, 14 2015  

Dog Craft: a History of Gwich'in and Dogs in the Canadian North

17 2015 .
Peter Laurens Loovers,
PhD (University of Aberdeen)


17 2015 . 16-00


Jan Peter Laurens Loovers,
PhD (University of Aberdeen)

   Dog Craft:
A History of Gwich'in and Dogs in the Canadian North

   When one thinks of craft and indigenous people, dogs are probably not the first that come to mind. Yet, especially in the circumpolar North, dogs have been a pivotal part in the lives of indigenous people. In this presentation I propose the notion of dog-craft and explore the expansion of the capital markets in the circumpolar North. Through the fur trade and mineral extractions, indigenous people incorporated and improvised the use of dog teams for trapping, fishing, hunting, and gathering. So what do I mean by dog-craft? I use the term generically for those crafts, or things, that are related to dogs. Things that dogs carry or pull and things that they wear are included. This is pretty straightforward, for example a dog-blanket can easily be considered as a dog-craft. I want to take it one step further, however, and argue that dogs themselves have been crafted. Breeding and feeding dogs in particular ways alters the physical constitution of the dog as Rob Losey, a colleague within the Arctic Domus project has shown. I elaborate on the history of crafts related to dogs as well as to the dog themselves. In most recent times, following the disappearance of a particular type of dog the working dog these crafts have vanished for the greater part. In my usage of crafting and making I follow the trail taken by Tim Ingold. Building on the idea of bringing together making and weaving, Ingold argues that the practioner operates within a field of forces set up through his or her engagement with the material. Indeed the work does not merely involve mechanical application of external force but calls for care, judgement and dexterity. To make or weave, Ingold continues, thus becomes an action [that] has a narrative quality, in the sense that every movement grows rhythmically out of the one before and lays the groundwork for the next. It is this making as growing which is at the core of Ingolds work on materials and craftsmanship and on which I build my arguments. This paper, furthermore, addresses a lack in anthropological and ethnographic literature specifically related to the Gwichin people in the Canadian North on the history of dogs, sleds, dog-packs, and the relation between colonial expansion of northern resource extraction and the vernacular incorporation of dog-craft by Gwichin through this expansion. I conclude with an example of a small project on the making of a dog-pack where I argue that memories and stories are woven into the revitalization of dog-craft and that the absence of a craft does not necessarily mean a disappearance of it.

   ERC Arctic Domus

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