- Home Is the Hunter: The James Bay Cree and Their Land
Hans Carlson has provided us with an interesting and important historical narrative of the Cree of eastern James Bay (Quebec) or Eeyou Istchee. The foreword instantly locates it as a study that confronts the exploitation of the north and the usurpation of Native peoples' lands. However, Carlson's rendering of the James Bay hydroelectric project of the early 1970s has its antecedents in the previous interactions of the Cree with Euro-Canadians, demonstrating how the Cree perception of the land [End Page 554] was still predominant, the change occurring with the mining and hydroelectric development in the mid- to late twentieth century. This history, a selective one, importantly focuses on the Cree belief system as it dealt with new occurrences. Carlson saw this study as an opportunity to see 'how the Cree moved back and forth between their land and the islands of European culture.' He does not presume to be able to explain Cree epistemology but is hoping to provide the reader with glimpses of their understanding of the environment as a personal event.
The fur trade began in 1668 and quickly both the trade and the fur became indigenized. To tease out the negotiated meaning of the trade and how it was understood, he turned to the daily journals of the traders of the inland posts who were extremely on the Cree - often their in-laws - for food and so were finely tuned to life on the land. Moreover, the Cree-trader relations were played out 'within the framework of the Cree relationship to the land.'
The missionary period dates to the mid-1800s, with primarily Anglicans residing at Moose Factory, on the west coast of James Bay (Ontario). They sporadically travelled the east coast to win over Cree converts. Although eventually Cree became Christian, Christianity also became Cree, as has been recognized. Too much is attributed to Horden, whose writings refer primarily to the Moose Factory people, by then not so much hunters as employees of the Hudson's Bay Company. It awaited another generation, a depletion of the caribou herd, the introduction of twentieth-century technology, along with a charismatic Rev. Walton, before the East Cree more seriously devised a syncretic approach to both religions.
The beaver-preserve era was a result of the steep decline in beaver, which prompted one Hudson's Bay Company post manager to establish preserves in which the Cree could not trap beaver but were paid to provide an inventory. When the numbers rose sufficiently, trapping resumed. This program was financed and thus institutionalized by the federal government, giving rise to registered traplines and tallymen in charge. Although more formalized, Carlson shows how this trapping territory system was overlaid upon the Cree one.
The author is to be congratulated for synthesizing the numerous events and voluminous literature that fed into the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement, and the many challenges on the land and in Montreal met by the Cree. He shows how the Cree finally had to succumb to the outsiders' defining the land and their relationship to it, doing so with strength and conviction. Another striking aspect is Carlson's telling and critiquing the story of the Quebec socio-political forces that drove the push northward and confiscation of Cree natural resources.
There are some shortcomings, such as the author's having made inadequate use of the available Cree oral accounts or his testing his [End Page 555] understanding with his Cree hosts. The emphasis on Cree outlook was done at the expense of a fuller account of Cree society. The importance he accords to agriculture is also perplexing. There are a few problems with incorrect footnotes and some misspellings - none of which detracts from this accomplished work.
Carlson has visited James Bay a number of times since 1982 and his love of the land and the people comes through very clearly in his rich narrative style. He takes his readers along on his travels on the land and through...