Northern Passage: Ethnography and Apprenticeship among the Subarctic Dene by Robert  Jarvenpa
210 pages, $27.95 list
Self-contained study guide
eBook availability
Northern Passage
Ethnography and Apprenticeship among the Subarctic Dene
What is it like living among and learning about the cultural realities of other people for the first time? Northern Passage uses the motif of apprenticeship to reveal the humbling, childlike quest of the novice ethnographer, on the one hand, and the trials of an active participant learning the intricacies of bush life and livelihood from subarctic Indian hunting partners and teachers, on the other hand. In the process, Jarvenpa’s reflexive narrative presents a compelling vision of northern Dene or Athapaskan society. The Han people of the Yukon Territory and eastern Alaska and the Chipewyan of northern Saskatchewan emerge as vividly drawn actors in a cultural landscape distinctly influenced by gold miners, fur traders, missionaries, conservation officers, and other post-colonial agents.

This candid but sensitive treatment deals with issues such as trapping economies, knowledge of the environment, dreaming and hunting power, permission and informed consent, language learning, accusations of spying, alcohol use, economic development, partnerships, note-taking, and the pros and cons of active participation. Jarvenpa’s early field experiences unfold as a primer on false leads, setbacks and revealing discoveries building to a suspenseful aftershock.
“This marvelous book does a wonderful job of explaining the hunter-fisher subsistence strategy. Very well written. Hard to put down.” — Brian Siegel, Furman University

“Jarvenpa presents a moving, sometimes tragic portrayal of people who live in an environment known for its demanding conditions, and in so doing captures an essence rarely found in ethnographic writing. This aspect of the book will appeal to anyone interested in the Subarctic, in particular how people have adapted and continue to adapt to its demanding and changing conditions. Personal accounts of fieldwork from the Subarctic are rare, and as such this book helps fill a gap.” — Arctic: Journal of the Arctic Institute of North America

“This book is basically a tale of the trials and tribulations in the fieldwork aspect of becoming an anthropologist, and also a close rendering of life with the Dene people, unencumbered by the analytical and other conventions of standard anthropological texts.” — Yngve Georg Lithman, Ethnos

“An extremely vivid account of learning among the Subarctic Dene. The author takes us along on his fascinating journey as an apprentice to Chipewyan hunters and a witness to the profound transformations affecting their lives.” — Jean-Guy Goulet, St. Paul University

“A well-wrought, reflective and honest examination of the fieldwork experience.” — Joel Savishinsky, Ithaca College

“It is an insightful work—a wonderful introduction to the people and the world of anthropology.” — Toby Marantz, McGill University

“This book provides an excellent entree into the frozen northern reaches of the continent as well as into the experience of the anthropological endeavor. There is an outstanding balance between making the cultures understandable and showing the process by which the insights are learned and communicated.” — Mirka Prazak, Bennington College

“A very well-written narrative account of interaction among groups of subarctic Dene. Jarvenpa also describes very well the problems, insecurities, and serendipitous occurrences of doing ethnographic fieldwork.” — Barbara Crass, University of Wisconsin, Fond du Lac
Table of Contents


1. Han Country
2. Subarctic Skid Row
3. Crows and Sea Gulls


4. With Reserve
5. Bush Apprenticeship
6. Forests Aflame