Making a home, trapping anthropology: Mackenzie Valley Dene sensibilities about trapping and challenging anthropological assumptions
Robert Wishart (University of Aberdeen)
Paper short abstract:
Gwich'in sensibilities about trapping emphasise knowledge, respect and creating homes for themselves as well as animals. These sensibilities directly challenge anthropological theories which emphasise alienation and disenchantment so as fulfil prophecies of conjectural history.
Paper long abstract:
The Dene of the Mackenzie Valley, NWT, Canada have consistently positioned trapping as a valuable exercise despite fluctuations in the price of furs. In this paper I will contrast two visions of trapping. Materialist anthropological theories applied to the trapping economies of boreal forest First Nations created an image of trapping as an activity that necessarily leads to alienation and disenchantment because the furs were being produced for trade in the world economy; with some arguing that the result is nothing short of debt peonage and slavery for a once independent people. From what I have been taught in the field and from the observations and theorising of anthropologists not so concerned with conjectural histories, trapping seems far away from an alienating practice. Trappers will talk about how trapping requires knowing the land and relating to the animals in respectful ways; that a good trapper knows where animals are, can read the tracks and trails, but also knows how to invite them into their sets. For the trappers I worked with, creating the correct architecture for animal 'homes' is key to luring animals into giving themselves to the trap. Anticipation of whether this was done correctly and if an animal has accepted the invitation to enter, is also a part of this dynamic understanding of trapping that aligns with the value placed on the activity rather than on the product.