BOOK REVIEW: HUNTERS AT THE MARGIN
Hunters at the Margin: Native People and Wildlife Conservation in the Northwest Territories by John Sandlos open my eyes to what conservation means to developers. I never will take for granted again that conservations are not wolves in sheep’s clothing. While reading the book I wanted the hunters to win so they would survive because the officials of parks and other government pieces of land were wearing the black hats. Government officials are definitely the bad guys forcing the natives to go without food in the 1950s (xvi) when food was hard to find without going on government claimed land.
The native tribes were the Dene and Inuit. To add to the problems the hunters already had from the government, the two tribes were competing for the same game for their tribes to eat. The problems with the government were due to the area being set aside as a wildlife park and all
the regulations that were supposed be followed before anyone was allowed to enter the park. The situation is very bad since the government was claiming land that had belonged to the native tribes for thousands of years. The terrible economy made the situation worse for the tribes. Hunters were not allowed to go onto the land without permission according to the government regulations. The tribes men were supposed to be allowed on to the land to hunt but only if they could prove they used to hunt there before the park was opened in 1926 (63). Since the natives did not have anything in writing the government officials knew they could never prove their right to hunt there. The hunters were fined and even put into prison for entering the park and for carrying meat with them if they had killed an animal and were taking the meat home to their family.
The excessive killing of the three types of animals was done to feed families but the hunters were charged with excessive hunting without a good reason (179). But the meat turned out to be for sale to Canadians in the south. Meat of the bison and caribou were sold as exotic meat. The “excessing program” was only used as a criminal offence towards the tribesmen hunting for food that was needed for survival of their families. The idea for Canada was to sell the meat in the south so the country could make money to add to the national economy. Keeping bison in the park also meant that they were easy to feed and Canada did not need large ranches for the bison. It was like having a free ranch that huge wildlife could range without damaging because they were native species to the tundra.
Sandlos called the whole idea and way wildlife conservation was carried out “an institutionalized social control over indigenous people” (192). The profit could be found by selling other products such as the furs in the Wood Buffalo National Park. But finally a ban extended to furs when the National Parks Act in 1949 was passed. (87) New game laws were written into the National Parks Act of 1949 to manage the wildlife as resources so they would last longer.
Even during World War II the park managers did not count the number of bison or keep track of the animals. The government did make “small animal slaughters of twenty or thirty buffalo for relief purposes” (87). The book describes how dogsleds were used to patrol the park to search for poachers. There were no roads and the park rangers’ job as law enforcement was not good, at least in terms of the bisons at the time.
The book is divided into three major parts covering the Bison, the Muskox and Caribou in great detail. The maps are helpful for picturing the locations being talked about. Tables show how tribesmen were punished for small crimes that were such an important part of their need to feed themselves. The need for food was critical so that the tribe could survive immediately but also well into the future. The food was necessary for the children.
I’m glad I read this book because I learned about life on the tundra. The book is about a different world I knew nothing about. My feelings were sad when reading the book due to thinking about all the hungry people so close to their food supply but they were hunted and punished for using it. I highly recommend the book. The idea that wildlife conservation is always good should not be taken for granted, because it turns out business is behind the legislation in the many cases.
Sandlos, J. Hunters at the Margin: Native People and Wildlife Conservation in the Northwest Territories. British Columbia: UBC Press. 2007.