Landing : Athabascau University

Plants and Habitats- A consideration of Dene Ethnoecology in Northwestern Canada

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Abstract.–This paper presents discussions of local understandings of plants and habitats based on ethnobotanical and ethnoecological field work with several Dene Nations of the Canadian northwestern boreal forest and adjacent regions .  Nations included in the study include Gwich’in (Mackenzie Delta Region), Sahtú’otine’ (Great Bear Lake), Kaska Dena (southern Yukon), and Witsuwit’en (northwest British Columbia).  Key plant related habitats include meadow, “swamp”, forest, “willows” and “brush”.    Ethnobotanical classification of “willows” is explored in conjunction with explanation of the Dene habitat concept. In local classifications, ‘willow’ is not co-extensive with the genus Salix, but includes medium stature to tall woody shrubs which lack conspicuous flowers, ‘berries’, or thorns; these may include shrubby species of Salix, Alnus, Cornus, and Betula.  Shoreline and alpine environments are also discussed as plant habitats.  Dene use of alpine environments and resources is ancient based on recent Icefields research in the Yukon. Human dimensions of habitat knowledge is also presented. Indigenous conceptions of plant taxa and of landscape associations or habitats may differ substantially from those of scientific botany and ecology, and are based in a holistic and interactive ethnoecology. 

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