Accepted Paper:

Relating with Dogs, Fish, and Caribou: An alternative exploration of human-animal engagements in the Circumpolar North  


Jan Peter Laurens Loovers (University of Aberdeen)
Robert Wishart (University of Aberdeen)

Paper short abstract:

This paper concerns the historical and present-day relations between Gwich'in, dogs, fish, and caribou. We will discuss how these relations have continued even after dissolving mercantile relationships.

Paper long abstract:

Dogs have played a significant role in the lives of aboriginal peoples in the circumpolar North. Dogs have been used for hunting, travelling, and protection. Aboriginal peoples, however, recount that dogs are an integral part of a larger 'meshwork' between animals and humans. More specifically, fish and caribou are a significant occurrence in these stories. Building upon research with the Teetł'it Gwich'in, this presentation will first highlight how the florescence of the fur trade in the Mackenzie Delta, in the 19th century, owed a great deal to the crafting and cultivation of these relationships. The tremendous capital risk in this mercantile enterprise was alleviated through the implementation of an investment practice which took advantage of this meshwork. Preserved fish were 'banked' by the traders to be fed to the Gwich'in dogs that were used to hunt caribou whose meat allowed for successful trapping, trade, food, and transport of fur. Then moving to the present, we will explore how the fur trade has mostly disappeared and snow mobiles have replaced dog teams and yet, unpredictably, the Gwich'in continue to cultivate strong human-animal relationships with all parts of this trinity. The historical and present day relationships between people, dogs, fish and caribou in Teetł'it Gwich'in country will be positioned so as to demonstrate how these relationships undermine popular scientific notions of domestication and wildness, and how the cultivation of historical mercantile relationships could lead towards an understanding of what is at stake for the Gwich'in if the connections in this mesh dissolve.

Panel BH15
Querying domestication: the ethnography of human-animal entanglements