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An Approach to Aboriginal Cultural Landscapes


Social and Economic Life on the Land

In traditional Aboriginal cultures are social and economic necessities distinct from more spiritual values attached to land?

Line of totem poles with water and mountains in distance.
Frontal poles at Kitwanga, British Columbia
© National Archives of Canada / PA 11215, 1915.

Inter-connectedness rather than categorization characterizes Aboriginal relationships to the land. Traditional lifeways integrate economic, spiritual, and social aspects of life in use areas through the centuries. For the Stó:lo , "the people of the river", life centres on the Fraser River. The river is a living force. Its resources sustain them and their spiritual sites lie along its course.(Mohs, 1994: 185-188)

Among Aboriginal people, successful hunting also compels observance of the living forces of the land. Knowledge and respect for the land and its spirits are integral to living with it. As Harvey Feit has explained so vividly for the Cree of northern Quebec, the hunt is not an isolated event, but a stage in an on-going process that involves reciprocal relationships of power, needs, obligations, and moral responsibilities among creator, spirits, hunter, animal, and community. To achieve success, hunters must plan carefully and behave towards both spirits and animals in a respectful manner. Recognizing human characteristics in animals, they hunt in accordance with mutually understood signs. They acknowledge the gift of a successful hunt by sharing its bounty not only with their kin and community but also with the spirits who can favour their future efforts.(Feit, 1995)

Abiding life on the land has characterized Aboriginal experience since time immemorial. The seasonal round of yearly activities shaped traditional lifeways. As animal, vegetative and marine resources changed with the seasons, they shaped the movements and activities of peoples, who depended on them for food, as well as materials for clothing, shelter, tools, and other necessities.

Tents in boreal forest.
Camp on the north shore of Keith Bay, Great Bear Lake, Northwest Territories
© National Archives of Canada / PA 101056, 1928.

Extended families or households wintered separately in diffused areas within the territories of their larger affiliations. Kinship often grouped those who wintered together. It also identified the territories where they hunted and trapped. Annual social gatherings, which usually occurred in summer, brought these many groups together for weddings, feasts, games, dances, songs, and other traditional customs. Such activities provided opportunities to instruct children in traditional knowledge and to develop their skills for living on the land.


Last Updated: 2008-10-17 To the top
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