Saturday, March 29, 2008


“Unusual things are not meant to last.” Said Mika, a deceptively humble and sedate Inuit woman. She had said some form of the same statement many times over the last few weeks. This time she was referring to a team of dogs that she said could pull her Dogsled at a sustained speed of 17 kilometers per hour. Sadly most of those dogs had perished from the disease parvo, the year before. She sat across the room from me sowing a pair of beaver skin mitts speaking in a quiet monotone voice, occasionally punctuating words by raising her eyebrows. Inuit people are not all as quiet as Mika, but those who were raised mostly on the land understand the value of quiet. “We are taught to be quiet so as not to disturb the animals.” Mika said. I’m sure I had a quizzical look on my face. Who cares I thought. The more I learned from Mika about their traditions, the more I realized just how valuable their laws are. She remembers a time years ago when the Canadian Government tried to teach the Inuit to be herders, so they could make a living herding Caribou. The Inuit tried the techniques, but in the end the Caribou were just to hard to manage, so they went back to their old ways. What the Canadian Government didn’t understand, was that the Inuit had been managing the Caribou already for thousands of years. By our standards, the Inuit were a nomadic people, moving from place to place depending on the seasons. Nomads are roamers though, and they knew exactly where they were going, and it was the same as the year before. They didn’t move only to follow herds of Caribou, or to stay within hunting distance of the Flow Edge. They moved to allow their homes to air out, and to let the scent of man leave for a time, thus allowing nature to follow it’s course uninterrupted by man.

Many of the Inuit ways are confusing to us. They fight for rights to lands rich in mineral deposits, and yet do not mine them. They are a people backed by oral tradition, with knowledge passed down from the Elders. Those who lived solely off of the land are older now, mostly in their 80s, and it’s they who understand the reasons behind the laws. As with many oral traditions, they are passed on only when they are of use to those who keep them, and they are intimately connected with the language they were created in, changing the language changes the meaning of the story. Mika is fighting now to preserve not only her people, but their ancient ways. It isn’t easy, she is bending the rules by recording what has been an oral tradition for so long, and it’s considered rude to tell the Elders what to talk about. On the cusp that binds the generations, Mika is fighting to hold together her culture.


GMV said...

I've been learning a lot with your blog. (Here, in my beautifull country - Portugal)

Anonymous said...

Ben, I finally got to read your blogs at my friend's house. Mary Ann is typing for me. Your pictures are beautiful and it sounds like you are having exciting experiences. When you return to the warmer temperatures, I hope to be able to talk with you personally in more detail about your experiences. Your Mom and Pete send MA lots of pictures. Keep up the good work. Grandma Marie

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