People of the Deer: An Analysis

If you were to ask somebody who is fairly well read about their favourite primitivist authors, chances are quite probable that they would mention John Zerzan, Derrick Jensen and Ted Kaczynski. However, there is an author that often slips through the cracks and becomes forgotten among dozens of naturalist authors. This author is Canadian native Farley Mowat.

Among Canadians such as I, Farley Mowat is fairly well known as one of the greatest Canadian naturalists and authors of all time, somewhat comparable to British Columbia native David Suzuki. Many people read of his adventures in the northern territories of Canada and simply dismiss them as exaggerated tales of long gone encounters with the landscape of the Arctic. However, there is an element of primitivism that is quite apparent within his novels. This theme is very noticeable within his 1952 novel, People of the Deer.

It is in this novel that a young post-war Farley Mowat describes his adventures among a dying race of Inuit peoples in the barren lands west of Hudson Bay. This tribe known as the Ihalmiut has a subsistence that is based on the annual hunt of the caribou that arrives in the spring. If they were not able to hunt an adequate amount of the deer before winter arrives, then their winter would be a tough one indeed, as many of their members would eventually starve and die. The conditions in which this tribe lived are unbearable to the common civilized man. The cold could reach temperatures of up to fifty degrees celcius below zero. This paired with the lack of food made for an unbearable winter in which many of their tribe passed away.

Their winters were not always as unbearable as they were in 1947 and the following years, however. Prior to these winters, the caribou in which they depended on for their survival were very much abundant in the barren lands. This lead to many of the peoples taking up rifles to partake in the hunt, leaving behind their traditional primitive weapons. These rifles were supplied by white men who had travelled to the north in search of trade. The Inuit people valued these weapons very much, and were able to trade for a weapon which would bring abundance to their communities. As rifles were brought into the hunt, the Ihalmiut people lived in abundance with food. However, the excessive hunting that was enabled due to the introduction of rifles caused the deer populations to dwindle, and eventually take a nosedive in the winters of ’47 and onward.

The Ihalmiut tribespeople starved for many many years in the barren lands. Their population of over 4000 had shrunk to below 70 by the time that Farley Mowat had arrived to learn of their ways. It took many years for the Canadian government to begin a relocation program for these starving people. They were eventually moved across the arctic, in hopes that maybe they could begin a new life somewhere else. However, this was not the case. The Ihalmiut population had eventually dwindled down to zero by the time the Canadian government had finished their relocation program of the once starving people.

The downfall of the Ihalmiut people and culture had arrived. Their population had shrunk down to nil and it was now to be forgotten, lost in the sands of time, almost as if this majestic culture had never even existed. Their abundance brought on by the introduction of rifles into their society had lead to an unimaginable blight that wiped them off the face of the earth. The introduction of a technologically advanced piece of equipment into a primitive tribal culture caused mass devastation throughout an entire culture. The weapon that once had the potential to secure their existence forever, had caused the demise of their once great and prosperous culture.

An analysis of Farley Mowat’s People of the Deer has lead me to the belief that Farley Mowat was, and always was a primitivist. In 1947, he trekked through the arctic barrens, as he wished to live primitively among the people of the deer. Over those few years, he adapted to their tribal society and culture. His brief but meaningful visit to the arctic people lead him to write a novel that detailed the harm that technology has done to tribal peoples. This premise can be said not only for the Ihalmiut, but for the few struggling tribal societies left on this planet, as well as all that have existed in the past. In conclusion, I leave you with the premise and common theme that the introduction of technologically advanced methods and ways of life will eventually cause a dependence upon said ways of life. This reliance will eventually lead to the downfall of the tribal culture as a whole.