Cree Ethnogeography

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This paper explores the nature of Wemindji Cree territorial identity. It uses a mixed methods approach combining qualitative geographic information systems (GIS) and ethnography. GIS was used to categorize a database of Wemindji Cree place names within local and traditional naming systems. The resulting maps produce a picture of Wemindji Cree life as a 'view from nowhere' disconnected from lived life on the ground. Participant observation of life in Wemindji, especially amongst tallymen (trapline bosses), over two seasons provided an ethnography of Cree life both in town and on the land. The situated perspective 'on the ground' offers specifics of daily life that revolve around maps. Inscriptions such as maps have been incorporated into the everyday lives of tallymen, who are respected leaders in Wemindji. Rundstrom's categories of inscribing (written) versus incorporating (oral) cultures were found to elude mutual exclusivity. Wemindji Cree are a residually oral culture with a dependence on maps necessitated by the tracking and discussion of incursions from state-industrial interests in trapline territories and by the need to commemorate traditional life on the land. Maps are thus necessary but not sufficient for explaining Wemindji Cree territorial identity. Ethnographic depth was included to round out strictly inscribed accounts of identities demonstrated to revolve to a great extent around the leadership of the tallymen. A balance of inscribed (through GIS maps) and embodied (through ethnography) accounts of Wemindji Cree life as lived through movement, wayfaring and the business of life both in town and on the land, helped produce the resulting ethnogeographic account of Wemindji Cree life and territorial identity.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-31
JournalHuman Geography
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2012

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