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  • A Redirection in Neo-Evolutionism?A Retrospective Examination of the Algonquian Family Hunting Territories Debates
  • Siomonn Pulla (bio)

This article explores the intellectual networks and debates within anthropology that maintained considerable influence on the practical and theoretical aspects of Frank Speck's intellectual development and the broader debates around the notion of Algonquian family hunting territories in anthropology. In particular I explore how the early debates around the family hunting territory concept reflect key redirections in neo-evolutionary theory during the 1930s and ultimately suggest a proleptic methodological modernism in anthropology. The result is a useful and engaged history of the development of the main arguments in the hunting territories debates from 1915 to 1939. Through an examination of these debates and the sequence of the published arguments I provide new insights into how these representations of Aboriginal territoriality developed and the professional circumstances that shaped Frank Speck's contributions to these discussions.

As one of the first generation of professionally trained anthropologists to contribute to the formation of anthropology as a professional university discipline in Canada and the United States, Frank Speck was also one of the first professionally trained, university-educated anthropologists to work with Aboriginal peoples in the northeastern United States and Canada. He not only established the anthropology department at the University of Pennsylvania in 1912, but he also contributed extensively to the promotion of Aboriginal land and resource rights via on-the-ground advocacy work and through the more than one hundred academic papers and monographs he published across a wide variety of disciplines.

For almost a century the nuances of Speck's anthropological practices and contributions to the anthropological canon have been eclipsed by academic debates regarding the validity of the family hunting territory complex. Although the debate initially began in 1925 when Diamond Jenness contested Speck's characterization of family hunting territories, [End Page 170] these arguments were further strengthened by Eleanor Leacock (1954) in the 1950s. In her PhD thesis and later in her seminal article, "The Montagnais 'Hunting Territory' and the Fur Trade" (1954), Leacock provided ethnographic material from the north shore of the St. Lawrence that supported Jenness's critique of Speck's work. She argued that family hunting territories were not Aboriginal but a product of the European fur trade. Leacock contended that the economic system introduced by the European fur trade established a dependent relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the fur companies. This in turn contributed to the transformation of Aboriginal peoples' traditional communalistic modes of production into individualistic systems of land holdings to support increased pressures and competition for resources. Leacock's representation of family hunting territories ultimately suggested that, as producers in the market-dominated fur trade, Aboriginal peoples had become assimilated to a specific European class system within a wider capitalistic mode of production.

In support of Speck, and counter to Leacock's argument, Edward S. Rogers (1963) argued, however, that, although family hunting territories were most likely connected to the fur trade, the basic social organization of Aboriginal peoples into family hunting groups was a unique Aboriginal institution. This debate between Leacock and Rogers provided the specific context for the development of the largely polarized family hunting territory debates during the 1970s and 1980s. Anthropologists such as Adrian Tanner (1973, 1979) and Rolf Knight (1965, 1968, 1978), for example, suggested that family hunting territories were expressions and means of reproducing Aboriginal social relations, symbolic meanings, and environmental linkages.

More recently, Harvey Feit (2004) suggested that a pre-Columbian origin of Algonquian family hunting territories was in fact plausible. He argued that the ethnohistorical record indicates that there was a considerable continuity of traditional Algonquian land and resource use practices throughout the precontact and contact period. He points out, however, that scholars often cite the frequency of reports of game depletion by colonial and Hudson's Bay Company (hereafter HBC) officials as evidence against the existence of early hunting territories and aboriginal game conservation. According to Feit, one way to address this issue is to accept the idea that serious game depletions and shortages were a normal condition in which aboriginal territoriality and conservation were developed and adopted. Part of this includes examining whether conditions...


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pp. 170-190
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