DICK, Lyle 2001 Muskox Land: Ellesmere Island in the Age of Contact, Calgary, University of Calgary Press, xxv + 615 p., figures, index, notes, and bibliography. [Notice]

  • Chris Paci

…plus d’informations

  • Chris Paci
    Yellowknife, Canada

I am in full agreement with Rick Riewe’s assertion that the book, Muskox Land, is a significant contribution to Arctic history and anthropology. As environmental history, this book studies the "forces exerted by climate on geography and human history and the complex interrelationships of nature and culture, including the impact of humans on ecosystems and the influence of ecology on human history" (p. 3). Lyle Dick has mustered an impressive body of literature for his subject Umingmak Nuna, the Inuit / Inughuit word for present day Ellesmere Island. The book covers a poorly understood and contested cultural and historical geography (including Greenland). With this new book, a great deal of research is made accessible to novice and expert alike. Furthermore, the book is also a valuable addition to the history of globalization and imperialism. For example, the 1885 quote about "American Manifest Destiny" from General Benjamin Butler of the US army adds to discussions about sovereignty claims to the Arctic (p. 210). The inclusion of aboriginal voices to the pre-eminent Euro / American / Canadian histories is a welcome reprieve. The book is engaging because Dick has written a well-structured thematic story of the contact between local and outside forces. The chapters are set in four sections, each with an excellent introductory summary. For those interested in research there are extensive endnotes and a full index. There are editorial problems with the notes, with excessive use of ibid. which do not necessarily reference to first citations (for example, see page 530). Despite this shortcoming, the real strength of this book is the author’s commitment to let readers decide what to believe. I applaud the author’s presentation of the story, a post-modernism void of pretentious rhetorical dressings. Dick asserts that inclusion or consideration of voice is the basis for presenting different cultural conceptions of time (cosmology). These structural differences are fundamental to understanding and telling history. For those with knowledge of the North you will be aware of much of the contact history of the Fur Trade, numerous arctic explorers and adventures, the search for a Northwest Passage, Inuit cultures and their art, and government programs to form settlements. Dick notes: "For more than the backdrop to human history, the environment is conceived as a major agent of history that unavoidably influenced the decisions and actions of the people operating within it" (p. 3). Inuit responses and roles in these largely outside views, southern endeavours, have, until recently, been ignored and mis-understood. Ellesmere Island into the Age of Contact has filled a gap presenting, "an alternative [way] of conceptualizing or presenting the past" (p. 481). In other words, telling the epic adventure tales grounded in academic research without losing the adventure and retreat of such journeys. Dick takes us beyond the tales of tragedy, to a point where the narrative history of Inuit-Euro contact becomes much easier to understand, in part because more voices have been gathered to testify on what transpired. Dick’s goal is to create "a balanced and comprehensive account. The presentation of a wide-ranging selection of stories from Ellesmere Island’s past [to maybe] also assist readers in developing their own interpretations about the region’s history to counter balance the monolithic verities in exploration literature" (p. 482). Like a member of the jury the reader is left to decide. Rather than argue the significantly different ways that history has been constructed, Dick asks readers to consider all the evidence (different and sometimes competing histories), an approach that is rooted in his background as a Parks Canada historian. In his role as a "public" historian, he would …