Constructing Law, Space, and their Subjects:
Landscape, Topography and Culture

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The Beaver People of Northeastern British Columbia and their mapping

Contrasts between European and Aboriginal mapping is also evident in the Canadian experience.

The following story of hunters' mapping and dreaming trails comes from Hugh Brody's Maps and Dreams (Vancouver: Douglas and McIntyre, 1981):

Joseph is an old man. However compelling his words, however ageless his manner, as soon as we had left his encampment-home, some of the magic evaporated. I kept thinking that perhaps he had missed the point. In the course of talking, and prompted by Brian, Joseph had shown his hunting, trapping and fishing areas on the map; had marked, with coloured felt pens, all the places he had lived during a long life. Yet he had drawn circles in an absent-minded way. As an elder, he had spoken beyond us, addressing the richness of another culture, another spiritual domain, even another time altogether. Perhaps he had not sought to understand the work. He did not question its purpose, still less its technique. When he marked the map he did so with a seeming indifference. At the times he sought precision, it was usually to locate some exact spot in order to digress even further from the job I thought that we had come to do. (pp. 10-11)

[Joseph speaking] The land, using the land in the proper way, is inseparable from the people who live there. It was clear, finally and unequivocally, from the way that everyone in that dark and ragged cabin listened, from the respectful stillness, from their occasional grunted agreements, that Joseph spoke as an old-timer and elder, not as an old man. (pp. 12-13)

Some old-timers, men who became famous for their powers and skills, had been great dreamers. Hunters and dreamers. They did not seek uncertainly for the trails of animals whose movements we can only guess at. No, they located their prey in dreams, found their trails, and made dream-kills. Then, the next day, or a few days later, whenever it seemed auspicious to do so, they could go out, find the trail, re-encounter the animal and collect the kill. (p.44)

Oh yes, Indians made maps. You would not take any notice of them. You might say such maps are crazy. But maybe the Indians would say that is what your maps are: the same thing. Different maps from different people- different ways. Old-timers made maps of trails, ornamented them with lots of fancy. The good people.

None of this is easy to understand. But good men, the really good men, could dream of more than animals. Sometimes they saw heaven and its trails... (pp. 45-46)

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