Letter:Change among tribal peoples

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Sir: Nicholas Schoon's article "Vanishing tribes ... vanishing whales" (21 June) does not do justice to the Inuit and the tribal peoples of eastern Siberia.

Although he acknowledges that, for Arctic peoples, subsistence whaling is a force for social cohesion and often the only means of economic survival, his emotive emphasis on their use of "modern" hunting weapons reflects the most common Western misunder- standing of tribal peoples. Whereas Western societies "develop" or "progress", the argument goes, tribal peoples remain "primitive" and "at one with nature", fit only to be conserved like rare species or "dragged kicking and screaming into the 20th century". The idea that tribal societies contain their own dynamic of change and can accept or reject Western-style modernity on their own terms still threatens even those of an impeccably liberal disposition.

Rifles may be less picturesque than poisoned arrows, but the quota figures themselves show that if there is a threat to these mammals it does not come from Arctic peoples.


Director General, Survival

London WC1