Your privacy is important. Your contact info will never be shared.
Year One – Of Umingmak and Paskwâwimostos
I started this blog just over a year ago, to coincide with the creation of the Ravenstones website (theravenstones.com) and the publication of the first two volumes of The Ravenstones fantasy series. Much has been accomplished and happened in my little realm since then, while momentous events have shaken the world.
It seems timely to take a quick look back on the year.
In the world:
Unfortunately, it’s been a year of personal tragedy for many. Equally, a year of great sacrifice by health care and support workers and of overcoming adversity and loss for society as a whole. Also, at least for Canada, we’ve been given the gift of knowledge about the past, wrongs done and mistakes made. But whatever history has to teach us, the future is what we make of it.
For those who wish to focus on such matters in a positive way, I’d refer you to two organizations, the Canadian Race Relations Foundation and for those of a literary bent, the Swiss-based International Board on Books For Young People.
Of Umingmak and Paskwâwimostos
While not wanting to ignore the trials that currently plague society, I do want to highlight two positive things I’ve recently come across that, in my view, give great hope for the future of the animal world. After all, writing about animals is what I do and anything that points to their ongoing survival and growth is especially satisfying. I am taking the liberty of using their names, as used by Canada’s first peoples, those who encountered them in their natural habitat.
Both stories arrive courtesy of Canadian Wildlife (CWF), the May-June 2021 issue, and – as the title of the post suggests – they concern two creatures that (besides the polar bear, the loon and the beaver) have come to epitomise Canada’s natural habitat – the muskox and the plains bison.
According to the Online Cree Dictionary, paskwâwimostos is the Plains Cree word for buffalo.
Canada’s plains buffalo (more properly called bison since true buffalo are native only to Africa and Asia) were almost wiped out by arriving hunters and settlers back in the late 1800’s. Things got so bad that the federal government purchased 700 from a Montana rancher in the early 1900’s with the aim of re-establishing the species. A group of these were sent to Elk Island National Park in Alberta.
In 2017, 16 of their offspring were relocated to Banff National Park. This initiative has proven successful, and numbers have grown to four dozen, now roaming free in Banff’s backcountry. According to Alanna Mitchell, the article’s author, “this Banff herd is considered a globally significant addition to the wild bison population. It could become more important. Eventually, Banff could support as many as 1000 bison, potentially becoming one of the largest wild herds in North America”. (“Undoing Some Damage”, CWF, May/June 2021, p. 12-14)
Umingmak means “the bearded one” in Inuktitut, known to the rest of us as the muskox. The muskoxen are the Rodney Dangerfield of Canada’s large mammals – they can’t compete with the glamorous and “charismatic” polar bear or the “enduring significance” of the caribou as a “life-sustaining resource” for the people of the North (“The Curious Case of an Unlikely Creature”, CWF, May/June 2021, p.19). Yet, the species has survived at least one ice age; according to Tim Falconer, the author of the second CWF article, the species may be three to five million years old.
As with the bison, North Americans nearly hunted them to extinction. They were an easy prey as they didn’t run from danger but stayed together to protect their young. As Falconer points out, it was an effective strategy against wolves but not so much against guns. Eventually the federal government banned non-indigenous hunting (1917) and ordered a complete moratorium (1924).
Ultimately, populations began to expand rapidly, “resumed their previous range and even moved further south than biologists thought possible” (p.19). The majority of the population live in Canada (about 85,000), but they can also be found in Greenland, Norway, Siberia and Alaska. The muskox are still considered a threatened or endangered species in Canada, susceptible to disease and climate change and difficult to study given the vast distances they occupy in the North. According to the article they also seem to have many endearing qualities, being gentle, personable and clever (who knew?).
These two stories give hope for the future. One can conclude that where governments choose to act to preserve and protect the world’s flora and fauna, much can be accomplished. Much more can be said about these wonderful creatures, the importance of cooperative efforts spanning decades, boundaries and interests to ensure their survival and the necessity of constant vigilance by the public to press the point home. But my space is limited. Let me just conclude by reminding readers that many species continue to be threatened by overdevelopment, self-interest and carelessness, and only through our collective efforts can we succeed in saving them.