Monday, October 12, 2020

Praise for "The Man Who Became a Caribou"

Reviewed by Tok Thompson, University of Southern California, in the Journal of Folklore Research, 10 September 2020

“Caribou are how we survive and are integral to who we are and how we define ourselves. Caribou are our stories, our soul, the food on our table, our clothes, and our tools” (Gwich’in Sam Alexander, 2017, testimony before the US Senate, quoted on page 37).

One of the difficulties of reviewing this work is in giving a succinct phrase stating what, exactly, this work is. It could perhaps be described as a compendium of caribou lore from the Gwich’in people of northern Alaska and Canada. The word “lore” is useful, here, precisely because of its wide semantic range. Lore can include narratives, to be sure, such as the central story that gives the book its title, but it can also include all sorts of other knowledge—crafts, beliefs, skills, names, customs, taboos, and all the rest of the realm of folklore. This book, likewise, spans an enormous range of aspects all related to the caribou in Gwich’in culture. In this sense, though, “compendium” might be a bit misleading, as this is not simply a collection of lore on a particular topic. Rather, this book investigates a resplendent set of cultural elaborations on the most central figure of Gwich’in identity and culture, showing how Gwich’in life is entwined, practically and spiritually, with the caribou. In this sense, investigating the slippage between the human and caribou provides an emically centered ethnography of the Gwich’in, giving great insight into their culture, language, and lifeways.

Most of the material comprising the book was drawn from interviews conducted in Gwich’in, a severely endangered language. The book is largely presented bilingually, which by itself is a significant accomplishment and a wonderful addition to the limited corpus of bilingual (Gwich’in/English) materials.

The book is superbly researched and presented. The introduction by Craig Mishler is a very helpful overview of the manuscript, detailing the overall approaches in methodology as well as the Gwich’in territory, language, worldviews, and lifestyles. The work is richly illustrated, with art, artifacts, and maps, alongside photographs of the collaborators, the fieldwork process, and myriad representations of life, and caribou, in Gwich’in territory. Several appendices are dedicated to explication of the linguistic features.

Such a holistic view gives a rich perspective of the topic at hand, repeatedly demonstrating the multiple ways in which caribou lore intersects with Gwich’in identity, culture, worldviews, and community. In this way, this work acts as a culturally appropriate explication of Gwich’in culture as a whole.

For example, the story that the authors use as a title, “The Man who Became A Caribou,” is, among other things, an ethnogenesis of the Neets’it (Neets’uk) Gwich’in band. In the story, a man went to live with the caribou, who were his spirit animal, transforming himself into one, and learning of their ways. Later, the man returns to his human form, and instructs people on the proper relationship between the Neets’it Gwich’in and the caribou. Mishler states: “This ancient story, which we regard with reverence, provides a framework and underpinning for all of the other traditional knowledge about caribou,” and that “As a folktale, it serves as the emotional and spiritual center for all of the other discourses which follow” (51). While I disagree with the nomenclature (I would categorize the story—and many other stories in this work—as myth and not folktale), this recognition of the intrinsic sacredness of the story, detailing the experiences of a man who became a caribou, captures the essence of what it is to be Gwich’in.

Mishler notes that this story is part of a larger matrix found in Native American and Siberian narratives, wherein a specific relationship between one species and one group of humans is formed by experiences of a person who has spent time with both species and in both communities. Whether this should be seen as oikotypical variation, or as polygenesis resulting from similar overarching worldviews, may be difficult to discern, as there is likely a fair bit of both involved. For example, the Haida rely on salmon, and it is thus no surprise that “Salmon Boy,” the story of a boy who spent time with the salmon before returning to the people to instruct them, parallels “The Man Who Became A Caribou” in important ways.

The authors are careful to point out, too, that this feature is by no means confined to, or by, the past. Rather, the practices, narratives, and knowledge persist today as vibrant, dynamic traditions, enmeshed in change (guns, snow machines) as well as constancy (most vividly, the role of the caribou themselves: the average hunter harvests about thirteen caribou per year, with caribou remaining the predominant foodstuff for Gwich’in people (37).

It should also be pointed out that this way of life is now under constant threat, as petroleum interests in particular clamor to carve up more and more of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for petroleum extraction, which the Gwich’in see as threatening the caribou—and especially their summer calving grounds. The Gwich’in spend much of their time fighting such interests in legal and political battles, a far cry from their preferred lifestyle of subsistence hunting, yet once again they display their advocacy for the safety and sacredness of the Porcupine caribou herd, as shown throughout this book.

The Man Who Became A Caribou is truly a standout, stellar work: a book which succeeds on all sorts of levels, from its careful bilingual presentation to its insightful emic analyses. Beyond those interested in Gwich’in people, this work should be of interest to anyone interested in indigenous rights, Native conceptions of ethical and spiritual lives, and the ongoing tensions between global capitalism and the sustainability of life on earth. In terms of theory, this work sets a high standard for folklore research with indigenous communities, and it also opens up new ways of conceptualizing the presentation of non-Western cultures. The authors should be roundly congratulated for such an achievement, and I hope that this book gains the national and international recognition it so justly deserves.

Monday, November 11, 2019







The Native Greenlander
Illustrated by Aron of Kangeq

Translated from Danish by Susan Stanley
192 pages
11 illustrations and 2 maps

5 1/2 x 6 7/8"
December 2019

ISBN 9780996748087
$20, paperback



This volume of tales, collected from native Greenlanders by Heinrich Rink, is the translation of the first book printed in Greenland. Over a five year span, Rink collected these tales from throughout Greenland, although mainly in the southern area.

The remarkable oral tradition of the Inuit, affected by few outside influences, is traced through their history on the land. Many of the stories describe the clashes between the Norse and the Inuit. Rink recognized that some of the tales existed in the realm of pure myth, but that others represented recollections, passed from one generation to the next, of events many centuries earlier.

Translated from Danish, this is the first English translation of these stories. Illustrations are by Aron of Kangeq, a sealer and walrus hunter who lived at the Moravian mission at the small trading station of Kangeq. His illustrations of the oral storytelling tradition have gained status as a symbol of the new artistic tradition developed in Greenland in the mid-19th century.

Thursday, July 11, 2019











The Man Who Became a Caribou
by Craig Mishler and Kenneth Frank

480 pages

16 pages color photographs
Illustrations throughout

6 5/8 x 9 1/2"

October 2019

ISBN 9780996748070

$37.50, paperback





Dinjii Vadzaih Dhidlit: The Man Who Became a Caribou is a new bilingual volume based on a series of oral interviews with Gwich'in elders living in rural northeast Alaska and the Yukon Territory. Richly illustrated, the book covers a wide range of topics based on traditional harvesting and use of caribou from ancient to contemporary times. It also reveals traditional beliefs and taboos about caribou and includes a detailed naming system for caribou anatomy.

Recording the traditional ethnoscientific knowledge Gwich’in elders have about caribou in their oral narratives and in their hunting lexicon has far-reaching implications for zooarchaeology, for applied linguistics, for wildlife co-management, and for folklore and cultural anthropology. It is an empirical approach which essentially weds natural science with the humanities, osteology with verbal art. The topics included herein form a nucleus of many specialized study areas such as linguistic anthropology, zoosemiotics, ethnoscience, ethnozoology, osteology, and cultural ecology. And the Gwich’in ways of hunting, butchering and processing, preserving, storing, cooking, serving, tasting, and sharing food from the caribou, are all key elements in an ecological knowledge system. 
--from the Introduction

While there has been attention to caribou, I do not know of any work that looks at caribou in this way, drawing on the knowledge of the Gwich’in (or any other northern group) in such a deep and first-hand way. The book spans many important areas, including what in western science would be identified as natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities. It makes outstanding contributions in these areas. It also still stands out in the overt recognition of the importance of the unfiltered voices of those who live with the caribou.

--Keren Rice, University of Toronto

This manuscript is an extensive collection of narratives. It presents an abundance of new data on an endangered language with extraordinary detail, grammatical and discursive. It also makes a critical contribution to the resources indigenous communities have for developing curriculum materials and institutionalizing indigenous studies in schools and elsewhere. Finally, it provides an amazing compendium of knowledge for resource management in the subarctic. 

--Barbra Meek, University of Michigan


Tuesday, January 22, 2019















Between Sea and Glacier:
Greenland in a Changing World
By Wilfred E. Richard

228 pages, 8 x 12"
April 2019

ISBN 978-0-9967480-5-6
$45, hardcover




The story of finding a people in possession of a spirit which reminds all of us that the world we inhabit is both larger and more fragile than we could have imagined.

"The people of Greenland possess a robust spirit, born of the land, which speaks to
me. At this time of the Age of Man, the Anthropocene, of human-induced climate
change, I recognize that a tradition of respect for the land prevails in Greenland. With
all the community dependent on the land, a spirit of cooperation has evolved through a
melding of Inuit communal culture with Scandinavian social democracy. I write of
Greenland, of its culture and people in possession of an existence, which is based on
hunter-gatherer knowledge of the land." From the introduction.

Wilfred Richard's spiritual journey to his new found second home culminates in a passionate recounting of his adventures through spectacular photographs and compassionate text.

A co-publication with with the Arctic Studies Center-Smithsonian Institution.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018









On Their Way
By Juaaka Lyberth

256 pages, 6 x 8.5"
Translated from Danish by Kristian Borten

November 2018

ISBN 978-0-9967480-4-9
$20 paperback


Paul Erik returns to Nuuk after spending the summer in his hometown of Uummannaq, Greenland. In Nuuk he attends high school where people from all over the country are housed in dormitories. But the school systems are Danish–not adapted to the life and circumstances in Greenland– and the young grow increasingly frustrated. The story takes place in 1969, and we gain an insight into a significant
period of Greenlandic history, as well as the dominating worldly cultural influences of the times.

First English translation.
Nominated for the Nordic Council
Literature Award, 2014

Friday, June 15, 2018

Narwhal: Revealing an Arctic Legend
wins Mills Prize for Arctic literature



Polar Libraries Colloquy 
Media Release 
July 11, 2018 
Winner of the 2018 William Mills Prize for Non-Fiction Polar Books Announced 

Rovaniemi - The Polar Libraries Colloquy is pleased to announce the winner of the 2018 William Mills Prize for Non-Fiction Polar Books is Narwhal: Revealing an Arctic Legend edited by William W. Fitzhugh and Martin T. Nweeia (International Polar Institute). This comprehensive, multi-disciplinary book is the companion to a special exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History that unites what is known and erroneous about the medium-sized toothed whales uniquely identifiable by their spiral tusks. 
The prize winner was announced at an awards ceremony on June 14, 2018, in Rovaniemi, Finland, at the Polar Library Colloquy's biennial conference. The Polar Libraries Colloquy is an international organization of librarians and others interested in the collection, preservation and dissemination of polar information. 

Two other nominations were awarded Honorary Mentions. 
The Arctic Guide: Wildlife of the Far North by Sharon Chester (Princeton University Press) is a beautifully illustrated field guide to more than 800 species of plants and animals found across the entire Holarctic region. 
Lessons from the Arctic – How Roald Amundsen Won the Race to the South Pole by Geir O. Kløver (The Fram Museum) offers a detailed analysis of the 1911-1912 South Pole Expeditions of Roald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott. 

The William Mills Book Prize is awarded every two years and honours the best Arctic or Antarctic non-fiction books published throughout the world. The prize was first presented in 2006. It is named in honour of William Mills, a polar librarian and author, and a core member of the Polar Libraries Colloquy during its formative years. 
Twenty-six nominations qualified for consideration this year, the most ever since the inception of the prize. A full list of all titles nominated for the 2018 William Mills Prize, including those titles that were shortlisted, is available on the Polar Libraries Colloquy website. 



Thursday, April 5, 2018








The Right to a Father

The letters of Anne Sofie Hardenberg
Annotated by Pia Christensen Bang

144 pages, 5.5 x 7.75"
16 pages of color and black and white photographs
Translated by Susan Stanley

May 2018

ISBN 978-0-9967480-3-2
$25 paperback


In the 40's and 50's many men travelled to Greenland from Denmark to work. Here they met Greenlandic women – which more than once resulted in pregnancies. Many of these men then returned to Denmark, which meant that the children grew up as illegitimate children without ever knowing their fathers. One of these children was Anne Sofie Hardenberg, who was teased all through her childhood for having a Danish father – and an absent one at that. By the age of 17 she gathered the courage to write to her father. To her surprise he was very glad to hear from her, and wished to make her part of his family. Unfortunately they only got three weeks together – then he died in a car accident . . .

This is Anne Sofie's memoir accompanied by photos and letters between her and her Danish family.