Where is the real trap? Domination and mutualism in Teetl’it Gwich’in sensibilities about trapping

Robert P Wishart* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Teetl’it Gwich’ins, NWT, Canada have consistently positioned trapping as a valuable exercise despite fluctuations in the price of furs. Materialist anthropological theories applied to the trapping economies of boreal forest First Nations created an image of trapping as an activity that necessarily leads to individualism, alienation, nucleated family structures and disenchantment because the furs were being produced for trade in the world economy. The rise of anti-fur sentiments and Canadian industrial intrusions helped cement this imaginary of the trapper as corrupt but, instead of simply being the victims of European domination, they were positioned to have abandoned the ‘traditional’ sensibilities of trust and reciprocity to adopt the cruelties of the steel trap. In contrast with these conjectural world histories, the author argues that trapping as it is practiced today is far from being an alienating practice. Indigenous trappers work with animals in ways that suit their pre-existing practices. In order to dispel the imaginary of the cruel dominator of animals, more recent thoughts on mutualism in human–animal relationships help but it would be difficult to argue that this activity does not require some deception. Indigenous trappers will create methods and tinker with their traps in ways that are counterintuitive to some of the human–environment dualisms found in the deception paradigm that posits that the human presence and the intention to trap is hidden from the animal and tricks it into making a fatal error. The author argues that trapping is effective and valued because it plays upon the signs and expectations which lie between the past and the present, and between domination and mutualism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)437-452
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Material Culture
Issue number4
Early online date29 Dec 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2019

Bibliographical note

This work was supported by the European Research Council Advanced Grant 295458, Arctic Domestication: Emplacing Human–Animal Relationships in the Circumpolar North. There is no conflict of interest.


  • arctic domestication
  • Canadian fur trade
  • Gwich’in
  • human–animal relations
  • trapping
  • traps


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