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Identity and Adaptation to Community and Economic Change Among the Southend Cree



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This thesis is a result of contemporary ethnographic research among the Southend Reindeer Lake Cree of northern Saskatchewan, Canada. The study focuses on three inter-related theoretical and empirical themes of economy, community and cultural identity. As a preamble to the contemporary context, there is an inclusion of data on the natural environment, particularly those abiotic and biotic features of importance to the Southend Cree; the prehistory of the study area in relation to northern Saskatchewan prehistory; and a brief summary of the history of the Southend area and Southend Cree to the present time. In order to provide a foundation for the ensuing discussion of change among the Southend Cree, inferences are made on selected features of the protohistoric Churchill River Basin Cree sociocultural system. A brief analysis of previous ethnographic writing on northern Saskatchewan is also included. The empirical data gained during field research is interpreted within a synthesized theoretical framework, applicable to the themes of economy, community and identity. Adaptation, through the creation and utilization of strategies, which accumulate as adaptive processes, is made to a broad environmental matrix having natural and social dimensions. The local economic system is analyzed in terms of productive activities and relationships with the extra-local economic system. A discussion of the importance of traditional economic activities in boreal forest native economy is undertaken. Interaction with the external will cause changes to the local system, creating constraints on the success of local activities, and this interaction will also galvanize change in related sociocultural components. The economic environment ;s one of instability and unpredictability. The concept of community is analyzed in reference to three objectives: local internal community dynamics; local/external relations; and the causes and consequences of community structural change. External relations create active processes of fission, counterbalanced, though not necessarily equivalently, by processes of integration. Community structural differentiation is caused by local adaptation to external relations; this differentiation is continuous, wherein some traditional structures have been maintained, but are superseded by innovative structures, with a resultant growth in structural complexity of the community. The persistence and maintenance of certain features of the identity system continues despite assimilative pressures as external relations broaden and intensify. Ethnicity is viewed as an adaptive system, employed in interactional contexts to achieve certain objectives. It is suggested that a group's ethnoecology and traditional economic activity has a practical and symbolic place in the identity system, and can become one fulcrum of identity support. Chapters five and six provide the substantive material on Southend economy and community. Data is presented in the two sectors of economic production-- traditional and non-traditional. There is an analysis of trapping, commercial fishing, employment in the tourist industry, and hunting and other subsistence activities, concluding that the production of country food and materials is essential in a cash-short economy. It is found that traditional resource producers have little control on externally controlled factors of price of market demand. An analysis is provided of a proposed graphite deposit near the community - concluding it will broaden the economic base, provided the community is able to exert control to locally maximize employment and other opportunities. It is found that the South end Cree adapt to economic uncertainty by becoming occupational pluralists, obtaining subsistence and cash from a multiplicity of sources. The community of Southend is undergoing a process of iii restructuring: while the traditional Cree extended family remains the structural core, differentiation has created new specific and multi-puropose organizations and institutions. A community bifurcation between Treaty and Metis Cree is also underway, caused by the rigid local application of the status/non-status Indian political distinction. In Southend there is an interplay between integrational and schismatic forces: whereas the schismatic pressures have led to a territorial and socio-political partition in the community, integrational factors are active in elements of a common identity, including language, kinship networks and the functioning of certain innovative structures. Illustrative case material of Southend's external relations is provided with discussion of impingements to Southend Reserve lands by the action of the Hudson's Bay Company and with an analysis of impacts of the Whitesand Dam development. The conclusion is that as Southend becomes irreversibly interlocked with the larger Canadian society, the local structural differentiation is both a consequence and a means of adaptation to a growing complexity. A summary analysis in the final chapter proposes to integrate the theoretical and substantive material, including a historical sketch, and ends with a discussion of identity and the companion themes of economy and community. It is the finding of this research that the Southend Cree maintain, and want to maintain a distinctive cultural identity. Certain subjectively interpreted components of this identity are outlined, including language, cultural heritage and kinship features. The persistence of the Southend Cree identity appears due to their competence in resisting complete assimilation, and developing strategies of adaptation in attempts to ameliorate the negative impacts of rapid sociocultural change. It is suggested that identity persistence, in that it seems to be a shared objective of the Southend Cree, is at least in part dependent on the adaptive capacity of innovative sociopolitical structures in the community. The study concludes, finally, with a section on recommendations for further research.





Master of Arts (M.A.)


Archaeology and Anthropology


Anthropology and Archaeology




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