This article addresses the relationship between the Vuntut Gwitchin and the Canadian state during the early twentieth century. Although this was a moment of increasing contact with nonindigenous people, the Gwitchin refer to this period in their oral histories as being particularly harmonious, even “the best time to be Gwitchin.” Accounts of daily life emphasize the selective incorporation of European goods in ways that meshed with traditional ethics. The article contrasts these stories with Gwitchin descriptions of the Alfred Johnson manhunt, an event that brought the Canadian state into Gwitchin space to hunt a fugitive. In the early twentieth century, such direct contact with Western legal norms was rare; oral histories describe this extension of the law into Gwitchin space as corrosive, capable of changing patterns of life and ethics. Unlike European trade goods, these technologies of rule were harder to participate in selectively. Thus this article argues that 1900–1940 was a unique period in Gwitchin history not because there was little contact with Euro-Canadians but rather because contact rarely involved disciplinary forms of power with the potential to make Gwitchin society subject to new legal norms and ideas.
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Bathsheba Demuth; Law on the Land: Contesting Ethical Authority in the Western Arctic. Ethnohistory 1 July 2013; 60 (3): 469–483. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00141801-2140740
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