Systematic management and regulation of wildlife have long been a preoccupation of biologists, government economic agents, a conservation and environmentally minded public and, often for opposite reasons, those who use wild resources. The fact that mammals, birds and fish have been principal sources of material and cultural sustenance for the Aboriginal societies of Canada’s Arctic and Subarctic means that wildlife policy has inevitably carried with it a human impact generally less felt by more southerly hunters and fishers. This was true in the late 19th century and is still the case today, most notably with regard to the political fate of the polar bear, although that is a still unfolding history.
Hunters at the Margin is an important addition to a growing body of work (see Campbell 2004; Collings 1997; Kulchyski and Tester 2007; Usher 2004) on the political ecology of northern wildlife policy and the effect on the Aboriginal societies materially and culturally dependent on these resources. Sandlos, by focusing on the emergence of a conservation consciousness in government circles, albeit with important utilitarian elements, provides a bridge between analyses that have concluded that wildlife policy in the North well into the last century was intentionally ethnocidal or the product of an “Ottawa-ocracy,” and of a scientific community, abysmally ignorant of the realities lived by Inuit, Dene, Cree and Métis. Further, while many recent studies have concentrated on the “story” of a single species, most notably caribou, Sandlos’s study encompasses policy developments surrounding caribou, wood buffalo and musk-ox, and the resistance with which these cultures responded. Both these aspects of Hunters at the Margin inject a breadth of historical, ideological and cultural contextualisation absent in more species-centric studies.
To say that this is a well researched, cogent and highly readable scholarly treatise that is as much environmental history in the best sense, in that it non-polemically examines the agency of both Aboriginal and non-natives, as it is one of political ecology is perhaps to treat it more modestly than it deserves. The book should be read by professional policy makers, wildlife and social scientists, and students. And, while it will almost certainly be compared to Kulchyski and Tester’s Kiumajut, also published by UBC Press, in my view its intent and approach link it closer to McCandless’s Yukon Wildlife: A Social History than to more contemporary works on northern wildlife management.
- CAMPBELL, Craig, 2004 A Geneology of the Concept of ‘Wanton Slaughter’ in Canadian Wildlife Biology, in David Anderson and Mark Nuttall (eds), Cultivating Arctic Landscapes: Knowing and Managing Animals in the Circumpolar North, New York and Oxford, Berghahn Books: 154-171.
- COLLINGS, P., 1997 Subsistence Hunting and Wildlife Management in the Central Canadian Arctic, Arctic Anthropology, 34(1): 41-56.
- KULCHYSKI, Peter and Frank TESTER, 2007 Kiumajut (Talking Back): Game Management and Inuit Rights, 1900-70, Vancouver, UBC Press.
- McCANDLESS, Robert G., 1985 Yukon Wildlife: A Social History, Edmonton, University of Alberta Press.
- USHER, Peter, 2004 Caribou Crisis or Administrative Crisis? Wildlife and Aboriginal Policies on the Barren Grounds of Canada, 1947-60, in David Anderson and Mark Nuttall (eds), Cultivating Arctic Landscapes: Knowing and Managing Animals in the Circumpolar North, New York and Oxford, Berghahn Books: 172-199.