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A cultural geography of northern Foxe Basin, N.W.T. Crowe, Keith Jeffray

Abstract

The shallow post glacial sea of northern Foxe Basin contains a large walrus herd. Complemented by other game resources, the herd has supported human settlement for about four thousand years. During sequent occupance of the region by different prehistoric hunting cultures there was adaptation to changes in climate, game resources and land forms. Despite variations in environment, there was remarkable continuity in the coastal settlement pattern. From a "core" area of relatively dense and permanent settlement, concentric areas decreased in viability towards the regional margins, where adverse ice conditions were a major deterrent to settlement. Whaling fleets visited the regions adjacent to northern Foxe Basin from about 1840 to 1910. Although the region itself was barred to whaling ships by pack ice, the whole Melville-Borden culture territory, including northern Foxe Basin, suffered from the social and ecological disequilibrium caused by whaling activity. At the end of the whaling era the rifle and whaleboat had been added to the hunting technology, but the population of the region was reduced. In the 1930's the establishment of a mission and later a trading post in the core area brought new focus to settlement in the region. Immigration from neighbouring regions, and natural increase in the population resulted in expansion of settlement. Following a period of experimentation, population distribution stabilized in a series of contiguous areas, each supporting an ecological and economic unit. The trapping and hunting settlement of the "camp system" adhered closely to the ancient regional pattern. Although the camp system appeared to be a return to the prehistoric subsistence equilibrium, technological innovation threatened the game resources, and the proceeds of fur sales could not meet the consumer demand of a growing population. The construction of defence establishments, commencing in 1955, broke the long isolation of northern Foxe Basin. Government activity in the region increased through the 1960's and subsidy became the economic base of the region. In 1966 the federal government introduced a large-scale rental housing scheme, which precipitated the collapse of the hunting settlement system. Igloolik and Hall Beach changed from being service centres serving dispersed regional settlements, to nodal centres of tutelage, containing almost the entire population of the region. The Iglulingmiut Eskimos entered a radically different phase of social and economic transition, and are now attempting to work out a compromise between traditional and superimposed social forms. The Iglulingmiut, in the relative isolation of their region, have been able to absorb change slowly, until recently. Their sense of identity, their symbiotically-based social structure and hunting tradition are sources of strength and pride. Compared to many other Eskimo groups they appear well prepared to meet future changes. Much will depend, however, on the willingness of government planners to build upon existing cultural foundations, and to proceed at a pace which permits Eskimo participation.

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