Ka Isinakwak Askiy : using Cree knowledge to perceive and describe the landscape of the Wapusk National Park Area

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M'Lot, Maria
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The Cree of northern Manitoba possess extensive knowledge and expertise about the land on which they have lived through many generations. In collaboration with community elders, this study aims at presenting the landscape of Wapusk through the eyes of the Cree. These are the areas of York Factory, the Nelson River, the Churchill River and Wapusk National Park. Through their use and occupancy of the area, the Cree have come to understand the landscape, which is evident in their naming of landscape features and places. Their knowledge provides a different descriptive "map" of the area. Through the building of relationships characterized by trust, respect and reciprocity, knowledge can be shared and learned. With the consent of the Cree people from Churchill, York Factory First Nation and Fox Lake First Nation, a variety of techniques were used to gather and document information, namely semi-structured interviews, participant observation, mapping and photographs. These techniques were used for both the naming of places and the naming of landscape features. Collaboration involved individuals and groups, and involved both male and female collaborators. Along the western shore of the Hudson Bay, people attributed names to waterways, rivers and creeks, points of land, island and camp areas. More detailed names were obtained around York Factory depicting the intensive use of the area for hundreds of years. The Cree names were different from the English names and were associated with seasonal activities, physical description of the land, or the presence of certain animal species. A map of Cree place names provides a different presentation of the land area, each place name carrying rich and descriptive information. The descriptive detail of each landscape term was captured as the Cree terms were translated into English, thus making it possible to examine how the Cree view the land. Cree naming of the various landscape features seems to be based on descriptions of physical appearance, habitat, activities or human uses. Physical descriptions are used by the Cree to establish working landscape terms that provide practical and descriptive information about the appearance of the land. Some landscape terms are habitat descriptions that name various species according to the environment in which they live. In some instances, the landscape terminology developed and used by the Cree displays a link to certain land use activities and different human uses of the land. Although the Cree have no term for 'ecosystem', they do express the concept when they talk about landscape or land. All aspects of land are present in the knowledge of the Cree when they speak about landscape, including landscape structures, flows across the landscape and key functions and processes. Cree landscape terminology can provide understanding on how the Cree view and describe the land. The richness of Cree knowledge has been illustrated only in part through this documentation of local place names and Cree landscape terms. Although this is just one area covered by Cree knowledge, the knowledge is rich and provides information on a wide range of topics. The knowledge of the people needs to be learned by devoting time and showing a great deal of respect for the culture and to those who hold the knowledge. At the same time, it is important to compile this specialized terminology since some knowledge of naming is slowly being lost.