Stories in a New Skin: Approaches to Inuit Literature (Contemporary Studies on the North)

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Reflections on the intercultural politics of food… – Études/Inuit/Studies – Érudit

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Manual Stories in a New Skin: Approaches to Inuit Literature (Contemporary Studies on the North)

Moreover, the products of the kill depended too much on market and fashion fluctuations, not to speak of concerns related to protection of species and of the environment. Although this developed the infrastructure and created jobs, it also led to a sudden urbanization that not every community could adapt to.

Traditional ways of living were increasingly constrained and eliminated, with no provision made for the transition to the new way of living. The transitional difficulties were further enhanced, for example, by the fact that at the end of the s, the Kivalliq Region had to be placed under quarantine because of the appearance of serious infectious diseases such as polio for which there was as yet no vaccine. At the same time, the caribou population west of Hudson Bay nearly perished.

As a consequence, the Inuit of that area lost their food supply. Those Inuit still mostly living in camps faced an increasing threat from tuberculosis ; many who contracted the disease had to be treated in sanatoriums in the south. Many Inuit tried to continue their traditional way of living in their ancestral regions while adapting to the new conditions. But, they became more dependent on governmental welfare.


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The Canadian state had primarily scientific interest in its northern regions during the first half of the century. Beginning in the s, it became concerned about three issues: military security requirements, discovery of economically important natural resources, and an increasing sensibility for the special concerns of the Inuit. The government felt the need to exercise governmental control and sovereignty over the territory.

This department established social benefits such as unemployment aid, social welfare, care of the sick and of the elderly, child allowance, comprehensive educational and welfare programs of the industrial areas of Canada. At the same time, the Canadian government forcibly moved many Inuit families from their traditional hunting grounds into new and empty areas, to reinforce claims of Canadian sovereignty. By the mids, dramatic changes had occurred for the Canadian Inuit, which lasted well into the s. There were differences among the regions of Nunavut, such as the Qikiqtaaluk Baffin , Kivalliq or Kitikmeot.

The common characteristic was the extensive change from the nomadic to the sedentary way of living. Inuit left their camps and moved into settlements with permanent buildings. The wooden building replaced the igloo, qarmaq and tents originally made from hide. Since then, the Inuit have lived in residential buildings prefabricated in the south of Canada and—because of permafrost —built on stilts.

These buildings are heated with oil stoves every building has a holding tank for heating oil. Fresh water is delivered by tankers, and sewage is brought away the same way. Like other westerners, many households keep their TV sets on almost 24 hours a day. The people use fax machines and e-mail for correspondence. Traditionally, young Inuit women received little information about puberty, fertility, and pregnancy.

Consequently, elders describe that it was not uncommon for young women to remain in bed when they reached menarche , believing that they were sick or physiologically different. During menstruation, women were expected to follow certain practices including, 1 not sitting where men sat, 2 using rabbit skin, foxes [19] or mosses [20] and other garments, with the exception of men's garments, for sanitary pads , and 3 laying rabbit skin on the bed at night to soak up blood.

According to elders, women had to abide by more rules than men because of their menstruation and some rules were not only considered tradition, but also taboo if not followed. For example, using a man's garment for a sanitary pad could prevent the young woman from finding a husband for marriage.

Edited by Cynthia Sugars

Marriage commonly occurred when the female reached 14—15 years of age and the man reached adulthood, considered around 20 years of age. The marriage was traditionally arranged by the parents of the couple, possibly as early as infanthood, and often reflected a desire to strengthen the bond between families. In some parts of the Arctic, men also practised the tradition of "stealing" their wife from a camp, symbolically showing that the family did not want the daughter to leave their camp. In these cases, the family would later celebrate together and the woman would then join the husband's territory.

Childhood of the Inuit was still very brief the first half of the 20th century. Especially girls entered marriage at an early age. Before the arrival of Christian missionaries , it was mostly the families who decided which children should marry whom, i. Marriages often served to strengthen family ties, and girls had no say in choosing their partners.

Sometimes a young man who had not yet been pledged, sent to the parents of the girl, without being personally present in those negotiations. The wedding was completely unceremonial the same was true for birthdays.

Inuit culture

After Christianization, the only change was that now the couples also received Christian marriage ceremonies whenever a priest travelled their areas often months after the actual marriage. When finally government administration had been established, marriages were also registered by the administration, initially by police officers, later by the local administrations. Since moving from the camps to the settlements, more couples live together without marriage. This way, they feel less tied but also less responsible. But still, in the s, it was in no way unusual to make agreements regarding newborns about eventual marriages.


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However, when these promises of marriage became due, fifteen or twenty years later, they were taken less and less seriously. Before Christianizing referred to as Siqqitiq by the Inuit , polygamy , more often polygyny , less so polyandry , were not unusual among the Inuit. Extramarital relationships were accepted especially during extensive hunting trips, and there were so-called "lamp extinction games" with ritual partner exchanges.

According to a popular theory, these traditions reduced the danger of inbreeding and resulting population bottleneck in small and isolated settlements. With colonization, these customs led to great conflicts: On one hand such traditions were thought by missionaries as sinful , on the other, they were interpreted as sexual arbitrariness and taken advantage of, often leading to prostitution and sexual exploitation. Until the middle of the 20th century, i.

The Inuit women were predominantly in charge of intra-family concerns, such as caring for little children, taking care of the kill conservation of meat, cleaning of furs, and the like , the sewing of clothing, fire keeping in the qulliq, etc. Whenever a family lost its breadwinner for example in an accident , it was usually dependent on support by other families, and the widow was sometimes adopted as an additional wife by a close relative of the deceased see widow inheritance.

However, due to men being required to sometimes travel large distances to obtain food the division was not absolute. Men, for example, would need to know how to sew in case repairs were needed to their clothing. At the same, time women were required to know how to hunt and be able to help with igloo building.

The move from the camps to the settlements, which essentially took place during the s, brought about significant changes in this respect: The Inuit now were immediate subjects of governmental administration and care also social welfare. By occupations that were completely new to them, like in health care and local administration, but also in Inuit arts, the women with their earned money were able to contribute like the men to the livelihood of their families. Nowadays, the division of tasks and responsibilities between male and female Inuit are, following Canadian legislation, not very different from western industrialized nations, of which the Inuit are considered a part.

In Nunavut, female representatives and ministers are as common as their male counterparts. There are Inuit municipalities with female mayors, for example. These proved successful, and several studies found that Inuit had better access to primary care than many southern Canadians. However, this was short-lived due to more stringent immigration laws passed in the s. So common was the fly out to give birth that Inuit culture began to adapt to this almost inevitable fact.

To announce a newborn member of their community, many Inuit proclaim "the newborn has arrived" instead of "the baby is born". There are reports of Inuit women returning home after more than one month away to find their house in ruins and their other children poorly cared for.

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However, higher risk and first-time mothers must still go to the hospital in Yellowknife. In regards to conception and pregnancy, young Inuit woman were discouraged from engaging in sexual intercourse during puberty, ages 11 to 13 years, until they reached "prime maternity age", after marriage, about Similar to menarche, many young Inuit women were unaware about the indications of their first pregnancy.

Elders recount that young women often thought that they had been cured of their menses when they experienced amenorrhoea for the first time. To prevent miscarriage, the husband and camp were to assure that the woman did not become mentally stressed or exhausted during the pregnancy. This taboo extended to include not allowing the husband to get angry with his wife at any time during the pregnancy. According to traditional Inuit beliefs, hiding such a secret would bring bad luck for the camp such as, hunger, lack of food, or illness. In pregnancy, women's care was traditionally guided by the taboos, known as pittailiniq , from the elders in the community.

Edited by James H. Cox and Daniel Heath Justice
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