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Ethnographic reflection Essay

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Updated: Sep 13th, 2019

Maps and Dreams by Hugh Brody is an ethnographical account of the research which was conducted at a Beaver Indian reserve in British Columbia. Combining the chapters with the first-person narration and the parts with verified scientific data, the author implements an original approach for providing an account of his observation and the results of the experiment.

Mixing the scientific and humanistic approaches and implementing the anthropological framework and the concept of the bio-cultural triad for covering various sides of life of Beaver community, Brody uses dialogic procedures for depicting and explaining the processes in the Indigenous community.

Hugh Brody implemented a mix of scientific and humanistic approaches for covering the naturalistic issues in his ethnographic account of life of a Beaver Indian reserve. Funded by the federal government, the ethnographer has spent more than a year in northwestern British Columbia for examining the possible impact of the planned natural gas pipe upon the conditions of life of Indigenous population.

Disregarding this federal mission, Brody’s book under consideration contains not only verified data on history and economy of the Beaver reserve, but also his personal views of their lifestyles and their culture. Mixing the chapters with first-person reportage with scientific data, the author noticeably struggles with the difficulties of describing the phenomena of an unknown culture using the native language.

There is a contrast between the scientific methods implemented for studying various dimensions of the community and partially subjective manner of representation of the achieved results, which emphasizes the complexity of the processes in the reserve. The ethnographer suffers from a culture shock which can be seen in his reactions to the surrounding events and difficulties with adapting to new environment.

However, after spending some time in the reserve, the researcher undergoes the influence of this community, empathizes with Indians and understands certain cultural and linguistic phenomena which previously he perceived as weird and unthinkable.

On the other hand, the ethnographer’s presence and research had impact upon Indians’ behavior as well, even complicating the process of investigation to certain extent. Thus, supplementing the anthropological framework with additional sources of information, including even personal impressions and interpretation of the Beaver traditions and lifestyles, Brody combined scientific and humanistic approaches to exploring the Indian reserve, making his extensive observations multifaceted.

Taking into account the initial goal for conducting the research, it can be stated that economic data is one of the significant components of the overall investigation. Emphasizing the strong links between the Indians’ traditions and their current lifestyle, Brody shows how important is the role of hunting and fishing in their economic activities even despite the incursions of Europeans into their territories and accustomed living conditions.

It is stated that “the new frontier allowed hundreds, even thousands of Whites to hunt or fish deep inside the heartlands of many Indian hunting territories and traplines… This access causes the most direct threat to the Indian interest in northeast British Columbia” (Brody 218). In other words, examining the impact of the European intervention, the ethnographer does not separate the economic activities from the rest of anthropological framework, viewing them in the cultural and sociological contexts.

Drawing a significant part of their sustenance from hunting, Beaver people continued to hunt on moose, deer and caribou notwithstanding the changing environment and Europeans’ incursions. Establishing the links between the economic activities, traditions and beliefs of Indigenous population, Brody defined the place of economies in ethnography and the interconnected character of these disciplines.

Depicting the cultural and religious beliefs of Indigenous population in their connection to nature and anthropological issues, the ethnographer implemented the concept of bio-cultural triad for explaining the strong links between the human biology of Beaver community and their cultural choices, namely diet and modes for drawing sustenance.

Exploring the sides of the triad, Brody treats Beaver diet and eating traditions as an effective strategy of biological adaptation of the community to their natural environment. Providing valuable statistical data concerning the population size, structure, proportions and morbidity rate, Brody shows that these cultural practices were effective for using the available environmental opportunities and compensating for the existing drawbacks of the natural conditions.

Considering the impact of independent environmental features, including climate, flora, fauna and other natural resources upon the socio-natural environment and cultural choices of the Beaver community, the ethnographer emphasizes the integrity of various dimensions of community life.

Incorporating the rules of reasonable use of resources, hunting on large and small animals and watching their behavior and natural habitat into the system of their religious beliefs and ethical norms, Beaver people managed to create favorable socio-natural environment for their community which was only partially constrained by the incursions of Europeans.

Brody uses the example of differences in the maps created by White people and Indians for demonstrating the gaps between their perception of the same territories and plans for using the same resources, demonstrating their colliding interests. Along with the differences in the maps, the concept of bio-cultural triad is used by the ethnographer for depicting the high level of adaptation of Indigenous population to their natural environment and the impact of European intervention upon their lifestyle.

Expressing his personal opinion of the investigation results and impressions from living in the Indian community and attempts to understand its cultural phenomena, the ethnographer uses a reflexive perspective for presenting his account of Beaver traditions, lifestyle, economy and other anthropological parameters, involving readers into a dialogue.

Viewing the anthropological issues through his own eyes and combining scientific and humanistic approaches, the author affects his readers’ cultural beliefs and their perception of life in general. Brody’s description of Beaver system of values preconditioned with peculiarities of their natural environment and affecting their lifestyle and economic activities had impact upon my personal views of wealth, power, duty, honor and democracy.

Taking into account the concept of the bio-cultural triad, most ethical issues can be viewed from a new perspective, simplifying the debates concerning beliefs and activities of society representing them as the two interdependent sides of the processes in the community. This endless circle of the mutually-dependent phenomena emphasizes the complexity of anthropological framework, which can be implemented for exploring the methods in any community.

Application of this framework to Brody’s experiment with Beaver reserve is valuable for testing its elements as implemented for the analysis of Indians’ original lifestyle and traditions which are unique due to separation of this small community from the rest of the population of the continent.

Complimenting the statistic, historical and economic data with his own emotions, the researcher provides his personal observations as an active participant of the investigation for showing the gap between the systems of values in Europeans and Indigenous population. Thus, the chosen perspective and approaches along with the manner of presentation of the materials had impact upon my own perception of cultural beliefs and anthropological phenomena.

Mixing the scientific and humanistic approaches to presenting the results of the ethnographic research and personal observations, Brody encourages the readers’ involvement into the dialogue. Analyzing the issues discussed in the reflexive chapters of the book under consideration, it can be stated that the author partially implements the dialogic procedures (Omohundro 392).

The contrast between the ethnographer’s perception of Beaver traditions and the beliefs of Indigenous population is one of the most important dialogic questions. The methods used by Brody for collecting the materials and conducting his surveys require effective communication with the native inhabitants of the reserve and can be regarded as a part of a dialogue strategy.

Comparing and contrasting the cultural beliefs in representatives of different communities, the author touches upon the problem of their origin, trying to get to the roots of the problem. Expressing his own doubts and leaving specific questions without definite answers, the researcher encourages following debates and dialogue.

Presenting the scientific facts along with his personal observations, the researcher leaves space for readers’ counterarguments and personal views. In that regard, the methods implemented by the author as well as his manner of presentation of the facts, observations and opinion can be regarded as dialogic.

The approaches, concepts and manner of presentation of the materials chosen by Brody for depicting the variety of cultural phenomena and beliefs of the Beaver community had impact upon my understanding of the elements of anthropological framework and processes in their integrity.

Works Cited

Brody, Hugh. Maps and Dreams:Indians and the British Columbia Frontier. Waveland Press, 1998. Print.

Omohundro, John. Thinking Like an Anthropologist: A Practical Introduction to Cultural Anthropology. McGraw Hill Publishing, 2007. Print.

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