Exploring the human and greater-than-human world

Multispecies Ethnography




Nasattiuq: Pulling Back the Hood of Animal Mistreatment

In Ojibway, Cree, Inuit, Saami, and other circumpolar human cultures of the north where communities subsist nutritionally and spiritually off the flesh of local ungulate species – such as wapiti/elk/moose/caribou/reindeer – it is believed that the animal willingly presents itself to the hunter just before the kill.  As British anthropologist Tim Ingold explains of this phenomenon:

It is a fact well known both to hunters and biologists who have

set out to study caribou behavior by scientific methods, that at

the point when the animal becomes aware of the close presence

of a potential predator, whether human or non-human, it stands

still, turning to stare directly at its pursuer. (2000: 121)

In Inuit belief in particular, if the hunter’s intentions are good – in that he only takes what is revealed to him and does not ask for more than the animal can produce – then the animal is seen as intentionally offering itself to the hunter.  Ingold goes on to explain that this behavior and its cultural interpretation indicates a relationship of trust between man and animal, as opposed to relationship of domination as seen in the industrialized west.  For Ingold: “Trust presupposes an active, prior engagement with the agencies and entities of the environment on which we depend; it is an inherent quality of our relationship towards them” (2000:14).

If the human predator violates the trust relationship through “the attempt to extract by force” the animal will still present itself to him – but what the human sees is not a willingness to give but an act of punishment for maltreatment (2000:14).  As Ingold goes on to explain, the animal will peel back the “hood” of its ungulate face and reveal a face that has a “wolf-like visage, with round eyes, a long thin snout and bared fangs” (2000:122).  When animals becomes nasattiuq or “hoodless,” they transform into individuals “that have been maltreated in one way or another by humans in the past, and therefore harbor some malice towards them” (ibid).  If the hunter still finds the gumption to kill such an animal, nasattiuq are “deemed to be inedible: as potential eaters of human beings they cannot be eaten by humans – not, at least, without courting considerable danger” (ibid).

Martyred in Boulder, Colorado: the Mapleton Elk Shooting

Though Boulder is geographically a far cry from the circumpolar north – although some citizens, indigenous or not, might align to such cultural beliefs as outlined above by Ingold – what kind of moral and ethical resonance may we still find through the idea of the nasattiuq when it comes to the community’s response to the recent Mapleton Elk shooting and now sentencing of the two police officers involved?  How does the nasattiuq of the Mapleton Elk help us ask important questions with implications we might not have otherwise considered?

On the night of January 1st, 2013, what kind of face might the Mapleton Elk have shown to officers Sam Carter and Brent Curnow?  Was it a trusting or malign visage that revealed itself to these men?  What face do Boulder community members see in this controversy?  Do they see a slain guardian and protector, their “Big Boy”?  Or, as many readers’ comments on Facebook and online articles posted by the Daily Camera reveal, do they see “elk burgers” and another eye-rolling case of “Only in Boulder”?

And now that Carter and Curnow have been formally charged with a smattering of crimes that speak to transgressions against both human and nonhuman animal victims, how do we now face the Mapleton Elk?  How has it changed since the first media glimpse we had with his tongue lolling out as Officer Carter posed between his impressive, unbroken antlers?  When we stare long enough and look deeper, what face – like the nasattiuq or something more unprecedented and evolving – do we see, and what does it tell us about how humans not only mistreat nonhuman animals, but how they take their own species’ community integrity for granted in the process as well?


@MapletonElk.com: The Face of Social Media

One “face” that has come forth in six weeks since the Mapleton Elk was shot has been its reincarnation as a social media figure.  I had a chance to glean a few answers from the individual (who wishes to remain anonymous) who runs the Facebook page – “Justice for the Mapleton Elk” (https://www.facebook.com/JusticeForTheMapletonElk?fref=ts)  – and Twitter account – “Mapleton Elk” (https://twitter.com/MapletonElk) – about the community response to the shooting, why s/he started a social media trend, and what exactly “justice” looks like for the Mapleton Elk.

Why did you start a Facebook page and Twitter account for the Mapleton elk?  Why do you speak as the elk? 

I wanted to provide a forum for individuals to build community around the issue in a positive and constructive way.  New media can serve as a powerful community organizing tool.  I speak as the elk because that draws more attention (front page of the 1/5/13 Boulder Daily Camera “Boulder’s Mapleton Elk now a social media figure” http://www.dailycamera.com/news/boulder/ci_22318774/boulders-mapleton-elk-now-social-media-figure?IADID=Search-www.dailycamera.com-www.dailycamera.com ) than straight up news.  The facebook.com/justiceforthemapletonelk is more about informing, organizing and action and the twitter.com/mapletonelk approaches the subject with more levity.  I think it also personalizes the elk who had no voice.

Additionally, these two new media tools bring the issue at the forefront through people engaging by posting.  The “No Hunting in our ‘Hood” posters placed in local Boulder businesses also raises the profile.  The process is assured to be long and arduous as Chief Beckner said the internal investigation could take one to two months.  We need to keep the issue alive just as much as the Boulder Police Department wants it to die.

I use Saul Alinsky (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saul_Alinsky) as a guide.  He believed, “A good tactic is one your people enjoy” (like social media?).  He also believed that it was critical to “keep the pressure on, with different tactics and actions, and utilize all events of the period for your purpose.”

What do you and your supporters consider to be justice for him?

 The range of reparations to the harm caused to our neighborhood includes:

1.  Dismissal of those involved from the police department

2.  Criminal penalties.

3.  Fines paid by those involved.  Per Samson’s Law – A bull elk with six-point antlers can result in a fine of up to $10,000

4.  Other sanctions on top of the criminal penalties for violating hunting rules such as not be able to own a firearm, etc.

5.  Admission of guilt by those involved.  The elk was not injured or aggressive and did not need to be euthanized.  We knew this elk.

6.  Raising the profile of other misconduct within the Boulder Police Department

7.  Corrective actions to improve the culture of current widespread misconduct

8.  Something that can renew our faith in a Police Department that allowed this to occur.

This neighborhood (Mapleton Hill) has lost faith.  We don’t trust them.  Let’s review the facts:  Hunting isn’t allowed in city limits.  Unnecessary discharge of a weapon in a residential neighborhood to hunt an elk as a trophy.  The officer did not file a report or notify dispatchers about the incident.  In fact they communicated via personal mobile phones.  A photo taken by a resident in the area shows Carter posing with the elk.  Further, the off-duty Boulder officer called to help dispose of the elk had called in sick, operates taxidermy website.  The list goes on…

(Go here to read the formal charges against ex-officers Carter and Curnow: http://www.dailycamera.com/news/boulder/ci_22539747/ex-boulder-cops-sam-carter-brent-curnow-be)

Is this really about an elk?

 Yes and no.  The elk shooting is only the latest serious misstep within the Boulder Police Department.  We are concerned about the larger culture of misconduct that needs to be addressed in order for tax paying, voting residents to regain trust in the department.

From the Boulder Daily Camera: “Chief Beckner acknowledged there have been a concerning number of serious incidents in the last 18 months. 

· In April 2012, a former Boulder police officer, Eric Shunglik Lee, pleaded guilty in federal court to possessing an unregistered firearm, a charge stemming from an accusation that the 33-year-old patrol officer stole and sold Army-issued assault rifle silencers.

· In May, a Boulder police officer on medical leave, Christian McCracken, was charged with attempted murder for allegedly plotting to murder his ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend.

· Two Boulder police officers are currently on administrative leave after being arrested on suspicion of DUI.  Scott Morris was pulled over by Boulder County sheriff’s deputies in November. According to a police report, he had been pulled over 44 times in the last several years and some of the deputies were familiar with him from those incidents.

· Then in December, Boulder DUI officer Elizabeth Ward was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence in Thornton.”

The mistrust that the Boulder community has in the Boulder Police Department is a casualty of the misconduct of officers of the Boulder Police Department.  That trust can only be restored by the officers involved being brought to justice.

Aren’t there problems in this world far more pressing than this elk?

We fully understand there are many issues in the world today that are unjust and horrible like those which occurred in Columbine, Aurora & Newtown. By no means are we ranking this injustice over any other injustice. Doing so distracts us all and prevents us from dismantling any and all injustices. We are in solidarity with those of you positively and constructively working to solve challenges in your own community. We appreciate the support we’ve received from around the world.


Since the initial emotional and media uproar over the killing of the Mapleton Elk on New Year’s Day 2013, what “face” do you now see in all of this?  What “hood” has been pulled back and exposed in all of this?  What will we do to bring trust – not domination – back between the human and nonhuman inhabitants of Boulder or other communities that will come to face comparable controversies?  Will social media, posters, t-shirts, marches, vigils, letters to the editor, articles such as this one, investigations, job resignations, legal charges, court cases, jail time – even a memorial statue – be enough to restitute that which was taken with force?


2000 Ingold, Tim

Perceptions of the Environment: Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill. Routledge.  (http://taskscape.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/the-perception-of-the-environment.pdf)


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