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Indigenous knowledge of ecological variability and commons management: a case study on berry harvesting from Northern Canada.

Published online: 2 August 2006

[c] Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Abstract Common property arrangements govern the subsistence harvest of berries in the Gwich'in region of the Northwest Territories, Canada. Some of these arrangements, including rules for resource access, sharing information and harvest sharing, enable the Gwich'in to deal with ecological variability. The rules change in response to year-to-year variations in the abundance and distribution of the species, spatially and temporally across the region. This paper illustrates the interrelationships between ecosystem dynamics and local institutions, a neglected area of commons research.

Key words Common property * institutions * adaptive management * traditional ecological knowledge * indigenous knowledge * land use * Dene * Gwich'in * cranberry * blueberry * cloudberry.

Introduction

Resource abundance and distribution is a question most often dealt with by ecologists and ethnobiologists. How plants, animals, and other biophysical elements manifest themselves, and behave across spatial and temporal scales has been the basis for much theoretical and empirical research. For many indigenous peoples, including the Dene of the Canadian subarctic, dealing with variability in the abundance and distribution of resources such as caribou is part of a way of life (Smith, 1978; Parlee et al., 2005a).

Dealing with ecosystem dynamics is fundamental to commons management. However, the commons literature has not dealt to any extent with the issue of adaptation to variability and the implications of variability for commons institutions. The issue is of theoretical and practical significance because the dynamic interactions between knowledge building on the one hand and decision-making on the other, provide communities with the capacity to deal with a range of complex systems problems (Johnson, 1999; Berkes et al., 2000; Berkes et al., 2003). Among these problems is variability in the abundance and distribution of shared resources such as berries, about which a great deal of knowledge exists.

Knowledge generation has many faces. In the western academic tradition, it often involves hypothesis testing and peer review. In other societies, knowledge building is part of an intuitive or spiritual process that connects individuals with their families and the land around them (Ridington, 1990; Smith, 1978). At a basic level, knowledge building can be described as a process of empirical observation and individual and collective interpretation (Levi-Strauss, 1962; Roots, 1998). This process of knowledge building is not a linear or one-dimensional process; it is dependent upon constant feedbacks between what is observed and what is interpreted in different places, by different people and over time (Davidson-Hunt and Berkes, 2003). As such, the knowledge generation process is strongly interrelated with a particular social, cultural, and ecological context.

In many indigenous societies, there are important interconnections between the knowledge generated about ecological conditions and the rules-in-use governing resource harvesting practices (i.e., commons institutions) (Ostrom, 1990). Indeed this is the foundation of a significant body of research on the sustainability of commons (McCay and Acheson, 1987; Gadgil et al., 1998; Eerkens, 1999; Dolsak and Ostrom, 2003). Within this body of work, however, relatively little consideration has been given to the question of ecological variability and its implications for commons institutions.

Hence, this paper focuses on two questions: (1) how is knowledge generated or created; and (2) how are common property rules modified by knowledge about variability in the abundance and distribution of a commons? We explore these questions in relation to the subsistence berry harvesting practices of Teetl'it Gwich'in women of the Northwest Territories, Canada.

The Gwich'in Study Area and People

The Teetl'it Gwich'in (Dene), historically known as Loucheux, are one of ten Gwich'in groups who live in current day Alaska, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories, Canada. Since the 1950s, the Teetl'it Gwich'in have lived in a permanent settlement at Fort McPherson; traditionally they were known as the 'people of upper Peel River watershed' (Heime et al., 2001). The traditional lands of the Gwich'in were recognized by the Federal Government in 1992 under the Gwich'in Comprehensive Land Claim Settlement Agreement (1992). The area claimed under the Agreement encompasses 57,000 k[m.sup.2] of the Mackenzie Delta Region of the Northwest Territories, and part of the Yukon region (Fig. 1). Fort McPherson, where the Teetl'it Gwich'in live, is one of four Gwich'in villages in the Gwich'in Settlement Area and has a population of 910 people.

Like other Dene groups in the Canadian subarctic, the traditional Teetl'it Gwich'in way of life was interconnected to the seasonal availability of natural resources, including caribou, moose, fish, as well as berries. The importance of berries and boreal forest plants to northern Dene groups has been well documented in the ethnobiology and ethnobotany literature (Turner and Davis, 1993; Johnson-Gottesfeld, 1994, 1995; Marles et al., 2000). Dene use of berries and medicinal plants was documented as early as the 1800s by Mackenzie (1801). However, little research had been done on the value of these resources to the Gwich'in until recently (Andre and Fehr, 2001; Murray and Boxall, 2002).

Several species of berries and medicinal plants continue to be harvested by the Teetl'it Gwich'in as part of their subsistence economy (Table I). The species most commonly harvested are the cranberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea), blueberry or bilberry (Vaccinium uliginosum) and cloudberry (Rubus chamaemorus). These species are recognized as having important medicinal and nutritional value. However, there many other social and cultural values that Teetl'it Gwich'in women associate with berries and berry harvesting that were documented during the research (Parlee et al., 2005b). The harvest yield of cranberries, blueberries, and cloudberries has been estimated at over 5,000 1 per season, which is relatively consistent with other research in the region (Murray and Boxall, 2002). However, the yield of berries is not static; the actual yield varies from year to year in response to a host of social and ecological factors.
Table 1 Berries and Other Plants Harvested by the Teetl'it Gwich'in

Tetlit Gwich'in English Latin

Natl'at Cranberry/Lingonberry Vaccinium viti-idaea

Jak na Dwarf Blueberry/ Vaccinium caespitosum
 Bog Bilberry Vaccinium uliginosum

Nakal Cloudberry Rubus chamaemorus

Nichih Rosehips Rosa acicularis

Ts'iivii ch'ok Juniper Berries Juniperus communis

Deetree jak Black Currant Ribes hudsonianum

Nee'uu Red Currant Ribes triste

Shis jak Red Bearberry Arctostaphylos rubra

Dineech'uh Crowberry Empetrum nigrum


The Gwich'in region where berries are harvested is ecologically diverse. The region as a whole is generally characterized as subarctic boreal forest--barren ground transition (Marles et al., 2000). The continuous permafrost and short summer season associated with this high latitude region significantly affects where and when berries grow, as does the presence of the Richardson Mountain range and the dynamics of the Peel River and Mackenzie River Delta. Cloudberries are largely harvested in the open alpine areas of the Richardson Mountains. Popular blueberry picking areas are located on the Dempster Highway between Tsiigehtchic and Fort McPherson as well as around family camps up the Peel River, between Fort McPherson south to Yukon border. Some people go cranberry picking around the community; many people also go picking cranberries around their camps on the Peel River north into the Mackenzie Delta. In 2003, the geographic span of the harvest area was some 40,000 k[m.sup.2]. Women picked berries along the Dempster highway as far south as Eagle Plains and as far north as Tsiigethchic. On the Peel River, people also picked berries as far north as Rat River and as far south as the Yukon border. In 2002 and 2001, poorer berry years than 2003, the harvest area was significantly larger at 100,000 k[m.sup.2], as women travelled as far south on the Dempster Highway as Dawson City and as far north as Inuvik (Fig. 1).

Methodology

Our research on knowledge of ecological variability and Teetl'it Gwich'in berry harvesting practices was part of a larger study aimed at documenting Gwich'in local and traditional knowledge about non-timber forest resources. The research was conducted using a participatory methodology (Friere, 1973; Chambers, 1994). All research activities were carried out under the guidance of three Gwich'in organizations--the Gwich'in Renewable Resources Board, the Gwich'in Social and Cultural Institute and the Teetl'it Gwich'in Renewable Resources Council.

Traditional ecological knowledge, more specifically Teetl'it Gwich'in knowledge about ecological variability, was documented through four interrelated methods. First, a series of open-ended semidirected interviews were carried out with elder Teetl'it Gwich'in women in the community of Fort McPherson. This research approach provided an understanding of life histories and experiences of individual women with respect to berry harvesting. Themes and issues related to harvesting practices and the ecological factors affecting the abundance and distribution of cranberries, cloudberries, and blueberries were identified; these themes became the basis for a series of semidirected interviews with 45 informants, identified as berry harvesters, including women and men from ages 16-85. An additional series of interviews focused on access and information sharing rules related to berry harvesting to better understand this aspect of Gwich'in social organization.

A participatory mapping workshop was held and over 70 key harvesting areas were documented at both 1:50,000 and 1:250,000 scales by 35 community members. The mapping provided insight into the spatial distribution of berry patches relative to other landscape features and culturally significant sites such as cabins and historical sites including the best locations for picking cranberries, blueberries, and cloudberries.

Knowledge of Ecological Variability

The Teetl'it Gwich'in have developed a body of knowledge about the abundance and distribution of berries that extends over a large area (Fig. 1). As a foundation, harvesters hold knowledge about their environment that has been passed on from their mothers, grandmothers, and great grandmothers. This traditional knowledge is not considered to be historical or fixed, but continues to develop each season through observation and interpretation. While some harvesters go out and check on their berry patches in early spring and summer, the vast majority of observations and interpretations are made during the harvesting season (July-September) around the community of Fort McPherson, along the edges of the Peel River and Dempster Highway from the Yukon border to Tsiigehtchic (Fig. 1). Observations and interpretations made by friends and relatives as far away as Aklavik and Inuvik and Dawson City, Whitehorse and Old Crow in the Yukon are also shared with the Teetl'it Gwich'in from time to time, consequently extending the geographical scope of their knowledge about seasonal abundance and distribution.

This paper discusses institutions as rules-in-use. However, the Teetl'it Gwich'in prefer not to use the term "rules" in this context; they simply say "ways we respect each other and the berries". Specifically we focus on how this dynamic body of Gwich'in traditional ecological knowledge affects the sets of rules-in-use associated with Teetl'it Gwich'in berry picking; those associated with access, information sharing and harvest sharing (Table II).
Table II Flexibility of Rules-in-Use for Berry Harvesting

Rules Description Flexibility

Access

 Access to * Rules for who can pick * Rules become more
 some berry berries at a given location flexible when
 patches is berries are
 limited abundant

Sharing
information:

 Share * Rules for how information * Rules become more
 observations is shared between families, flexible when
 about within community and region berries are
 abundance abundant
 and
 distribution

Share
harvest

 Share * Rules related to who * Sharing network
 harvest benefits from harvests expands when
 with others berries are
 in the abundant
 community


"It's my Grandmother's Berry Patch"--Rules related to Access

Teetl'it Gwich'in describe the resources from the land, including berries, as a gift from the Creator to be shared. In practice, however, "sharing" has many dimensions; different rules are in use for accessing cranberry, blueberry, and cloudberry picking areas (Table III). Extended family ownership regimes appear to have developed around many cranberry patches particularly those near cabin sites along the Peel River and in the Mackenzie River Delta. As described by harvesters, "you can only go to those areas if you are invited". This may be due to the fact that cranberries are densely distributed and persist in the same local area for many generations. Many of the women interviewed said that they pick cranberries where their grandmothers or mothers used to pick. Some people have been picking in the same patches for more than three generations.
 My grandmother used to pick berries a way up the Peel. She always used
 this place because of her grandmother. The trail to that place is worn
 into the ground. These places, you really have to walk a long ways to
 get there but it is worth it. (Alice Vittrekwa, February 20, 2003)


In the case of cloudberries, few access rules appear to be in use; this may be due to the fact that many of the good cloudberry picking areas are located along the Dempster highway, an area considered to be public or "open to anyone". The lack of property rights associated with cloudberry picking may also be attributed to the unpredictability of this species; their scattered distribution, cyclical productivity and sensitivity to drought and temperature extremes mean that harvesters cannot always find berries in the same places from year to year. As described by one avid harvester "they [cloudberries] make us run around".

Blueberry patches appear more predictable than cloudberries. However, given the susceptibility of patches to the succession of willow and other invasive species, they are considered to be somewhat unpredictable over time (Table III). Most blueberry patches along the roads near the community are also considered to be public or open access. Access to those blueberry patches found near cabins along the Peel River, however, are limited to extended family groups, particularly where harvesters have made efforts to maintain the areas by cutting back competing species of willow.
Table III Rules Related to Access

Species Location Access rules Flexibility

Cranberries Near family camps Extended * Others can pick
 family when abundant;
 access
 rights
 (Lingonberry) * Only * Rule more
 Vaccinium extended strictly enforced
 Vitis-idaea family group / respected when
 should berries are
 access scarce
 cranberry
 patches,
 particularly
 near family
 camps;
 Access
 rights to
 patches are
 passed on
 within
 family group

Cloudberry Open
 access
 Rubus Anywhere; mostly * Anyone N/a
 Chamaemorus near road from the
 community
 can pick in
 cloudberry
 patches;

Blueberries Along the road Mixed access * Others can pick
 and near family rights when abundant;
 camps
 Vaccinium * Only * Rule more
 uliginosum extended strictly
 family group enforced/respected
 should when berries are
 access scarce;
 blueberry
 patches,
 particularly
 near family
 camps;
 * Access
 rights are
 passed on
 within
 family
 group
 * Some areas
 are open
 access (i.e.
 along public
 roads)
 * Some
 stewardship
 rules
 related to
 access apply
 (e.g. cut
 down willows
 to prevent
 competition)


In addition of differentiation by species, rules for access to berry patches also appear to be enforced to different degrees depending on year-to-year variability. In 2002, for example, very few berries of any kind were harvested around the community due to a late frost and a cool summer. Those few harvesters whose cranberry patches did produce berries in 2002 were seen to invite only close family and friends. These same harvesters were less concerned about limiting access in the 2003 season when berries were clearly more abundant.

Access rules undoubtedly developed in different areas to limit the number of people who could harvest in one area, thereby increasing potential yields for each individual harvester or group. Access rules may also have developed to ensure good stewardship of the patches and the surrounding environment including cultural sites, such as cabins and "fishing eddies" (good fishing areas in the river characterized by circular flow). When comparing these access rules to the nature of the resource, there appears to be significant correspondence between the ecological predictability and abundance of the species and the development of territoriality (Dyson-Hudson and Smith, 1978). For example, there are better defined property rights associated with cranberries, which are abundant and predictable, than cloudberries, which are more scattered in distribution and sensitive to precipitation and temperature extremes.

"How are the Berries Growing?" Rules Related to Sharing Information

Each season, beginning in late winter and early spring and ending in late fall, Teetl'it Gwich'in women and other harvesters from across the Gwich'in region make observations about "how the berries are growing". This practice of observation or "checking the berries" provides women with insight into where and when they can find the best berries. The sharing of these observations among Teetl'it Gwich'in harvesters and with other communities is also fundamental to the success of the harvest in any given year.

Harvesters will first visit places where they know there have been berries before. If conditions are poor in their usual picking areas, harvesters will rely on information from other family members and friends in the community or in other parts of the region. Specific observations about conditions from year to year, and from patch to patch are generally communicated informally between family and friends. It is generally the younger women who are sent out to check where the berries are "good" before older, less mobile women venture out on the land.
 I find out from other people if the berries are good! I ask,
 Christine, "how's it growing?" When we women go for berries, they
 usually say, the "berries are good" or "there's lots". If they say,
 "there is not much," no one bothers to go out there (Elizabeth Colin,
 July 4, 2003).


Informal and opportunistic communication among family groups and friends is one of the main ways information is shared; it is also highly effective and efficient. Word of mouth communication about a "great" berry patch can turn a party of three women and two children into a party of over 20 women and children less than an hour later. The urgent arrival of so many women in one harvesting location is a phenomenon associated largely with blueberry patches "you have to get there before the bears do!" In other cases, berries have to be picked quickly due to unpredictable weather, as in the poor year of 2002.
 Blueberries--I went a long way for nothing. I found lots of
 blueberries [in one spot where she was looking for cloudberries]. I
 found lots of blueberries but it was damp and it was getting late so I
 left it thinking that I was going to come back to it--to pick because
 to me it was too good ... then the next day, it started raining. I
 think it rained for a couple of days; do you remember? After that I
 went back and all the berries were gone. They had dropped in the rain.
 Rain and a bit of snow made them drop early; the rain plus the heat
 that we had. So it [the blueberries] was only in certain
 places--shaded where I found cloudberries and blueberries but that's
 what happened (May Andre, April 7, 2003).


These information networks are key to ensuring that women are able to find berries, particularly in poor years.
 Rat River was the only place there were berries last year. I picked up
 there for a while. I wanted to go back but I did not have time. I knew
 I would not have time so I called my daughter (on the two-way radio)
 and told her "Go check over there by Rat River for berries." I told
 her the exact place. So we went over there and she got so many
 berries--bags and bags of cranberries (Bertha Francis, June, 2003).


Similar rules have developed around transportation. Although some people walk to picking areas near the community, most people rely on one member of their group to have a truck or boat to drive them to places further afield. Elder Elizabeth Colin explains some the history of transportation with respect to berry picking as well as her strategies for "getting rides" today.
 I like going for berries. But when you don't have a vehicle to go any
 place, its very hard. Sometimes a bunch of us get together and we get
 gas money and we ask someone to take us for berries out on the
 highway but there are also some berry patches along the Peel River
 and up the Peel and down the Peel too. We don't go for berries much
 by boat anymore ... when I was small, we didn't even have a kicker [a
 boat with outboard motor]. All I remember is that when we had to go
 somewhere we had to paddle we paddled ... and we didn't think
 anything of it--to paddle to get berries. That was the way life was
 back then (Elizabeth Colin, March 21, 2003).


Through these information sharing networks, Teetl'it Gwich'in harvesters are able to deal with seasonal variability in the abundance and distribution of berries through increasing or decreasing the geographic extent of their picking area. When berries are abundant around the community, the actual harvest area will be less than the full area available, as in 2003. In years of greater scarcity, women will seek out information and travel to visit friends and family in surrounding communities, thereby increasing the geographic extent of their harvesting area (Table IV).
Table IV Information Sharing Rules

Rule/harvest Flexibility
success

Share observations Very poor year everywhere Everyone makes
about abundance (2002) efforts to share
and distribution information across
 the region

 Very poor locally; good Local community makes
 elsewhere in region (2001) efforts to gather
 information from
 family and friends
 elsewhere in the
 region

 Good everywhere (2003) Little information
 sharing in region;
 opportunistic


"Giving Them Away": Rules for Sharing the Harvest

Rules for sharing berries are also based on a complex network of relationships both in the community and with friends and family in other parts of the Gwich'in Settlement Region, the Northwest Territories and the Yukon. "Giving away berries" is a very important tradition in the community, particularly to elders or others who are unable to get out on the land due to illness or other conditions. Sharing berries within the immediate family is also very important.
 I just give it away for nothing because it is important for me to do
 this ... a long time ago people used to give berries away because it
 was a tradition, just like our culture (Dorothy Alexie,
 Oct. 15, 2003).

 I share with people who can't get out on the land and pick berries
 ... I don't sell them because I have a lot of grandchildren, I make
 cranberry sauce for them and cranberry juice (Rebecca Francis, Oct.
 15, 2003).


Different rules apply under different harvest conditions (Table V). In years such as 2002 when there were few berries, some families received berries from outside the community, from Dawson, Aklavik, Whitehorse or elsewhere. Elder Alice Blake (Fig. 2), for example, received cranberries from her niece in Whitehorse in 2002. Elizabeth Colin (Oct. 16, 2003) said "she was lucky to get some berries from relatives in the Yukon". When berries are very abundant around Fort McPherson, women will in turn give them away to others who have none. Some women who are able to stock up on berries in very good picking years ration these out during years when the picking is not so good. However, sharing berries is still very important.
Table V Rules for Sharing in the Harvest

Rule/harvest Flexibility
success

Share the harvest Very poor year everywhere Share only for
with others in the (2002) special
community purposes
 (elderly/illness/
 celebration)

 Very poor locally; good Share within
 elsewhere in region (2001) family group or
 for special
 purposes
 (elderly/illness/
 celebration)

 Good everywhere (2003) Share within
 anyone/everyone
 in the
 community


[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]
 Last year 2002, there were hardly any berries that year. I was lucky
 that I still have some berries from the year before that. I sure
 rationed my berries then. I also gave some out to people who were
 sick and needed the berries for their health (Elizabeth Colin,
 Oct. 16, 2003).


Shopping for imported commercial berries at the store is also common in years when there are few berries available, although it is not the preferred option. As Dorothy Alexie (Oct. 16, 2003) said, "I had to buy cranberries from the store, but it doesn't taste like cranberries." Trading of berries for other kinds of food from the land or basic good was a common traditional practice and still is for many elder women like Rebecca Francis.
 I trade berries for dry fish or dry meat [strips of fish or meat dried
 for preservation purposes] ... I trade berries for rabbits or tea,
 sugar or something like that I need; it's very important (Rebecca
 Francis, Oct. 15, 2003).


The most complex trading relationships are those between women who "cut fish" (prepare fish in fillets or strips to be dried or frozen) and women who pick berries. Roles and responsibilities associated with fishing and berry harvesting are strongly integrated. Pathways for resource sharing are crucial for social relationships and the well-being of families and communities (Fig. 3). Women who are the primary berry pickers and fish cutters sometimes share their time between these two activities. More often the work is shared between women of the same family group, as Fig. 3 indicates.

[FIGURE 3 OMITTED]

Rules for sharing the harvest of berries are the most direct way in which harvesters deal with variability in this valued natural resource. As with rules that limit access (Table III), rules for sharing berries are more strictly enforced or become more specialized in times of scarcity (Table V). When there are few berries to be found around the community, harvesters generally share with immediate family and those in particular need, such as the ill and elderly, and at special family or community events. By contrast, during times of abundance, harvesters are less concerned with how and with whom berries are shared.

Discussion and Conclusions

Institutions or rules-in-use governing commons resources have developed in many indigenous and other communities to prevent what has been called the tragedy of the commons (Hardin, 1968; Feeny et al., 1990). Over the last 30 years, the study of common property institutions has provided many insights into how these institutions function (Ostrom, 1990). For example, the Chisasibi Cree, of the Canadian eastern subarctic, have rules about how much fish is to be harvested in different seasons, the size of fish, as well as what kinds of nets are used (Berkes, 1977). Many Aboriginal hunter-trapper societies, as well as indigenous and other rural groups in Asia, have maintained resource biodiversity in sacred groves through specific beliefs, rules, and rituals (Gadgil et al., 1998). The rules and norms developed by indigenous peoples who have lived through resource scarcity provide a particularly useful perspective on how to deal with uncertainty (Berkes et al., 2003). For example, where resources are recognized as important, limiting, predictable, and depletable, and are under the control of the resource harvesters, those who depend on the resource more often than not develop ways of managing those resources (Dyson-Hudson and Smith, 1978; Berkes, 1986).

Access rights to natural resources in the Gwich'in region such as forests, fish, and wildlife are defined in the Gwich'in Comprehensive Land Claim Agreement (1992). Formal institutions, created under this agreement, such as the Gwich'in Renewable Resources Board and other comanagement boards, largely serve to limit non-Gwich'in access to local resources. There are also a variety of informal institutions within Gwich'in communities that shape local resource use, as in the case of berries and fish.

The contribution of the current study to general common property theory may be limited in that berries such as cloudberries, blueberries, and cranberries are not susceptible to the same potential for over-harvesting and lack of regeneration as is the case with fisheries or forests. The research does, however, support previous arguments in the common property literature that open-access systems tend to be associated with resources that are relatively unpredictable; closed access systems, by contrast, are associated with resources that are more predictable (Fratkin, 1986; Dyson-Hudson and Smith, 1978).

The main contribution of the paper is in regards to the flexibility of commons institutions according to ecological variability. The three sets of rules in the Gwich'in region related to berry harvesting (rules for resource access, information sharing, and sharing in the harvest), likely developed to limit use of berry patches, thereby increasing potential yields to individual harvesters and ensuring good stewardship. The extent to which these rules are enforced depends on ecological conditions (Table II), creating a local management system that is remarkably responsive to signals from the environment, a kind of adaptive management (Berkes et al., 2000).

At the basic level, property rights appear to mirror the relative predictability of the species. Cloudberries, which are scattered in distribution and sensitive to temperature and precipitation extremes, are associated with few property rights. The hardier and more densely distributed cranberry, by contrast, tends to be associated with extended family group property rights. When cranberries are scarce across the region, these rules become more strictly enforced by the family group. Rules related to information sharing also change depending on local and regional ecological conditions (Table IV), as do rules for sharing in the harvest (Table V).

Ongoing knowledge generation about seasonal ecological conditions is therefore key to ensuring the relevance and legitimacy of rules-in-use. For Gwich'in harvesters, knowledge is generated by 'checking' the land or through empirical observations and interpretations of change at species and landscape scales, a process also documented elsewhere in the Canadian north (Parlee et al., 2005b). When shared over space and time, these observations and interpretations become embedded in social memory, providing a map for harvesters seeking guidance on where and when to harvest, as seen also in Dene caribou hunting systems (Parlee et al., 2005a). Dynamic interaction between knowledge generation and decision-making forms the foundation for further observations and interpretation, as illustrated in Fig. 4 for the Gwich'in berry harvesting. The understanding that Teetl'it Gwich'in women have of their environment is not, however, wholly dependent upon this process of knowledge generation. Other local institutions, including spiritual beliefs and practices, may also be affected by ecological conditions. The interrelationships between these institutions and ecological variability might be considered in further research.

This system (Fig. 4) can be viewed as a sophisticated approach to understanding and dealing with ecological change--specifically variability in the abundance and distribution of a commons. Although the Gwich'in berry harvesting practices are unique to their region of the boreal subarctic, this system is likely to share characteristics with social learning and adaptive management approaches developed by other groups in other regions of the world. In particular, it helps illustrate a responsiveness of local management institutions to year-to-year variation and environmental change that is far greater than that of government or other centralized resource management institutions.

[FIGURE 4 OMITTED]

Acknowledgments The authors would like to thank the community researcher, Christine Firth; Teetl'it Gwich'in women from Fort McPherson; members of the Teetl'it Gwich'in Renewable Resources Council; Gwich'in Renewable Resources Board; and the Gwich'in Social and Cultural Institute. Special thanks to Peter Clarkson, Ingrid Kritsch, Janet Winbourne, and Pippa Hett-Seccombe. The research was funded by the Sustainable Forest Management Network and supported by the Gwich'in Renewable Resource Board. Parlee also received support from a University of Manitoba Doctoral Research Fellowship and from the Northern Scientific Training Program (NSTP). Berkes' work was also supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and the Canada Research Chairs (CRC) program.

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Brenda Parlee * Fikret Berkes * Teetl'it Gwich'in Renewable Resources Council

B. Parlee * F. Berkes

Natural Resources Institute, University of Manitoba, 70 Dysart Rd.,

Winnipeg, MB R3T2N2, Canada

e-mail: brenda.parlee@ualberta.ca

Present address:

B. Parlee

Faculty of Native Studies/Department of Rural Economy, AFHE,

507 GSB, Edmonton, AB T6G2H1, Canada

Teetl'it Gwich'in Renewable Resources Council

Box 30, Fort McPherson, NT X0E 0J0, Canada

Teetl'it Gwich'in Renewable Resources Council

Teetl'it Gwich'in Band Office, Box 78, NT X0E 0J0, Canada
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Author:Parlee, Brenda; Berkes, Fikret
Publication:Human Ecology
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Aug 1, 2006
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