos o Muskrat and Swan o Symbols of the heavens & underworld, liminal and the past o „Ya Ke Sede‟ made the trees, but Saya gives them leaves each year o Saya maintains cycle of life o Life is a linear process, but also cyclical recurrences: o Seasonal movements of animals, dispersal and regrouping of people, death and rebirth Dreams o VISION QUEST = “rite of passage” o Meyine  peoples dreams o Childs quest for a song in forest results in dreams o In adulthood, a person created a medicine bundle of important symbolic objects recalled from quest experience o Dreams remain daily guides o Dreams impose rules of conduct  Taboos on certain foods and actions  Breach of these taboos may result in person becoming wechuge  Wechuge  a cannibal o Similar to witigo in Algonquian language Drum Dancing o Usually held at solstices o Organized by persons who have recently dreamed of recently deceased relatives o Dancers are active male hunters o The songs come from hunters dream songs o Shuffling dance (East, North, West, South) around in zigzag pattern around the fire o Reminders of personal dreams, of the dead, of unity of the living The Prophets o “Naachi” o Elder persons who have “naachene” dreams o Travel to heaven, visits dead, receive messages from them o Preach to people at dances o About 15-20 known naachi o Individuals dream for themselves, naachi dream for everyone Naachi Tradition & Religious Revitalization o Athabaskan o European encounters in the 18 century  Samuel Hearne, David Thompson  North West Company explorers o Genocidal epidemies o 7/8 of chippewyans died o Europeans introduced: o Guns, commercial trapping, new tools, alcohol o This changed relation to the land and animals o Athabaskan‟s were impressed with new technology and writing o First appearance of Swan by traders (called Cygne) o Believed to be incarnation of Saya o They preached a return to dreaming, drum dancing, taboos o This started peace and commercial relations with Europeans o Marked the beginning of prophet traditions – 25 prophet figures o Revitalization Movements: o Syncretism: combining beliefs of Catholic/Indigenous o Jesus: Saya o God: Ya Ka Sede Change & Persistence o 8 numbered treaties o Ruperts Land; Klondike Gold 1896 o Total land ceded: 840,000 sq km o Reserves o Continuing hunting/fishing rights o Schools o Medicine o Government administration/local councils o Recent Change: 1971 o Oil/ Natural Gas disc
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