In the community of Pikangikum, Ontario, commercial trapping and fishing were primary income generating activities until the last two decades when prices dropped and costs rose, making it difficult to live on the land. Even as extensive government subsidies were introduced in the post-war period, Pikangikum people continued to hunt, fish and trap on their family areas, which are in some cases remote from the community. It is only recently that we find people settled in the town site of Pikangikum year-round.
In the post-war period, the answer of the Canadian social state to habitation of Indigenous peoples in the north was government support for what was perceived to be a problem of basic subsistence and survival for a people exposed to the vagaries of bush life, and fluctuating fur markets. Today, settlement of people in villages on northern reserves is nearly complete. Pikangikum now faces a flailing economy with food, materials, services, and funding for community projects all coming from the south. As discussed in a , the continuity of cultural landscapes becomes a question of economics. Pikangikum people continue to go out on the land to hunt, fish, and trap. However, these relationships with the land continue to be reproduced today largely through recreational activities, rather than through subsistence and commercial activities, since it has almost become economically unfeasible in some cases to access and use land that families traditionally recognize as their traplines.
In the audio clips attached, we find a key message from Pikangikum elder Whitehead Moose: the land will continue to be important for the survival of Pikangikum people. Whitehead winds together a lesson about trapping, family areas, government welfare, and new and old economic opportunities. He refers to trapline boundaries of family areas; these institutions are of importance in that people practising both subsistence and commercial activities are embedded in social exchanges guided by rules and values of the system of family areas. The trapping way of life, he affirms, will continue to play a role in Pikangikum peoples’ survival. Returning to the land through a community forestry initiative is a way to address the issue of greater economic autonomy that Whitehead experienced until recently within his lifetime.