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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Territory, territoriality and cultural change in an indigenous society : Old Crow, Yukon Territory McSkimming, Robert James


The purpose of the research is to examine the impact of cultural, economic, and environmental factors on territory and territoriality in Old Crow, Yukon Territory. It investigates both the social and spatial changes in the society. An historical sketch provides the circumstances which led Kutchin Indians of the northern Yukon to eventually attach themselves to trading posts. The changing nature of resource-use patterns and the relationship between 'land-use' territory and 'perceived' territory is compared. The thesis framework, then, is to present an evolution of territory and territoriality in an isolated indigenous society. The territory of Old Crow is defined as that which reflects native use and perception. Territoriality, on the other hand, is the behaviour of dominating, controlling, and defending a specific space. Through use of the ecological approach the relationship between occupied territory and the group's image of its territory is explored. At the same time the present conditions of Old Crow's used and perceived territory is compared with past use and past expressions of territoriality. The ultimate purpose of this work is to shed light on the relationship between man and the environment with which he is intimately familiar. Little is known of the implications of territoriality on human behaviour and even less is known about the effect of territorial change on that behaviour. The thesis shows that territory cannot be separated from the behaviour of territoriality; the community's territory is that space which all members could identify as belonging to them. The group, essential to geographic study, is shown to be held together by common values toward the control and use of their territory and individual viewpoints could not be secured. The research supports the thesis that through cultural, social, and economic change the spatial extent of land used diminished and that there was a comparable drop in the spatial extent of territoriality. Furthermore, there has been an intensification of land use in the 'core' of the territory which has been paralleled by an intensification in the expressions of territoriality. However, although the total extent of the land is not used, it does not suggest that the people do not view the land as belonging to them. The land and its resources as perceived by the people of Old Crow are shown to be the only known and permanent commodities. Not only can the land provide a livelihood, but it is shown to be part of the people - a base for identity. In the final analysis it is the land itself now under attack which intensifies the relationship between Old Crow people and their land.

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