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Securing a Future: Cree Hunters’ Resistance and Flexibility to Environmental Changes, Wemindji, James Bay

Jesse S Sayles, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, Arizona State University, Tempe; Department of Geography, Planning and Environment, Concordia University, Montreal
Monica E Mulrennan, Department of Geography, Planning and Environment, Concordia University, Montreal

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Abstract

Accounts of the adaptive responses of northern aboriginal peoples include examples of purposive modification and management of ecologically favorable areas to increase resource productivity. Practices include clearing of trees, burning of berry patches and construction of fish weirs. This paper examines the adaptive capacity of the northern aboriginal community of Wemindji, east coast James Bay, in relation to long term landscape changes induced by coastal uplift processes. Associated changes are noticeable within a human lifetime and include the infilling of bays, the merger of islands with the mainland, as well as shifts in vegetative and wildlife communities. In response, generations of Cree hunters have actively modified the landscape using a variety of practices that include the construction of mud dykes and the cutting of tuuhiikaan, which are corridors in the coastal forest, to retain and enhance desirable conditions for goose hunting. We provide an account of the history, construction, and design of these features as well as the motivations and social learning that inform them. We reveal a complex and underappreciated dynamic between human resistance and adaptation to environmental change. While landscape modifications are motivated by a desire to increase resource productivity and predictability, they also reflect an intergenerational commitment to the maintenance of established hunting places as important connections with the past. Our findings support a revised perspective on aboriginal human agency in northern landscape modification and an enhanced role for aboriginal communities in adaptive planning for environmental change.

Key words

adaptation; Cree; environmental change; flexibility; indigenous resource use; goose hunting; James Bay; landscape modification; resilience; resistance
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087