The following paper was presented at the Annual Association of American Geographers meeting in Seattle in 2011, as part of a geographies of tourism session. An earlier version was peer-reviewed in my PhD dissertation and defence. The current version (below) was reviewed favorably (by blind peer-review) as part of a larger project, my forthcoming book Maps and memes: arts of identity-based mapping and mapmaking for healing in indigenous communities (McGill-Queen's University Press).
Permanent link available at academia.edu
Gwilym Lucas Eades
Department of Geography
University of London
In this paper I introduce the concept of the place meme, a ‘unit’ of cultural information about place. Place memes originate in the human brain. Place cells in the hippocampus convert short to long term memory through a repetitive ‘mapping’ of neural clusters, operating according to Edelman’s Theory of Neuron Group Selection (TNGS). I propose an analogous Theory of Toponymic Group Selection (TTGS) in which cultural selection produces first and second order clusters of named places externally constitutive of place memes. Using insights gained from research in northwestern British Columbia, eastern James Bay and Nunavik, Quebec, I examine real examples of culturally selected place memes by focusing on local heritage tourism initiatives. In conclusion I speculate about the role of place memes in indigenous senses of mental health and self, offering some reflection upon possible research directions opened up by a ‘memetics of place.’
key words Canada mapping place meme cultural evolution tourism mental health
A On the Origin of Places
In this paper I introduce the concept of the ‘place meme’ as a framework for theorizing about place. While the literature on place is extensive, covering aspects of memory, identity and representation from phenomenological and geographical perspectives (see for example, Casey 2002; Cresswell 2004; Berg and Vuolteenaho 2010; Mark et al 2011), intergenerational aspects of place have received less treatment (cf. Opp and Walsh 2010; Turkel 2007). This paper fills a gap in the literature by, first, theorizing about the brain’s ‘place for place’ in the hippocampus (Redish 1999); by, second, looking at linkages between internal and external aspects of place and the place of representations in those linkages (Peuquet 2002); by, third, introducing a memetics of place (cf. Runciman 2009); and, fourth, by examining intergenerational identities fostered by the transmission of place-based information (Eades 2010 and 2012; Thornton 2008).
This paper addresses two main questions. First, is the place meme a valid and viable mechanism for theorizing place? This involves defining ‘meme’, its operation, and the nature of its compatibility with place. Second, what are the implications of a memetics of place for identity construction through intergenerational knowledge transmission? To answer these two questions I use the following approach. I first review a body of theory and evidence positing a basis in the brain for place memes. The use here of insights gained from recent advances in brain and cognitive science is not intended to be reductionist. Memes are holistic devices for storing units of cultural information in both the brain and in external inscriptions (maps) and performances (Eades 2011b). These are transmitted by way of a number of pathways and mechanisms including mimesis, or imitation; re-inscription, or copying of information; and representation, or the ordering and simplification of information at one level ‘higher’ than basic information presented directly to the senses (Peuquet, 2002; Blackmore 1999; Deutsch 2011; Distin 2005 and 2011).
In covering the neural basis for memes, I begin an exploration into how selections of groups of neurons in the brain (Edelman 1987) correspond to selections of groups of named places formed according to what I call a theory of toponymic group selection (TTGS) acting as an external correlate to Edelman’s (1987) theory of neuron group selection (TNGS). As an initial example, I explore ‘Route 66,’ the highway extending temporally through much of the twentieth century and spatially from Chicago to Los Angeles, and which features in a number of cultural representations from songs to television shows to books. Heritage tourism activities highlight ways in which cultural selection operates by ‘freezing’ segments of culture and by increasing representational outputs in an array of visual, textual, cartographic and oral forms. We tell stories about places we’ve visited, and those stories are often supplemented, especially in tourism, by photos, postcards, maps and stories (Opp and Walsh, 2010).
Third, I explore some implications of place memes for indigenous peoples for whom named places hold a special place as traditional spatial frameworks upon which identity, livelihood, morality and spirituality hang (Thornton, 2008; Basso 1996). I focus specifically on indigenous peoples in Canada among whom I have lived and worked for over twenty years. Practices supporting a memetic theory of place and suggestive of a mechanism for transmission of intergenerational knowledge about place, have been observed firsthand during my time among Northwest Coast, Cree and Inuit indigenous groups.
Below, I explore the “Nisga’a Memorial Lava Beds”, an example of a place meme represented through a story of drastic reconfiguration, by volcanic eruption, of the Nass Valley landscape in northwestern British Columbia. In the summer of 2000 I followed a trail along lava beds to the Tseax volcanic cone. Through this experience, I explore how the Nisga’a have selected this route to represent the whole of their territory and worldview. It is a selected route that includes named places acting as a meme for the preservation of Nisga’a senses of morality and identity.
In the winter of 2010, with some Cree friends, I participated in a ‘long walk offshore’ called kaachewaapechuu, a yearly commemorative walk from the old to the new site of the town of Wemindji on eastern James Bay. It was the 50th anniversary of the walk, and a book was produced to celebrate that fact. I use both my notes from the long walk and the commemorative book to examine the place of kaachewaapechuu in Wemindji Cree senses of their own evolution as a community. I argue that kaachewaapechuu is a long-lived, or vertically transmitted, meme that helps the Cree keep their traditions alive (Eades, 2012).
Last, I explore the Inuit of Hudson Bay Quebec, and stories about journeys to Kuujjuarapik (Great Whale), as commemorated in stories and writings. I use two sources of data: first, interviews conducted over a month along Hudson Strait and the east coast of Hudson Bay with elders who referred to journeys made south to the relatively large community of Kuujjuarapik for the purposes of obtaining services provided by the church at that location. Second, I examine the publications Tumavut, a newsletter, and Toby Morantz’s 2010 text and photo essay, Relations on Southeastern Hudson Bay. Kuujjuarapik represents, for the Inuit of northern Quebec (the Nunavimmiut, or people of Nunavik), a beacon of hope in hard times, a sort of religious meme that spread throughout the region by way of various images, stories and textual media.
The term meme refers to a unit of cultural information, examples of which include recipes, musical scores, or instructions for performing tasks. The term place meme, refers to a unit of cultural information about place, including, for example maps, place names, or instructions for performing spatial tasks (such as finding a destination). Memes are structured in the brain as
“functional neuronal clusters (neural cliques) with long term potentiation. Meme replication occurs in the brain when a meme containing neuronal cluster is reinforced by stimulation, which may in turn infect other clusters to change configuration” (Leigh 2010, 21, italics in the original)
This neurological explanation of memes (to which we return below) provides a materialistic basis for exploring how cultural phenomena such as marriage, recipes and musical scores come to be. The scope of this paper is limited, however, to an examination of place-based cultural practices including, centrally, place naming. Place naming practices provide spatial anchors upon which hunter-gatherer cultures, including Inuit, Cree and Northwest Coast indigenous groups in Canada, hang narratives of crucial importance for locating valuable material, spiritual, aesthetic and other resources.
The idea of the meme as a ‘unit’ can be confusing and requires some explanation. It has been claimed that for memes to be real they must be particulate and distributed (i.e. non-overlapping) (Distin 2005), but this criteria has been refuted by Runciman (2009, 52) who points out that memes, like genes, have blurry edges or boundaries and often do overlap (Dawkins 1982). It is important not to stress similarities between memes and genes, however, because they are not, in fact, similar. The original impetus for the meme concept (cf. Dawkins 1976) was inspired by genetics, but too much has been made of alleged analogies between genetic and memetic processes of replication, variation and selection (covered below). Genetics and memetics are emphatically not analogous.
Memes are cultural practices that, sometimes blending into each other, are transmitted intergenerationally from parents to offspring. The practice of polygamy by Mormons is an example of such a practice (Runciman 2009, 100) that, while it may not be practiced in exactly the same way by each and every family, constitutes an intergenerationally (i.e. vertically) transmitted meme. Furthermore, other (i.e. non-Mormon) cultures may practice polygamy, but they will do so under the auspices of different justifications, reasonings, and rituals for continuing their own particular brand of the practice.
Vertically transmitted memes are fundamentally different from a popular notion of horizontally (spatially) transmitted memes. Horizontal memes are born and quickly die after having ‘infected’ as many brains as possible, an example of which might be a video that goes viral on the internet. In this paper I focus only upon long lived, vertically transmitted, intergenerational memes about place, such as those inscribed on maps or told in stories, and which usually include place names (Eades 2011a).
Practices of place naming among indigenous and hunter-gatherer cultures are remarkably similar around the world (Brody 2000). These practices necessarily build structures of enduring importance to those cultures. As we will see below, for hunter-gatherer cultures, ephemeral place naming practices would be counter-productive or, in some cases, even deadly, as when names for areas of danger or caution are lost, misspelled or confused due to changes in focus and attention in some segments of the younger generation with less interest in learning about the land.
The place meme refers, then, to durable place-based practices. I now turn to tracing the meme’s origin in brains equipped with specialized brain structures for perceiving and making sense of places. In doing so my purpose is to demonstrate inter-cultural commonality, in terms of basic bodily requirements for movement, attention and wayfinding and, in doing so, begin to suggest aspects of culture that humanity as a whole (i.e not just hunter-gatherer cultures) is on the verge of losing.
B The Brain’s Place for Places
Peuquet (2002, 59) notes the central role of the hippocampus in the creation of long term and place-based memories. Pequet refers to the work of O’Keefe’s (1978) whose book, The Hippocampus as a Cognitive Map, demonstrated the importance of the hippocampus as the center of navigation in rats, generalizing his results to include humans and other mammals. O’Keefe’s insight was refined by subsequent researchers, adding experimental evidence and insight to a basic framework of understanding around the role of the hippocampus as a “gateway to memory” (Gluck and Myers 2001). For instance, Redish (1999) focused on brain and behavior in mapping ‘place cells’ that provide synchrony between specific places in the environment and corresponding place cells activated (firing) in the medial temporal lobe of the animal situated in that place. Scientists can map the location of a body in space by noting which place cell happens to be firing at any given time. The area around the hippocampus (called the para-hippocampal region) also plays a major role in memory, and it includes the amygdala (centre of emotions) and the hippocampus itself, which takes up an area of the brain approximately the size of a pinkie finger (Gluck and Myers 2001, 12; Kandel 2006). Navigation through several places in sequence requires production in the brain of a representation of each place in turn, the generation of which is facilitated by place cells. Representations are produced, on an ongoing basis through feedback, through mappings between external stimuli and internal neural patterns. The hippocampus provides a gateway without which such mappings, and long term memory itself, would be impossible.
Figure 1 suggests that external representations (i.e. maps) facilitate and stimulate internal (spatial) memory formations, through inscription on surfaces such as paper. In the past other substrates were used, including bark, sand and parchment (Woodward and Lewis 1987). As the modern world sees rapid technological advancement, navigation is moving towards the video screen as the primary substrate for external map inscription (Scharl and Tochtermann 2007).
Figure 1 Production of Representations
Navigation using inscribed maps (on paper, screens or other substrates) includes interaction with basic features, somewhat like the ‘graphic primitives’ (point, line and area) in GIS (Schuurman 2004). On the ground, features do not follow such clearly defined categorizations as events unfold phenomenologically and subjectively (i.e. in place and in the first person). To represent information and relationships between various external referents (objects, events and places) represented on a map, a system for sorting through, and making sense of, those referents (real world phenomena) is invoked in and through cultural and cartographic practices (Runciman 2009), resulting in grouped symbol sets (i.e. map legends).
Named phenomena are included on maps through a process of selection called generalization. It is not possible, nor would it be desirable, to represent the totality of real world phenomena on a map. Mapmakers produce cultural representations of place (cf. Pickles 2004) through a process of exclusion that is a powerful side-effect of selection. The cultural background and interests of the mapmaker in large part influence that selection. These interests are shown on figure 1 as ‘map valences,’ which refers to the purposes (conscious or unconscious) and desired outcomes the map ultimately serves. For the mapmaker serving colonial interests, a desired outcome might, in the past, have been the depiction of a terra nullius, owned by none and free for appropriation and development (Lewis 1998).
Unnamed or new features require the legitimating influence of culturally influenced naming practices. This leads to arbitrary tagging as, to take an abstract example, when roads, laid out homogeneously in a subdivision, are labelled using the letters of the alphabet. Though initially ‘meaningless,’ such arbitrary tags can come to have meaning for the people living in the subdivision. Until that time, they serve as wayfinding devices that quickly become part of the internal (mental) maps of local residents. Philosophical aspects of the meaning of names are fascinating but beyond the scope of the present paper (see Kripke 2011; Hughes 2004; Roth 2008)
Named or unnamed referents alike stimulate place cells. The brain’s cognitive map, the hippocampus, stimulates a pre-defined selection of neurons associated with each place already encountered on that map through the stimulation of the corresponding place cell. Edelman (1987) has termed repetitive activations (re-activated each time interaction with a specific place occurs) of selected groups of neurons mappings. Memories, smells and feelings are examples of information evoked through interaction with place either directly, through presence in the place, or indirectly, through evocative means such as the utterance of the name, or the presentation of an image or map associated with the place.
With the term meme now defined, I turn to a definition of the term I am using as its modifier, place. According to Gluck and Myers (2001, 30)
“a place is a collection (or configuration) of views. When we stand in one spot and look north and stand in the same place and look south, those two views should be integrated into a unified percept of the current location so that the next time we approach that spot (from any angle), we recognize where we are. In addition to visual cues, there may be auditory, olfactory and tactile cues, as well as memory of the route by which we reached the spot and what happened when we got there. All this information should be combined into the memory of a ‘place.’ Thus, spatial learning may be a special case of configural learning: the ability to bind elements together into a single complex memory.”
With this in mind we turn now to a more detailed theorization of the nature of place selection. As we will demonstrate below, selection forms the basis for evolution of place.
C Theory of Toponymic Group Selection
Figure 2 shows a theoretical model of toponymic group selection. Selection is defined by Russell (2011, 175) as the “differential survival and reproduction of individuals in a population resulting from differences in traits.” Instead of individuals read here places. These places have traits that, taken together, form a topos, or landscape. Landscapes evolve, as shown on figure 2, as they emerge from background conditions, shown as an abstract set of coordinates, into recognizable features such as hills and valleys. Landscape formation is, thus, in part a function of natural physical geographic processes of landform and hydrological development including, for example, incision of valleys by streams, formation of floodplains by meandering rivers, or transformation of islands into peninsulas by isostatic rebound.
Figure 2 Place Selection
Cultural selection transforms a background landscape topos into one with salient, named, places. The differential survival (selection) of places is posited as a function of its naming and, is given its primary impetus ‘on the ground’ by in situ place-based and (spatial) cultural practices. Traits relevant to place selection include, for example, the location of resources, spiritual attributes, and past events. A place whose name ‘survives’ intact through multiple generations (i.e. the place name and its meaning have been remembered over long periods of time) forms the basic element in a place meme.
A second level of cultural selection transforms features of interest into second order features, place memes consisting of more than one place name. An example of such a meme is ‘Route 66,’ the road that, historically, ran from Chicago to Los Angeles. Many have heard of Route 66, but fewer can claim in depth or firsthand knowledge of the road. The latter will have interacted with individual places that make up the route either directly or through representations, and will possibly have travelled through place after place in the course of a real or imagined journey. Representations of route 66 are many and varied but a few examples include the novel “Grapes of Wrath” by John Steinbeck, the TV series “Route 66” which aired over four seasons in the 1960s; postcards and, not least, maps.
Route 66 could be placed at the top ‘level’ of figure 2. The symbolic value of route 66 for American identity and culture has resulted in highlighting, through selection, sections of the route deemed especially picturesque or worthy of commemoration. In addition to highlighting commemorative value the route 66 place meme is also useful for illustrating the difference between those that are transmitted horizontally and vertically. Horizontal transmission of knowledge about the highway stretching from Chicago to Los Angeles would spread rapidly through space, almost like a virus. The most effective modern means for achieving such an effect is through media such as television or radio. Broadcast media effect a one-to-many (one source, many recipients of the) spread of the place-based ideas associated with the place meme. For example, the song “Get Your Kicks on Route 66” was a national hit for some time, and though the song is still known, its cultural importance has faded.
Vertical transmission (the transfer of information over time), on the other hand, involves a number of criteria not present in horizontal transmission. First, information about the meme must be successfully received by the younger generation. Basic communication of facts about route 66 are facilitated by oral recounting of stories by elders in the presence of youth or by other means such as travelling together along portions of the route. The sharing of old maps, postcards or photos of family journeys from past times would help round out or solidify the content of this kind of communication Most importantly the source (i.e. an elder) must play a causal role in the placement of the information in the receiver of that information (Aunger 2007, 601).
Second, there must be relevant resemblances in the knowledge held by elder and youth (i.e. source and copy). Because memes replicate information by copying or imitation, the replicated information must resemble its source in relevant details. Third, resemblance between source and copy must be attributable to the source. The fourth and final requirement for vertical transmission of place memes is that the source and copy information co-exist for at least some overlapping period of time (i.e. the source information cannot disappear before its duplication is assured and verified in the receiver’s memory) (Aunger 2007, 601).
In the case of route 66, vertical transmission of information proceeds by the channels mentioned, i.e. storytelling, looking at pictures and travelling along the route. It is here that evolutionary mechanisms come to bear, as described in the previous two paragraphs, i.e. through repetitive storytelling and sharing; through accurate listening and memory (to make a ‘copy’); and through attribution and generational overlap. Along with inherited information comes the possibility of transformation or mutation of that information. These changes might happen due to copying errors or simply due to drifting interpretations in the information being communicated. As with genes, for memes copying is never perfect. And equally for both genes and memes the following holds true: that without variation evolution would not happen (Blackmore 2010, 257). Variations that, by design or serendipitously, happen to match a niche in a changing environment (genes) or cultural context (memes) tend to become selected ‘naturally,’ that is, automatically, due to the goodness of the fit between the new variation on the meme or gene and the corresponding advantage that new meme or gene gives the organism in the new environment (Darwin 2008a and 2008b).
This point illustrates an analogy between genetics and memetics, but, as noted above, extreme caution must be taken in extending this analogy. For all intents and purposes, genes and memes are not analogous (Eades 2011b) beyond the initial impetus for the creation of the meme concept as a theoretically expedient and epistemologically elegant means for examining evolution of culture (Runciman 2009; Distin 2005; Dawkins 1976 and 1982).
In changing cultural contexts such as those experienced in midwestern and southwestern United States, variations in representations of the route that came to be known (more on this concept in a moment) as route 66 led, early on, to enhancement of the survival value of this place meme. The road (known in local parlance as “the mother road”) was opened in 1926, and it addressed a transportation need. It became the backbone for east-west travel west of Chicago which, at that time, was considered such a far western outpost that Minnesota, Michigan and Illinois were considered ‘northwest’ (hence the names for Northwestern University in Chicago and Northwest Airlines whose headquarters were originally in Minnesota at its founding (also in 1926), despite their central location in the United States (Wallis 2012, ix).
Even before 1926, prominent physical features of the landscape led, through selection, to the establishment of towns. This, in some cases, included negative selection, for instance, as watering stations were required every ten miles along the section running through the Mojave desert where Arizona and California meet. Each of the watering stations led to the formation of a town (Dunaway 2012, xv). Trails that “Indians” and settlers had used to hunt buffalo were picked up as sections of the road, as were segments of existing highways and towns that were conveniently placed for easy incorporation into the establishment of the cross-country route (Dunaway 2012).
The top level of figure 2 shows how, after two levels of selection, the road could come to include salient features of the landscape even as it surpassed the original intended use of a particular area. Figure 2 shows three points running along a linear feature, a portion of which is included in an areal feature. The latter could, for example, represent an area where buffalo were known to roam (before hunting led to their extinction), that would naturally have led the indigenous inhabitants to favour the area. On the diagram, the linear feature could be a river (such as, for instance, the Meremac River in Missouri) allowing for easy boat access to the buffalo hunting area. The points along the river are convenient stopping places for beginning the hunt, embarking or disembarking from boats, or for slaughter and hauling of the meat.
Colonizers, developers and settlers appearing subsequent to the elimination and/or removal of the ‘Indians’ needed not re-select for location as prior selections (by indigenous peoples) of site, route and harvesting area grew naturally into town, road and farm in their own ways. Often this was dictated by the lay of the land or by pre-historic use patterns adopted historically by newcomers. Now, almost 90 years after its original opening, segments of route 66 have been dismantled, decommissioned or de-coupled, and the memetic quality of the now historic route is actually enhanced through commemorative activity, tourism, works of art, and by fostering representations about the place in such a way that its heritage value is highlighted. Personal motivations for participating in the propagation of commemorative memes have been noted in the literature (Caton and Santos 2007, 372).
Indeed, I have included route 66 for personal reasons and, since personal motives drive my imagination and inquiry into this fascinating piece of Americana, its heuristic value forms the beginning of this paper’s inquiry into real examples of place memes. Ancestors on my mother’s side have lived and worked in Oklahoma for several generations. Will Rogers, Oklahoma icon and hero (with Will Rogers airport in Oklahoma City), is the person after whom route 66 was originally named, and Rogers, born in Oklahoma, was known to be a very frequent user of the highway. Oklahoma forms, symbolically and spatially, a sort of centre-piece on route 66, and it has been more than appropriate, therefore, to the task at hand, that of illuminating a range of factors that go into place meme selection, from the personal to the cultural to the abstract (Malak 2012, 56).
At this time, however, I to turn to a more methodologically informed inquiry of place memes used by indigenous groups in both British Columbia and Quebec with lines of continuity stretching back much longer than the three or four generations spanning the existence of route 66.
D Place, Landscape and Intergenerational Identity
The route 66 material above is hypothetical (informed, however, by theory as well as personal and family experience), serving to illuminate the theory of toponymic group selection leading to the formation of place memes. This section provides evidence gained from experiences in the field whose original impetus was primarily academic in nature. Although I grew up in, and conducted interviews amongst, members of northwest coast British Columbian First Nations groups, including Nisga’a, Wet’suwet’en and Gitksan First Nations, formative experiences are not intended as the primary basis of empirical evidence for the claims made here. Instead, I build upon field work completed during the course of master’s, doctoral and postdoctoral research conducted, respectively, in northwestern British Columbia, eastern James Bay, and Nunavik Quebec (Eades 2005 and 2010).
The involvement of indigenous groups associated with each of these areas stretches back many hundreds or thousands of years. The age of some toponyms is not certain, but in conversation with elders in British Columbia and Quebec it will often be mentioned that a name is from an older era, from before living memory. The name comes from a time associated with deceased ancestors whose presence on the land has persisted in and through those anchors to the land condensed in place names. But in many cases, the meaning of the name has been lost, or is in the process of being lost. Furthermore, I argue below that the continued use of traditional place names through travel upon and interaction with land and language, bolsters community health and well being (Mark et al 2011; Kirmayer and Valaskakis 2009).
Nisga’a Memorial Lava Beds
Among the Nisga’a of northwestern British Columbia, place names are political. Dealings and interactions with neighbouring Gitksan and Wet’suwet’en peoples are often tense, and there is a great deal of territorial overlap between, linguistically, widely divergent First Nations. Though both have origins in the same migration event across the Bering Strait, the Nisga’a and the Gitksan originally spoke mutually incomprehensible languages, a fact that is reflected in their traditional place names. In teaching youth about traditional knowledge systems, elders have traditionally taken youth out on the land to interact with the landscapes of their ancestors, and to learn techniques by watching their elders hunt, fish and build dwellings. Modern day levels of engagement among youth are decreasing in these territories, as they are in many other indigenous communities around the world. Disengaged youth (no doubt modeling their behavior upon that of adults) addicted to television, junk food and southern culture in unhealthy doses seem unable or unwilling to connect with, or relate to, their elders. Loss of language is one indicator of the advance of these negative processes, and loss of interaction with the land and traditional activities of elders is an unfortunate means for accelerating that loss.
Language is memetic (Blute 2010), meaning, as noted above, that it consists of discrete (but often overlapping) ‘units’ of information. Place names, for this reason, and in addition to the reasons described above), have memetic qualities as well (Mark et al 2011). In the course of establishing a ‘hard’ boundary between themselves, and as part of the landmark Delgamuukw v. The Queen court case, the Gitksan people mapped out their traditional lands by focusing with precision upon aspects of language inscribed in the land, the names of places associated with traditional hunting and gathering activities known through many generations in Gitksan families and clans (Sterritt et al 1998). These place names, handed down intergenerationally from elder to youth, and linked together spatially into travel routes or harvesting areas, are, by definition, place memes. They also served to demarcate a boundary between ‘us’ and ‘them’, between the Gitksan and their neighbours, the Nisga’a.
The Nisga’a eventually won their case, at the same time as they established the legitimacy of oral history in the Canadian courtroom (Ray 2011). Due to the political and mapping efforts of the neighbouring Gitksan, however, the Nisga’a were forced to reduce their initial territorial claim by almost half. It is not uncommon for British Columbian First Nations territories to have 100% overlap between respective claims with the result that virtually all territory in British Columbia, where it has not already been settled by treaty, is contested either between First Nation and First Nation or between a First Nation and the province. It is often through the testimony of elders about the activities of their ancestors on the land, anchored in and through place names, that such territorial disputes are resolved. Testimonials of this type must include repetitive use of the same places, routes or areas over long periods of time in order to establish a claim to occupancy. Cabinets full of maps of land use/occupancy studies and place name surveys are the norm in First Nations band offices whose lands and resources departments have often dedicated the majority of their budget to these kinds of projects. A band thus establishes historical occupancy up to a line beyond which an adjacent band’s or First Nation’s claim may begin using very similar methodologies by noting inscribed (named) activity in the land. Such methods are now, ironically, as ubiquitous amongst British Columbian First Nations as the language that has come to replace what was traditionally their own (Tobias 2009).
After boundary solidification and land claims settlement processes have gained legitimacy within the First Nation, the next step, ideally, is that a process of cultural consolidation will begin to bring pride to its communities. Commemorative activities occur are selected by local band, cultural and tourism offices. The Nisga’a, after settling a historic claim giving them exclusive jurisdiction over territory and livelihoods, established a tour route called “Anhluut’ukwsim Laxmihl Angwinga’asanskwhl Nisga’a Provincial Park” or the Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park. This route consists of a string of points of interest, chosen for their historic, mythical and scenic value. A narrative of a volcanic eruption that occurred some 250 years before the present ties these points together. The Nisga’a read the eruption as punishment for the mistreatment of animals. It was said that in the Tseax River, a tributary to the Nass River, spawning salmon were disrespected by some children who had placed burning sticks in the backs of the salmon so that they resembled swimming candles. The eruption, which filled the Tseax valley with lava, was punishment for this transgression against nature.
The Tseax valley lava flow blocked the river, causing Tseax Lake to form upstream, after which the river was forced to flow underground (see figure 3). The geomorphological and hydrological configuration of the entire valley changed with one catastrophic event. The result is a spectacular panorama, one which attracts many tourists to the area, and many more of recent years since the settlement of the Nisga’a treaty gave the Nisga’a enough money to pave the road from Highway 16 near Terrace north through the Kitsumkalum watershed and onward to Gitlaxt’aamiks (New Aiyansh), the ‘capitol’ of the Nisga’a nation, and across to the mouth of the Nass River passing through the villages of Gitwinksihlkw and Laxgalts’ap (see figure 4).
Gitlaxt’aamiks sits on the edge of the lava beds, with a view down the valley framed by soaring, heavily forested mountains topped by large expanses of alpine meadow, and it represents the symbolic and economic seat of power for the Nisga’a. Some 10 kilometres or so from Gitlaxt’aamiks is Gitwinksihlkw, situated on the edge of a canyon consisting of thick layers of volcanic rock. The site is rich in salmon and timber, and tourists are often attracted to the suspension bridge from which they can view the boiling Nass River waters surging through the confining rock sides. Laxgalts’ap, nearer to the mouth of the Nass and some 50 kilometres downstream, is also rich in salmon and timber, but also in eulachon, valued traditionally for their grease. When the eulachon are running, bald eagles, crows, seagulls and humans congregate to eat from the millions of small (an adult eulachon is the length of a fully grown man’s hand) silver fish schooling upstream beneath the water’s surface.
Figure 3 Nisga’a Memorial Lava Beds
Figure 4 Nass Valley
Each of these places is part of a second order toponymic selection based on a first order selection in which places acquired names based on values inherent to those places. Town sites were chosen based on unique natural values (timber or salmon in the case of Gitwinksihlkw and Laxgalts’ap) or attributes (central location and high elevation in the case of Gitlaxt’aamiks) at those locations, all linked together by the Nass River. Second order selection saw these three places linked together along the Nass Valley by roads, power lines and telecommunication devices. The change through time from first order to second order selection is roughly concurrent with the colonization of the area by outside interests, a topic that is beyond the scope of the present paper, but relevant insofar as it makes apparent that selection is not always guided by local interests. Instead, it is often guided by outsiders or by forces (such as colonization or globalization) originating from ‘outside’ the traditional territories.
The memorial lava beds trail route was, by contrast, guided from ‘inside’ as it was selected by the community to represent the unique value of the Nisga’a lands and culture as a whole. As a special place chosen to stand in for the whole of the region, it is deliberately ‘frozen’ by inscription of its various viewpoints, signs and information panels. As the park brochure reads,
Anhluut’ukwsim Laxmihl Angwinga’asanskwhl Nisga’a (Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park) is the first provincial park within the Province of British Columbia established to combine interpretation of natural features and native culture. The park is included in the landmark treaty, the “Nisga’a Final Agreement”, between the Government of Canada and the Nisga’a Nation. Nisga’a Memorial Lava Bed Park is also the first provincial park to be jointly managed by a First Nation and BC Parks (BC Parks 2012).
Thus, the lava beds are a heritage meme for preserving culture and memorializing historic events, the “landmark treaty” and volcanic eruption alike. As shown on figure 1, maps have ‘valences’ two of which are tourism and colonization. Where early colonial maps of the Nass Valley might have tended to exclude Nisga’a interests in favor of colonial interests, tourist maps ‘counter’ that tendency, post-land claims settlement, by the production of local representations more in keeping with Nisga’a values.
Kaachewaapechuu means ‘going offshore’ and it is the name for a yearly event in Wemindji Québec (see figure 5). This event is a commemoration of the old town site from which, in 2010, the Wemindji Cree had moved 50 years before. The distance between the new site on the Maqatua River, and the old one, is about 40km. Kaachewaapechuu starts at present day Wemindji and, over three days, makes its way south to the mouth of the paakumshumwaau (Old Factory) River, to an island in Old Factory Bay, where the old Hudson’s Bay Company post and residential school still stand (for general location see figure 6). I took part in the ‘long walk,’ as I and my several companions, three white and seven Cree, came to refer to the event in which we participated in March 2010 (Eades 2010).
Figure 5 Northern Quebec
Figure 6 Kaachewaapechuu
In Wemindji, as in James Bay generally, isostatic rebound (the rising of the land surface caused by the release of weight due to glacial melting) is rapid, occurring at a rate of approximately 1 centimetre per year. Isostatic rebound is constantly reconfiguring the coast of James Bay and the shoreline along which Wemindji Cree travel in order to hunt and fish. One of the main reasons cited by local residents for the community move 50 years previous to our walk is the fact that it is getting more difficult by the year to navigate waters made shallower by the rebounding land. Since that move, the water is approximately 50 centimetres shallower and is, in fact, prohibitive for boat travel.
Another reason for the move, and one which came up frequently during our long walk, was a sense of optimism among Wemindji Cree that life would be better on higher ground and that a new start could be made (Cree Nation of Wemindji 2010). In James and Hudson Bays the middle of the twentieth century was a time of great hardship due to declining numbers of caribou, beluga and fox, the first two of which northern peoples of Quebec rely upon for food, with the latter sold for profit with which supplies and food could be bought. There is no clear answer to the question of why the caribou, beluga and fox (among other species) declined, but it has been hazarded that either overhunting or cyclical declines could be to blame (Morantz 2010).
Due to lack of animal resources on the land and to unenlightened government welfare policies with regard to Cree and Inuit peoples, stories of hardship, poverty and even, occasionally, starvation were common in the mid-twentieth century. In 1960, when Wemindji moved, people were starting to feel optimistic, at the same time as they were beginning to combine store bought foods with traditional country foods obtained on the land. Overall, a trend towards sedentary life in town had already begun, with roughly half of Wemindji families residing permanently in town at the time of the move. Now, in 2010, there was really only one family residing semi-permanently on the land, and it was to one of the members of that family’s cabin that we would be stopping on the second night of the long walk.
After the first day, we had found ourselves, a nutritionist, a teacher’s assistant and myself the only three white people on the walk, along with two female Cree elders, a young Cree woman and her child, and a young Cree man and his two children, in a trapper’s cabin for the night. Upon entering this cabin, one big room with a large wood stove in the middle, we were met with incredible warmth, laughter, beaver and ptarmigan stew, and hot tea. A woman sat to one side skinning a beaver. It was a celebratory evening and, once the kids settled down from a game of hide and seek, we all slept well in our sleeping bags, either on beds or on the floor. On the wall above my sleeping place was a map that, before bed, a young boy of 8, already a hunter, had informed me was where he was from and that it was called maatuskaach. The next day we made it to that place, just beyond an area referred to as ‘the strawberry eating place.’
There were some very long stretches across long expanses of ice, bays that seemed to stretch out forever. The last day of our trek was the hardest, but I generated conversation by producing my global positioning system receiver from time to time, which generated discussion on a great number of different topics, not the least of which was ‘how far now?’ I would report that it was 12 kilometres or ‘only 5 kilometres now,’ which would invariably lead to some other barely related topic such as tree identification or stories about hunting. At our daily lunch break the topic of ancestors not having enough food often came up as well, and it was therefore with thanks and a sense of well being that we would pause for hot tea, grilled cheese and tinned meat that our guides cooked for us over a fire crackling with freshly harvested spruce boughs from the side of the snowmobile trail.
When our journey ended in Old Factory Bay we celebrated with families who lived there part of the year with segments of all generations represented, from elders and adults socializing around the table or resting on beds; to children and grandchildren playing and jumping or watching ‘Sponge Bob Square Pants’ on the satellite TV. Again we ate stew and drank tea, but over and over again we also told stories about places we had seen along the way, about things that had happened there in the past, both joyful and tragic. These stories, combined with travel through the places associated with them, made for an unforgettable experience for white and Cree alike. I, as a white sojourner of kaachewaapechuu, can only imagine the sense of empowerment the Cree elders I travelled with must have received from this interaction with the land and places in which their ancestors struggled, lived and, ultimately, perished. Many of those ancestors were, in fact, buried ‘out on the land’ and the day after our arrival we visited some of those graves, out in a spruce and poplar grove not far from the island with the Hudson’s Bay Company post and the old school.
Kuujjuarapik, also known as Great Whale, or Whapmagoostui among the Cree, is the Inuit name for the community located at the southeastern edge of Hudson Bay (see figure 5). This mixed Cree/Inuit community has been the site of much religious activity over the past century as the Inuit living along the Hudson Bay coast, suffering from hardship, poverty, and even starvation, would make their way from as far away as Hudson Strait to be wed, baptized or, due to illness, shipped to hospitals farther south. Many communities along the Hudson Bay coast did not yet have their own church and pastor
There is, as of this writing, no event or route for the commemoration of those displaced by sickness or motivated by religion to visit Kuujjuarapik, but mention of travels to the village are frequent among elders residing on the eastern side of Hudson Bay. During a 2012 place names survey I often heard these stories as brief asides from the main work of verifying local toponymies. I also found mention of travelling to Kuujjuarapik in Tumivut magazine, 10 issues (and one supplement) of which were produced by Avataq Cultural Institute between Fall 1990 and spring 2000. Long journeys were sometimes undertaken, for instance, from Ivujivik, the northernmost village in Quebec, Akulivik or Puvirnituq, in spring when temperatures were beginning to warm a bit but before the ice had completely broken up. As Jusi Aullaluk, from Akulivik, recounts,
[p]eople used to travel by dogteams for long distances and I have had that experience. That was such a long time ago though. We were in Kuujjuarapik by the time I began remembering things clearly. We were gone there for a winter or two. It is quite a distance to Kuujjuarapik from Qikirtajuaq (Cape Smith Island) (Aullaluk 1998, 10).
The influence, as early as 1877, of charismatic Anglican missionaries such as E.J. Peck and W.G. Walton, are without a doubt part of the beginning of the place meme “Kuujjuarapik” (Morantz 2010, 29). In the twentieth century this place meme had become so influential that travel to Kuujjuarapik had become a yearly event, with Walton offering services and teachings (Morantz 2010, 30). Morantz notes that, “most of the conversions of that time took place following hunting accidents and sickness” (Morantz 2010, 30).
Recounting stories of hardship is as much a part of Inuit life as it is for the Cree. It is at Kuujjuarapik that Cree and Inuit experiences overlapped historically, and this overlap continues today as the town is evenly split, in terms of population between the two groups (with a small white minority present as well). Peter Kasudluak notes that visits to Kuujjuarapik were part of the seasonal round of life, indicating how large a part religion was coming to play, but he focuses mostly on food, noting that
“[w]hen the Inuit got to Kuujjuarapik, they were given tobacco, tea, flour and sugar for free. The amount they were given depended on the size of their family, so I wished I had a big family…[t]hey called going to Kuujjuarapik ‘Qavunnatut’ and going back north ‘Utirqatut’ . Reaching the land from the sea by boat was called ‘Taggiatut’. Those are some words which were once common and important” (Kasudluak 1995, 7).
In the following discussion I examine some meanings of the three place memes described above, noting below that in the transformation from place meme known only internally (within the culture from which the meme originates) to one that is known externally (across cultural boundaries through the creation of high profile commemorative tourist routes) the survival value of the meme is enhanced, but with a trade-off in terms of the ability of that place meme to evolve (through variation) as cultural and environmental contexts change.E Discussion
A heritage site is a place meme that has been frozen (through inscribed representations and repetitive performances) in time to highlight its durably memetic nature (vertically transmitted, i.e. through time). Heritage place memes might, however, except themselves from long term adaptation and change because their frozen (inscribed) nature leaves less possibility for the variation essential to cultural evolutionary processes to occur.
Heritage place memes, such as the Nisga’a lava beds tour, lend themselves to ease of intergenerational transmission of place-based information both within the cultural group from which they originate (i.e. the Nisga’a) and across cultural lines (i.e. to tourists) because the groups of places they represent are easily bundled together by the consumer of the tour. Horizontal spread of the information bundled as a meme builds extra survival value by, first, the viral (horizontal) spread of the place meme across cultural boundaries, and second, the vertical spread through time amongst outside tourist cultures for whom the meme is not, strictly speaking, their own heritage, but for whom it might come to play part in the adoptive culture’s senses of identity.
The Nisga’a Lava Beds Memorial route is visited by tourists, outsiders, who see the lava beds, different and interesting kinds of lava, and the volcanic cone itself both directly and through representations along the trail in the form of maps, photos and explanatory texts. Tourists also create their own ‘take home’ representations (i.e. photos, journals or orally recounted stories) that include realistic depictions of an indigenous population (i.e. the Nisga’a) and their struggle for self-determination with courts and governments.
Kaachewaapechuu and Kuujjuarapik are not yet tourist events in the same way as the Nisga’a lava beds are (except perhaps in the sense of the proverbial tourism ‘in your own back yard’). First, these commemorative place memes include important traditional words for directions in relation to the land. The term kaachewaapechuu indicates travel parallel to shore, while another Cree word Naascepaapechuu indicates ‘going inland.’ Three words in Inuit similarly indicate styles of movement and directionality as noted above (‘Qavunnatut’, or going to Kuujjuarapik; ‘Utirqatut,’ or going back north; and ‘Taggiatut’ or reaching the land from the sea by boat). These directional terms provide a basic framework or structure for understanding the place meme by use of a simple and easy to remember term that sets the stage for the recounting of stories or the production of representations that bundle together to form the place meme.
Second, Cree and Inuit place memes hold great potential for attracting tourists from outside the region. Organized sensitively, and guided by local personnel and values, selected groups of named places can be presented in such a way that they provide a structured and very memorable narrative. These memes would, like the Nisga’a Lava Beds Park, provide economic influx and stability, and would contribute towards an already building sense of self determination among indigenous groups in northern Quebec (Gagnon and Rocher 2002).F Conclusion
Our brains are made for remembering places important to us, and we remember those best that we encounter over and over (Kandel 2006), or that we have been exposed to through multiple representations. The hippocampus is responsible for bundling together inherently disparate information about places. The Nisga’a lava beds are unforgettable because of a uniquely human ability to remember and to bind together combinations of story, image and map encountered upon visiting the lava and volcano from which it originates. For the original inhabitants of the land it is, moreover, a traditional and morally instructive meme about the value of treating nature with respect. Basso has noted a similar moral instruction associated with named places and in situ events among the Western Apache.
In the case the Nisga’a, the moral is not difficult to decipher: maltreatment of salmon (piercing them with sticks) led directly to punishment. In the case of other heritage routes it might take some digging or stretching to find a moral. But they are there, and they are based in community values. Kaachewaapechuu, for instance, is about the value of remembering the old ways, the difficulties ancestors encountered and the fortitude and resolve with which they conducted themselves in procuring livelihoods for themselves and their families in the face of incredible challenges and hardships.
The trek to Kuujjuarapik from Ivujivik on the east coast of James Bay has similar overtones, but the religious aspect is paramount. Routes were chosen in the region for their value as traplines or access to wildlife (food). Religion has played a large part in the lives of the Inuit of Quebec insofar as it is believed in this region that worship and proper treatment of all creatures will be looked upon benevolently in the eyes of God (Morantz 2010). The trip to Kuujjuarapik is an invocation or symbolization of behavior that must be carried through to everyday life on the land. It is a trip to be remembered because at the end of it one arrives at the place of worship where a representative of God baptizes or weds or blesses, and these things are carried with the individuals so baptized, wed or blessed for life.
I end on a speculative note in the hope that theoretically and empirically informed speculation might generate future research. It has been noted that depression and both hippocampus-shrinkage and -shape are linked (Posener et al 2003; Neumeister et al 2005) and that interaction with places increases hippocampus volume (Maguire et al 1997; Maguire et al 2000; Hutchinson 2009). This does not, of course, establish a causal link between place interaction and lack of depression, but it does provide fodder for some potentially productive future research directions. For example, is there a link between interacting with landscape either directly or through representations and mental health? Can a return to traditional (land based) ways of life help youth maintain a healthy sense of identity? Does lack of interaction with the land lead to demoralization and depression or is there a deeper factor at play? Is this more the case in indigenous communities than in non-indigenous ones? I leave these as open questions for future study.
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