3 years ago
Jason, I was a bit surprised by this new study of sharing leading to reinforcement of inequality in modern Inuit. Here is my take. (I broke my rule and actually left a comment in the National Post) This inequality is NOT because of traditonal hunter-gatherer meat sharing. That was done because only a quarter of hunts were generally successful. Each hunter grew a bit more successful with experience, but still, even a newlyminted hunter could have lucky day. So it took four or five active hunters, each sharing, whenever they were successful, to keep everyone in a camp of four to five families supplied with meat on a regular basis throughout the year.
Rifles, powerboats, and snowmobiles tend to increase the chances of a kill.
There is, however, more to this fundamental alterations in the economy. Where cash income translates into a shift from sled dogs, kayaks, and harpoons to motorboats, snowmobiles, and rifles etc.. what happens?
There are two further consequences:
1) hunting with these industrial technologies increases the flight distance of game (caribou, seal, and walrusses flee when the humans are still much further away) which means that hunters with spears and harpoons...and hunters on foot, or in kayaks...can often no longer get close enough for a successfful kill with a traditonal spear or harpoon.
2) sharing food becomes a kind of backhanded virtue signalling, increasing the status of even the most well-meaning of the successful hunters. If they have the income to invest in these technologies, they supply most of the fresh game meat.
Meanwhile, due to the first effect, the more often thoe with modern technology hunt to share, the less successful will be the people who cannnot afford these technologies. Even with the best of intentions, even the most modest person equiped with modern technologies possesses unequal access to the fundamental common resource base. This shift is the beginning of a socio-economic class structure. Let me put it another way - in the beginning of this process, a few were able to afford these purchased technolgies. But once they did, they were essentially taking control of the commons: the "hunting caloric income", as a result, was now accessible primarilly THROUGH the activites of those with modern technology. Even a modest initial difference in income translates into more exclusive access - and this is true BECAUSE these hunters still adhere to correct traditional sharing protocols.
The European aristocracy took over many of the remaining wild ecosystems - the hunting grounds of the old community "common" - by enclosing vast areas in "country estates" (many of which were eventally seen as private hunting preserves where theyentertianed each other with grous shooting or deer hunting...) Meanwhile, commoners who hunted with traditonal technologies were often reduced to "trespassing poachers". There is a danger that, one day, the poorer Inuit might be considered poachers - especially if the elite support the development of wildlife conservaiton areas where annual culling is strictly controlled to conserve dwindling populations of wildlife ... even if the real cause of dwindling game numbers is really down to climate change and such things as oil field development, mining, and other industrial activities.