Accepted Paper:

Muskrat ethnography: towards an amphibious approach to life in the Mackenzie Delta  

Author:

Franz Krause (University of Cologne)

Paper short abstract:

This presentation outlines an approach to understanding life in the Mackenzie Delta that centres on its inhabitants’ amphibious predicaments and practices, described through their relationships with muskrat.

Paper long abstract:

This presentation outlines an approach to understanding life in the Mackenzie Delta that centres on its inhabitants' amphibious predicaments and practices. Specifically, it frames the Delta not as a geomorphologic formation but as a space of interactions with muskrats. These rodents that populate the interstices of water and land have played an important role in the economic history of the area's Gwich'in, Inuvialuit and other inhabitants; but my proposition is not a functionalist argument. The muskrat has been assigned symbolic meaning regionally, for instance it adorns the coat of arms of Aklavik, a hamlet in the central Delta; but my approach is not foremost semiotic. And although the resilient, volatile and amphibious qualities of muskrat populations bear a host of metaphoric potential for describing human life in the Delta, this is not the present purpose either.

Rather, this presentation probes the possibilities of describing life in the Mackenzie Delta through its entanglements with the amphibious multispecies relations in which the muskrat plays an important part alongside other plants and animals. A particular attention to muskrat relations can elucidate the specificities of this particular landscape without a priori framing it as a 'river delta'. The presentation is based primarily on existing literature in anthropology and related fields.

Panel LL-FWF04
River deltas as living landscapes: movement, management, and the critique of a commonplace