RecensionsBook Reviews

KULCHYSKI, Peter and Frank James TESTER, 2007 Kiumajut (Talking Back): Game management and Inuit rights 1900-1970, Vancouver, University of British Columbia Press, 316 pages.

  • Martina Tyrrell

…plus d’informations

  • Martina Tyrrell
    Department of Geography
    University of Reading
    Whiteknights, PO Box 227
    Reading, RG6 6AB, UK
    M.Tyrrell@reading.ac.uk

Corps de l’article

Kulchyski and Tester’s history of 20th century game management in the eastern Arctic is an important addition to a growing canon of literature on this topic. It should prove essential reading not only for Arctic historians, but also for anyone undertaking the study or practice of wildlife management in the contemporary Arctic. As this volume demonstrates, the ongoing privileging of scientific epistemologies and methods, and misperceptions of Indigenous hunting practices and relationships with animals in the 21st century, have their roots in the development of Canadian wildlife biology over the past century or more.

Influenced by the work of Sartre, Kiumajut explores the 20th century management of wildlife through the framework of “totalisation.” In the Canadian context this, the authors argue, was an attempt by the state to absorb Inuit “into the dominant social forms” (p. 7) through the creation of needs—for waged employment, for housing, for the trappings of settlement life—and through the weakening of Inuit relationships with and dependence on Arctic animals. According to Sartre, history is the interplay between totalitarianism and resistance, and the authors make the case that in their earlier volume, Tammarniit(Mistakes) (1994), they concentrated only on the totalising aspect of eastern Arctic history. The title of this current volume suggests that the emphasis has now shifted to Inuit resistance to this process. The authors are quick to point out that this is not a second volume to accompany their 1994 work, although this history of wildlife management and the birth of organised resistance certainly makes an excellent companion piece to that earlier history of Inuit resettlement.

The first four chapters of Kiumajut follow the history of the management of wildlife in the eastern Canadian Arctic from 1900 to 1970. Focusing predominantly on caribou, these chapters also delve into the history of the management of musk-ox, polar bears, migratory birds, and walrus. Conservation policy prior to World War II was heavily informed by the demise of wildlife across North America and by ethnocentric and paternalistic state relations with Indigenous hunters. The authors explore the role of southern whalers, traders and trappers in the increased demand for meat and pelts, while the blame for the perceived demise of species was placed firmly on the shoulders of “primitive natives.” In the years following World War II, the personalities and culture of the Dominion/Canadian Wildlife Service heavily informed the management of caribou and other wildlife. The authors examine the flawed assumptions on which scientific “fact” was based—the privileging of certain “expert” non-Inuit witnesses to the exclusion of others, reliance on contested methodologies such as aerial surveying, and perhaps most importantly, the framing of Inuit as primitive destroyers of the very animals on which they depended. As a result, a “caribou crisis” was constructed, leading to inter alia the resettlement of Inuit and provisions to restore caribou populations through the management of Inuit life. Attempts by the Canadian Wildlife Service to “educate” Inuit feature strongly throughout the first four chapters, as the authors critique the paternalistic booklets that were distributed to teach Inuit “correct” caribou hunting methods, and to inform Inuit of the bright possibilities of settlement life and formal employment.

Three themes permeate these first four chapters. The first of these explores two questions that appear to have weighed heavily on many branches of the Canadian government through much of the 20th century: What are Inuit? And what is to be done about them? Trying to determine if Inuit should be categorised as Indians, Canadian citizens, or something else, appears to have been at the heart of wildlife management, and the many other totalising processes that effected Inuit society. The second theme is that of Inuit resistance to this totalising process, mainly through their refusal to submit to wildlife management policies, and in many cases facing criminal charges for doing so. The third theme is the role and power of personality in various arms of the Canadian government at the time.

There are obvious heroes and villains in the piece. Justice Jack Sissons is the shining hero, working tirelessly in defence of Inuit rights, while John Kelsall of the Canadian Wildlife Service can do no good, blinded by his faith in science and his inability to appreciate other forms of non-scientific knowledge. In between these two there are many others—Robert Rutten, A.W.F Banfield, Doug Wilkinson—men, according to the authors, whose enculturation and personalities played no small part in rearranging Inuit life. In the book’s conclusion, the authors attest to the hard work and sincerity of the likes of Kelsall and Banfield, but these late remarks do little to soften the perception of “good guys” and “bad guys” running through these first four chapters.

The final three chapters take a different route, exploring government policy more broadly and the first steps taken by Inuit to assert their rights. Large portions of these three chapters are not linked directly to wildlife management, but focus more on Inuit attempts to assert their rights regarding mineral exploration, health services, education facilities, etc. Chapter 5 delves further into the earlier question of the status of Inuit within federal Canada. Were Inuit Indians, were they full citizens of Canada, or were they somewhere in between? The question of Inuit “equality” with Euro-Canadians, the authors argue, was part of the totalising process to deny Inuit their distinctiveness. Chapter 6 is a historical case study of Baker Lake’s Eskimo Council in which Doug Wilkinson played a key role in the late 1950s. The council provides an insight into a growing awareness amongst Inuit of their rights, and their first tentative steps in asserting those rights. The final chapter examines an Inuit culture of petitioning throughout the 1960s, when Inuit in communities across the Arctic petitioned government for everything from improved community health services to rights to mineral royalties.

Kiumajut gives the impression of being two books in one. In the Introduction the authors point out that Tester drafted the first four chapters and Kulchyski the final three, and this is obvious in the divergence in theme and style. Those first four chapters are a chronological account of wildlife management and Inuit resistance to the totalising processes of the Canadian government. The last three chapters explore Inuit processes of “talking back.” However, they do not “talk back” directly to the first four chapters, as there is a shift away from wildlife to emerging social issues such as education, health care and housing. While the first four chapters form a coherent picture, the final three are independent both of each other and of the first part of the book. The book is more about “game management” and “Inuit rights” than “game management and Inuit rights.”

Although Kiumajut is the latest in a growing body of work covering these same issues of wildlife (especially caribou) management, the authors have failed to reference the likes of Campbell (2004), Usher (2004), or even John Sandlos (2007), whose work was published almost simultaneously by the same publisher. These authors also explore the same themes of ethnocentrism, the privileging of scientific knowledge, and the history and culture of the Canadian Wildlife Service. Indeed, the same photographs of “slaughtered” caribou and drawings from educational pamphlets used in Kiumajut also appear in both Campbell (2004) and Sandlos (2007). I am not suggesting that Kiumajut has nothing new to offer. On the contrary, the breadth and depth of Kulchyski and Tester’s scholarship, their highly engaging writing style, and their framing of the problem as one of totalisation, is a rich and worthwhile addition to the 20th century history of the Canadian North.

I believe the authors missed an opportunity to render this history more accessible to non-Canadianists. Inuit resistance to totalising state processes is mirrored throughout the world from Africa to Australia and from Siberia to South America. The rest of the world has much to learn from the Inuit experience, and a greater consideration for an audience beyond Canadian borders would have given this book a depth and readership lacking in so much of our Northern scholarship. Related to this, this reader was disappointed by the scant use of references that would open the book up to a broader non-specialist audience. Throughout, the authors discuss many historical and cultural processes (e.g., the development of wildlife biology as a science, the 1970s anti-sealing campaign, etc.) without reference to those historians or anthropologists whose work has been seminal in these areas.

These criticisms aside, this is an engaging and enlightening book. As a scholar of contemporary wildlife management practices in the eastern Arctic, while reading the book I found myself repeatedly drawing comparisons between past and present management “crises” and developing a deeper appreciation for the history and culture of contemporary wildlife management. This book is a valuable edition to Northern scholarship.

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