- Mar 2017
The native economy refuses to die
Way before white men ventured into the Arctic, the indigenous people had a perfectly functioning economy of their own. They did not need wages or paper money to do business. They relied on what the environment around them provided, working for food and trading furs. In the 1920s, when scientists and researchers began coming north it led to the introduction of reindeer husbandry as a way to feed the influx of people. This “did not work well with Inuit herders on the north slope, since their labors supported people who did far less work, but still paid through shares of meat and hides” (82). There was a divide between the reindeer community and the genuine Inuit which caused major strife in the economy. Many Inuit “pointed to fur trapping as offering more fulfillment and dignity [than herding reindeer], even though it required similar commitments of labor and time…The private fur trade thus remained an escape from state-sponsored colonialism” (82). However, despite their best efforts to stay true to their native economy, in the 1940s, “herding and harvesting reindeer appeared as more stable than animal life cycles and the global fur trade” (84). But this is not the farthest extent to which southerners took over the land and economy of the Arctic. “Even if Inuit did not imagine themselves within the world being created by southerners, they could hardly avoid participating in it. While the United States and Canada established an Arctic oil economy, the world Inuit had built deteriorated. In the 1950s, fur-bearing creatures became harder to find, markets for fur evaporated, and the Hudson’s Bay Company converted its Arctic fur posts from fur trade centers to retail outlets. For both outsiders and Inuit, the 1950s were a turning point, when the machines and methods of colonialism became the vehicles of cultural survival” (91). There was no longer a market that could support a lifestyle of only hunting and trapping. The indigenous people had to leave that way of life behind and take up wage jobs in the industrial system.
Annotation drawn from Stuhl, Andrew. Unfreezing the Arctic: Science, Colonialism, and the Transformation of Inuit Lands. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2016.