Quebec Studies

Book Reviews

Quebec Studies (2009), 48, (1), 159–174.


159 Book Reviews History, Culture, and Politics C A R L S O N , H A N S M. Home is the Hunter: The James Bay Crée and Their Land. (Nature, History, and Society Series.) Vancouver, To­ ronto: U B C Press, 2008. I S B N 978-0-7748-1494-2; I S B N 978-0-7748¬ 1495-9. This fine interdisciplinary study successfully blends anthropology and his­ tory in an attempt to m a k e the J a m e s B a y Crée and their land an integral part of our North American narrative. Hans Carlson uses the tools of eth­ nography to describe h o w the Crée view their world as distinct from Western understandings. A s a historian, he also examines h o w Crée cul­ ture has changed in the course of m o r e than three centuries of contact. Home is the Hunter portrays Crée acculturation as a creative rather than a destructive process, a matter not of assimilation and convergence but of negotiation. Carlson is cautiously optimistic that the Crée of the twentyfirst century will continue to adapt successfully to the sweeping changes wrought by hydro development, but he m a k e s clear that w e must change as well. T h e b o o k concludes with an eloquent plea for us to heed the Crée story as w e confront the challenges posed b y global climate change. J a m e s Bay, Carlson reminds us, is not a wilderness, b u t a landscape that has been occupied b y people for thousands of years. In "Imagining the Land," he discusses h o w the Crée h a v e conceptualized and used this land­ scape over the past several centuries. T h e centrality of the hunt, in this cul­ ture where over 8 0 % of the diet still came from the bush in the 1970s, entailed a fundamentally relational understanding of life. T h e hunter relied on personal and reciprocal relations, not only with other humans, but with the animate spirits of the animals and landscape. H e k n e w h o w to honor and respect these spirits, w h o in turn rewarded h i m with sustenance. T h e Crée word for the hunt, Nemeckenu, translates as " m y path" or " m y road," signifying an individual journey across a landscape at once physical and spiritual (48). Environment was thus "a personal geography of individual and reciprocal events and relationships," rather than an abstract system of natural and predictable laws (53). Faith in reciprocity m a d e "active and individual h o p e " a cornerstone of Crée culture while prohibiting an instru­ mental, controlling approach to nature (56). Carlson challenges us to see this alternative episteme as not only rational, but as a lesson to ponder. Carlson's reflexive ethnographic stance leads h i m to recount as well his o w n intellectual journey. W h e n a first visit to J a m e s B a y destroys his romantic notion of the Crée as authentic primitives living in untrammeled wilderness, he begins to question his static conception of traditional cul­ tures. In the course of subsequent trips spanning seven s u m m e r s and a spring, he learns to view the Crée as a m o d e r n people w h o are part of the modern world, yet have their o w n definition of w h a t it m e a n s to be

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