Social change and transmission of knowledge and bush skills among Omushkegowuk Cree women

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Ohmagari, Kayo
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The present study examines the nature of changes in the James Bay Cree society (Moose Factory and Peawanuck, Ontario), and adaptations of Omushkegowuk Cree women to modern and traditional life styles. The study discusses the implications of the persistence of the traditional economy in terms of social and economic development of the Omushkegowuk region. There are three objectives of the study: 1) to examine the changing roles of Cree women and their adaptations (chapter three); 2) to examine the transmission of bush skills and knowledge (chapter four); and 3) to explore an alternative model of development focusing on the importance of values and cultural sustainability in the process of change (chapter five). A mixed economy has evolved as an adaptive strategy that perpetuates the Cree traditional economy in a contemporary setting, but it poses a dilemma: how to be successful in both aboriginal and non-aboriginal worlds at the same time. One adaptive strategy is to become bicultural. Increasing numbers of younger women are becoming Euro-Canadian oriented, but, they still participate in the traditional economy as well. Continued participation in both sectors could be attributed mainly to two reasons: the need for ensuring the persistence of traditional Cree values, and livelihood adaptation to limited economic options. Indigenous knowledge and traditional skills are essential to harvest and process food from the traditional economy. About half of 93 items of women's indigenous knowledge and bush skill (compiled from key informants) were still being transmitted at the "hands-on" learning stage. Incomplete transmission (a lower level of mastery than in older generations) was a major concern, attributable to changes in the education environment, diminished time available in the bush, problems related to learning bush skills at later ages, and changes in value systems. In light of the evidence presented regarding the persistence of the traditional culture, the present study reconsidered conventional northern development planning, and discussed an alternative development paradigm, culturally sustainable development that focuses on Cree key values. The present study contributes to the anthropology of development by suggesting roles for anthropologist in planning for culturally sustainable development.