One thing leads to another as an intrusive new sound threatens what is left of a way of life. Besides their importance for diet and clothing, caribou “is our identity,” Rich said when interviewed recently for a radio broadcast. “It’s our culture, it’s our way of life. It’s also a part of the big spiritual awareness of what’s going on in the animal world. And without the caribou we don’t think the Innu will be able to survive.” The Innu are so isolated in their northern fastness that without as many caribou they are getting food shipped to them in the summer when the waters are open, or flown in to them in winter. “And then that’s created a lot of problems in diet and eating junk food. . . . A diabetes epidemic is one of the things that we are facing right now,” Rich concluded.
|Traditional Innu camp|
But for George Rich, it was the noise pollution from the choppers that most clearly--and most recently--affected the herd. We are not used to thinking in terms of sound-worlds when we measure the environmental effects of development. We usually limit our gaze to the visible landscape: forests cleared for timber use, farmland covered with factories and shopping centers. Sound? It seems so ephemeral. The warnings coming from acoustic ecologists about noise pollution in urban environments seem trivial by comparison. But are they? It isn’t just that sirens and jackhammers are deafening; they cause anxiety and confusion in humans as they do in caribou.
Not unexpectedly, the Innu have music about the caribou, hunting songs that were passed from one generation to the next. What would a hunting song be about? The strength and prowess of the hunter? A boast or a threat to the prey? A triumphant enactment of the kill? None of the above. Instead, they establish relationships with the caribou. George Rich translated one of them: “You are so far away, I cannot reach you. I’ll catch up with you and call my friends.” This is how music evokes, and shapes, the “big spiritual awareness of what’s going on in the animal world,” as Rich put it. The music of the Innu is not only a critical part of the Innu sound-world, but it embodies Innu worldview.
“I do hope the caribou come back soon,” the radio host said, somewhat lamely, in ending the interview with George Rich. Rich could not help but agree. They were hoping for resiliency. Beyond hope, though, we might try management: get those helicopters out of there, stop building the road, stop exploring for minerals, and understand that the effects of climate change will be felt not only by vulnerable peoples in remote areas but by every creature everywhere on the planet. Music, sound, nature, culture: again, it’s all connected. A sound-world is not simply an acoustic environment, a container for music and noise. Incidents such as this one with the caribou among the Innu show how a sound-world is a common-wealth, a commons shared by all. Managing the sound commons starts with understanding its nature and significance.
(1). George Rich, interviewed by Steve Curwood. “Reindeer Populations in Decline,” Living On Earth, aired during the week of Dec. 7, 2012. Accessed at http://www.loe.org/shows/segments.html?programID=12-P13-00049&segmentID=4