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Bankslanders : economy and ecology of a frontier trapping community Usher, Peter Joseph

Abstract

Fur trapping, for generations the chief source of income for native people in northern Canada, has seriously declined in recent years. An outstanding exception is the community of Sachs Harbour, Banks Island, N. W. T., where several thousand white fox pelts are harvested annually by 15 to 20 trappers. The thesis analyzes two topics: the cultural ecology of the colonization of Banks Island as a trapping frontier, and the economic geography of trapping and hunting there. Its purposes are to investigate the ecological, economic and social basis of trapping, to understand trapping as an adaptive strategy in particular historical circumstances, and to analyze it as a viable resource system. The study is based on 14 months of field research in the Western Arctic, chiefly at Sachs Harbour, N.W.T. The primary research method was participant observation, although most quantitative data were obtained through semi-formal interviews. Archival research provided additional historical information and statistics. The relative success of the various groups of settlers was strongly related to their previous orientation to white fox trapping, and hence to their place of origin within the Western Arctic. The development of inland trapping was critical to the successful exploitation of the Island, and despite subsequent centralization of settlement, the trappers have expanded their resource hinterland. This is in contrast to developments in other parts of the north. The ecology of the Arctic fox on Banks Island is discussed, and a means of measuring areal exploitation in trapping is devised. The relationship between effort inputs and trapping success are examined. The number of trap checks is the input factor most strongly correlated with the number of foxes caught, with the number of traps set showing the second best correlation. Tentative predictor equations for trapping success are derived for various levels of fox abundance within the population cycle, and for the cycle as a whole. Quantitative analyses of seal, caribou, polar bear and other types of hunting show how these activities are integrated with the total resource system, and provide data for comparison with other Arctic regions. Methods are developed for the calculation of production costs of fur pelts and animal foods (and hence the profitability of trapping and hunting), as well as for the calculation of income in kind. The discussion includes the role of marketing, credit and savings. In conclusion, the resource system on Banks Island is discussed in terms of its ecologic, economic, and social viability - both in relation to the future of trapping on Banks Island itself and to the possibility of this system as a generic type being instituted elsewhere. There is no evidence of overharvesting of any major biological resources on Banks Island, and the number of trappers and the spatial arrangement of their activities appear to be optimal. Trapping provides a good standard of living on Banks Island, and reasonable stability of income seems assured. The Banks Island resource system would thus be ecologically stable and economically viable in other parts of the Arctic with similar resources. Social forces however make such a development unlikely. Social values and occupational aspirations are rapidly changing, especially among young people, and trapping is increasingly devalued as a life style despite its economic potential. The difficulties of recruiting young trappers at Sachs Harbour are noted, and the trapping system is seen as one of decreasing social acceptability all across the north.

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