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Yerbury, J.C.

Vancouver, University of British Columbia Press, c1986. 189pp, cloth, $22 95, ISBN 0-7748-0241-3. CIP

Reviewed by Howard Hurt

Volume 14 Number 6
1986 November

This is definitely not an introductory work. Yerbury is an anthropological historian and bureaucrat from Simon Fraser University who has written what some might consider a rather obscure polemic. He believes that colleagues responsible for analysing cultural change in the Canadian Subarctic have accepted a faulty chronological framework that seriously underestimates the extent of change that had occurred in the lives of Athapascan Indians before permanent trading posts appeared in their territories.

His "ethnohistorical reconstruction" first offers a profusion of documented examples, mostly from Hudson's Bay Company journals, to show that indirect trade with northern tribes was significant and growing in the period from 1680 to 1769. He then describes the intense commercial rivalry that developed between the English and agressive Canadians operating out of Montreal in the years following the fall of Quebec. Extensive excerpts from records of the time indicate convincingly that the hunting and gathering way of life had been profoundly altered even before the merger of 1821 that led to the construction of posts throughout the far Northwest.

Finally, the key chapter examines such cultural features as infanticide and bilateral descent groups. These are offered as examples of defensive adaptations to calamities like the forced relocation into relatively barren transition forests and the ravages of disease and liquor. To the lay person, this all seems convincing, if not terribly dramatic, but the emphasis given to the arguments makes it clear that an academic gauntlet has been thrown down.

The fact that this study is serious and scholarly is not in doubt. There are more than two hundred impressive references. The index appears to be well constructed. There are five maps and more than enough figures. It is academic research published by an exacting academic press for academics with specialized knowledge. However, the text is smoothly written and the physical volume attractively planned. If a nonprofessional with an interest in Canada's native peoples or the fur trade were to bring some basic knowledge of history and geography to the reading, he or she could discover much that is both intriguing and thoughtful.

This book is a must for all university and most college collections. Public libraries that serve sophisticated patrons might also find it useful. It is far too specialized for high schools.

Howard Hurt, Curriculum Laboratory, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C.
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