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Accepted Paper:

Melt, mud and mobility: skills for navigating a volatile Mackenzie Delta, Canada  

Author:

Franz Krause (University of Cologne)

Paper short abstract:

Inhabiting an unstable Mackenzie Delta requires not only changing skills for navigating. It equally requires skills for navigating change.

Paper long abstract:

Travelling through and beyond the Mackenzie Delta in the Canadian Arctic is key to the livelihoods and socialities of the delta's Inuvialuit and Gwich'in inhabitants. Navigating this diverse landscape of water and land, freezing and thawing, snow and mud requires a host of skills from wayfinding, trailmaking, and gauging water depth to reading trails, spotting animals and mastering the technologies of boats, snowmobiles and other vehicles.

Just as Mackenzie Delta people are frequently on the move, so are the skills that they continuously develop to address new tasks, incorporate new technologies and deal with changing environments. Through economic fluctuations, political restructuring and a changing climate with sifting wet horizons, uncertainty, instability and volatility have become the order of the day.

I argue that skills, in this context, are particularly those that afford flexibility, spontaneity and improvisation. Being good at one particular task, say, dog sled driving, has been a valuable skill during the first half of the twentieth century, but became marginalised with the proliferation of snowmobiles. Other skills, however, like the ability to remain open for seizing unforeseen opportunities, the interest in cultivating many different activities instead of developing a single one to perfection, and the refusal to commit to long-term, regular obligations remain meaningful during - and for managing - current transformations.

Panel P162
Wet horizons: hydrosocial re-articulations in the Anthropocene [EnviroAnt]