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Tapaiitam : human modifications of the coast as adaptations to environmental change, Wemindji, eastern James Bay

By Jesse Sayles


Concerns about environmental changes have prompted scholars to search for adaptation lessons and insights from local ecosystem-based management approaches. Unfortunately, Eurocentric misconceptions of wilderness persist as powerful obstacles to understanding and appreciating aboriginal land and resource management. This thesis provides a comprehensive case analysis of the James Bay Wemindji Crees' responses and adaptations to coastal change. Specifically, it examines how Crees modify the coast for subsistence resource harvesting, how these modifications and associated harvesting strategies are intended to function, and their significance for local and mainstream society. I investigate past (as far back as four-hundred years) and present land management practices, as well as future initiatives, through ethnographic methods, field surveys, and remote image measurements. Crees' local knowledge is shown to inform camp location decision-making and the maintenance and/or creation of hunting areas. A dynamic interplay of various bio-physical, socio-cultural, and technological factors is reflected through persistence and change in camp locations. A humanized landscape is further evidenced by the dikes, tillage areas, burnings, fish weirs, and forest-corridors that Cree construct to increase resource predictability. I show that Cree adaptations to environmental change are informed by a commitment to maintaining tradition while also embracing contemporary opportunities. Cree resource management also seeks to harmonize investments in place by opposing or delaying environmental change, while remaining flexible and open to experimentation in accordance with change. The resulting relationships between Crees and their environment have immediate implications for Wemindji Cree efforts to establish a local-management based protected area. These relationships are also instructional for mainstream society as it grapples to find appropriate responses and adaptations to environmental change

Year: 2008
OAI identifier: oai:

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