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Value and compensation: subsistence production in the Dene economy, Fort Good Hope, Northwest Territories

Author: Shirleen Smith
Publication Year: 1986

Thesis Abstract:

Ascribing a cash value to the products of the bush activities of the Dene of the Northwest Territories of Canada resulted from a need to demonstrate the significance of these activities in the face of increased northern development. The majority of research in valuation studies occurred during the 1970s and was brought on by proposed large-scale development projects such as the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline and the James Bay Hydroelectric Project. Utilizing techniques such as the calculation of the cash value of locally available food products that could substitute for food acquired through hunting, fishing, and gathering, researchers were successful in establishing the importance and viability of subsistence production. However, most researches cautioned that the precise results obtained were exceedingly general and approximate, and did not actually represent the total value of bush products to the people using them. 

With the change in the nature of northern development in the 1980s toward the situation where industry is conducted alongside bush-subsistence activities, the objectives of describing the value of bush production altered. Protection of the ability to undertake these activities, often through compensation or mitigative measures, has required detailed descriptions of the nature of the resources in question. Techniques used during the 1970s to arrive at general cash-equivalent values over large areas were inappripriate for compensation purposes, and, importantly, the factors that could not be included in previous calculation ("intangibles" such as cultural and spiritual value, independence, and teaching children bush skills) required inclusion in any scheme seeking to protect bush activities. Some of these values are described in the context of Dene production activities conducted in the spring and summer of 1984. 

An alternative framework for assessing the significance of the bush-subsistence sector of the Dene economy is propsoed in the form of a political economy/mode of production analysis. The merits of this approach are that it enables the inclusion of aspects that were designated as intangibles in previous studies through its attention to the social relations of production; it is concerned in part with the historical background and thus affords a broader perspective than the limited view of previous valuation studies; and it is possible to analytically separate the cash-market sector from the subsistence sector of the Dene economy, in order to examine the interrelationships between the two. 

Finally, the ability of compensative and mitigative measures to ensure the continued ability of the Dene to conduct their way of life is questionable. Due to the tendency of compensative measures to deal only with specific, fxed, and finite assets, compensation is inappropriate for protecting the fluctuating, systemic, and social resoruces at stake in subsitence production. Ultimately, it is only through the political power to control land-use activites on the land that they require that the Dene way of life, along with their ability to guide and change it, may be protected. 

Access this Resource: 

Available from the University of Alberta.

Smith, Shirleen. Value and compensation: subsistence production in the Dene economy, Fort Good Hope, Northwest Territories. MA Thesis, Anthropology, University of Alberta, 1986. 

Additional Info

  • Publication Type: Doctoral Thesis
  • Place Published: Edmonton
  • Keywords: Ethnography|Land Use|Land Use
Last modified on Tuesday, 29 May 2018 01:41