The collection of articles in the McCartney edited book, Indigenous Ways to the Present, focuses on mainly Yupik and Inupiat whaling practices in Alaska with some contributions including Russian data. The late Allen McCartney had a prolific career working the Arctic and this edited volume is one of his last contributions. The 15 articles in the collection cover broad theoretical and thematic topics. Specific articles focus on topics which range from climate change, to the historical significance of whaling, to population size of whales. The volume incorporates both archaeological data and contemporary whaling practices thereby including both past and present whaling traditions spanning over 2,000 years. McCartney and Harritt outline three themes in the collection: the importance of variation in whaling practices, a historical account of Yupik and Inupiat whaling, and issues relating to changing environmental conditions.
The individual articles are well researched and written. For the reader who specifically wants more detail on Inupiaq and Yupik whaling this book is an excellent resource. The collection provides a comprehensive overview of whaling in the Western Arctic. The contributors to the book have expertise from a variety of backgrounds such as anthropology, archaeology, indigenous knowledge and geological sciences. A benefit of placing these complementary articles with a specific focus on native whaling in one volume is that it provides a basis for the reader to make regional and temporal comparisons where both commonalities and differences in practices can be examined. Although the articles work well in a collection, each article can also be taken independently of the volume. Bodenhorn in her contribution exploring strategic decision making of fall whaling in Barrow is careful to explain the flexibility in indigenous practices. She uses case examples to demonstrate how decisions are made in response to changing conditions and highlights this flexibility. The sense of change as a continual process with respect to indigenous knowledge is also addressed by a Native voice in Herbert Anungazuk’s contribution. Anungazuk reflects on the importance of whaling historically for Inupiat as well as comments on the current traditions. A focus on traditions as changing supports an important aspect of indigenous knowledge more generally. The multidisciplinary collection brings together articles that also illustrate the flexibility of indigenous knowledge to changing environmental conditions over time. This is a valuable approach to indigenous knowledge and could be replicated elsewhere.
An expanded introduction or conclusion would have greatly strengthened the volume. As this book takes a multidisciplinary approach, it requires an introduction which would draw connections across disciplinary boundaries. The two page introduction is insufficient to provide cohesiveness for this collection. Moreover, the connections between the various stages in time and the regional differences in whaling would have been stronger if they were specifically addressed by the editor and fellow contributors rather than left to the reader. Although this collection of articles specifically addresses whaling in the Western Arctic, it can also be used as a role model for an approach to understanding indigenous knowledge more generally. The diverse collection of articles illustrates that if we want to understand more about whaling in the Western Arctic it is important to understand variety and flexibility as part of indigenous knowledge.