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  Bookends: Dan Davidson

Thunder on the Tundra

Reviewed: October 14, 2002
By: Natasha Thorpe, Naikak Hakongak, Sandra Eyegetok and the Kitikmeot Elders
Publisher: Tuktu and Nogak Project
208 pages, $42.00

It's not often that the result of a community based social and demographic study gets to a readership wider than the somewhat rarefied academic audience which tends to generate such documents.

Thunder on the Tundra doesn't look look like that sort of book when it comes out of the package, but a quick flip through the pages quickly brings to mind the similar volumes which contained the MacKenzie Valley and Alaska Highway pipeline reports back in the late 1970s.

This book was generated from the oral responses to a series of  96 guiding questions which are grouped into such categories as community use, caribou, migration, hunting and a dozen others. The list is reproduced in the back of the book, along with a considerable amount of bibliographical material, interview citations, glossaries and place names.

The Tuktu study was,  according to the introduction, undertaken with some trepidation. On the one hand there was a need to collect oral history from the elders and preserve it. On the other hand, oral and written language are not precisely the same thing, a fact that was further complicated by the need to translate from Inuinnaqtun to English for the book.

The result is a compendium of Inuit  Qaujimajatuqangit, "what has always been known", and there is a concern that taking it into this format will change it, altering its original meanings.

Nevertheless, as another collector of Inuit lore once wrote, words can get lost in the air while "paper stays put."

Thunder on the Tundra, then, is collection of traditional knowledge of about the relationship between the Inuit and the Bathurst caribou , a relationship which will have some similarities and some distinct differences to the relationship between the Gwich'in people of Old Crow and the Porcupine caribou they hunt.

This book contains summaries of what has been learned, but it is also rich with quotations from the participating elders, as well as sketches from the young, drawings of traditional events, maps and many duotone photographs of real life among these people. There is also a selection of beautiful colour photographs by Whitehorse's Paul Nicklen.

The Tuktu project appears to have generated a lot of what sociologists like to call "rich material", and it has been presented here in a very accessible format.

Thunder on the Tundra is available from Yukonbooks.com--Click here for more.

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