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Thorpe, Natasha, Naikak Hakongak, Sandra Eyegetok and the Kitikmeot Elders, 2001, Thunder on the Tundra: Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit of the Bathurst Caribou, Vancouver, Tuktu and Nogak Project, 208 pages.

  • Nic Larter

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Corps de l’article

Thunder on the Tundra not only describes the need for collecting Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (or traditional knowledge), but provides a shining example of how to present such information. Whether in the Kitikmeot Region, the Mackenzie Delta, the Deh Cho Region, or Palawan Island in the Philippines, where I had the time to really read and reflect on this work compiled by Natasha Thorpe, Naikak Hakongak, Sandra Eyegetok, and the Kitikmeot elders, it is evident that we have only a short window of time in which to acquire and record traditional ecological knowledge.

The timeliness of this work cannot be overstated. Elders in Northern Canada, like elders of Aboriginal people in other parts of the world, are passing away and with them goes a wealth of intergenerational wisdom. Meanwhile, the Aboriginal youth are becoming more fluent in non-aboriginal languages and becoming less directly connected to living off the land. This situation makes it increasingly difficult for Aboriginal youth to learn directly from their elders' experience and wisdom.

Land development continues worldwide. In northern Canada this can be seen by the recent increase in mineral, oil and gas development, exploration and extraction. Appropriate decisions on land use practices require an understanding of wildlife resources both from a traditional and a scientific standpoint. Beyond providing food resources, wildlife is a source of spirituality through tradition and ceremony. Wildlife resources are critical to the aboriginal way of life.

Thunder on the Tundra deals specifically with Bathurst caribou, the life blood of the Kitikmeot Region. It contains 13 chapters, covering such topics as cultural rules and caribou, preparing and cooking caribou, calving grounds, caribou predators, and caribou and our warming climate. Each chapter includes a well-balanced compilation of author narrative and accounts by elders on a range of subjects related to the chapter topic. Black and white photos and pencil drawings by both young and old are found throughout each chapter and are wonderful accompaniments to the text. Additionally, there are a few full color photos found at the beginning and the end of the book. These photos provide contrasting depictions of caribou through the eyes of a photographer and researcher with hand drawn depictions, by young and old, found throughout the heart of the text. A handful of color maps provide useful reference. The book provides a valuable reference for the translation of many Inuinnaqtun-English words and phrases as well as providing an exhaustive list of traditional place names of the Kitikmeot Region.

This work, most importantly, lays out Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit in a completely unbiased and transparent fashion. It provides the reader with the opportunity to evaluate and discover the complexities and specificities of this knowledge about Bathurst caribou. The reader will discover that Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit does not include speculation about other places and things not seen or experienced; it is a very personal accounting. Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit from an individual can be dynamic; increased experience can and does result in changed views by the individual over time, just as increased scientific knowledge changes views in the scientific community. Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit from different families can be quite contradictory. This should not be a great surprise because it is based upon the past experiences of those families with the Bathurst caribou. Both families utilize caribou from the same herd but differing past experiences lead to different conclusions.

The ownership of traditional knowledge, the costs to its access, and the copyrights surrounding its dissemination have recently become major issues which could potentially delay the collection of such information. With the current need to assess both traditional and scientific knowledge in the land-use planning process, reduced availability or accessibility of important information may have a negative impact on the process. We need to nurture efforts by local communities, either collaboratively with universities or not, to actively collect and document traditional knowledge.

For those who still advocate forcing the integration of scientific and traditional knowledge, carefully read this work. By illustrating in detail the complexities of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit the challenges of combining the two types of knowledge become self-evident. Both traditional and scientific knowledge have their own merits and pitfalls, each unique to the way the information was derived. Both sources of knowledge are vitally important in the decision-making process.

This book is a wonderful example of how traditional ecological knowledge can be collected, documented and shared. The need for collecting such information is pressing given the irreplaceable insight and information which is held by ever aging elders and the constant pressure to develop lands in the north. We need more works following the fine example of Thunder on the Tundra.