View Full Version : The great white North

11-27-2011, 07:21 PM
I've just finished the semester long course I took on the Canadian Territory of Nunavut. I feel like I've learned so much about this part of my country, the people, the customs, and the land. It's all been extremely fascinating. I'd love to share some of that knowledge with you all- I also took a lot of photos of the artefacts and items. I realize I held a lot of stereotypes and misconceptions so I think others may too. Some things I learned treaded on sticky territory around human and animal rights as well as the environment. Anyway, I could just write a giant wall of text but I thought it might be more engaging if people actually asked me anything they might be somewhat interested in and I'd use my new found knowledge and resources to answer and share any photos I may have taken or found that are applicable. I watched so many amazing docs too Im trying to find one of them online about Arctic oil drilling to share.

So yeah, ask me ANYTHING about the North and I'll do my best to answer! :)

11-27-2011, 07:29 PM
Can you provide a list of possible topics? Like a table of contents, sort of? :|

12-05-2011, 03:03 PM
I'm really interested in world mythology, but except for the story of Sedna and the Wendigo, I know very little about the folklore or mythology of northern Canada and Alaska. I would definitely be interested in hearing about any myths or shamanic practices you know of.

12-05-2011, 04:40 PM
Can you provide a list of possible topics? Like a table of contents, sort of? :|
Anything people want to know! It's pretty broad :p animals, nature, culture, food, language, clothing, tools, history, conservation, issues... whatever :P

I would definitely be interested in hearing about any myths or shamanic practices you know of.

It's funny, we call her Sedna, but they don't often refer to her as Sedna and she has a variety of the same basic story in many ways. Because they had no formal writing (didn't need it) until the missionaries came and introduced syllabics it was all oral story telling. Sedna morseso known as: Anagafaaluk, (a powerful "old lady" who lived in the ocean, but she had no authority on the land.) is one of the few "high spirits" (or 'gods') that the Inuit acknowledged.

For anyone who doesn't know the story of Sedna: basically there's a variety of tellings but she doesnt want to marry someone and while out in a kayak with her father she falls over board and when she tries to climb back in he chops off her fingers and they become all the animals of the sea while she sinks to the bottom and controls it.

Shamanism in the North was their main religion until missionaries came. It was mostly men, and they could have several wives, but occasionally husbands. The people were very communal so even though the shaman had power, they also needed the group to survive so while being revered to a degree they could still leave 'em behind ;) They did have shaman masks, usually made from soap-stone, bones, feathers, leather, and very occasionally wood. Shaman masks were one of the few non-survival things that would get embellished with "art" since the Inuit (well rather, the pre-dorset, dorset, and thule that came before the Inuit) weren't in the habit of making useless things.

For the Inuit the land was always changing and uncertain. There is an element of the "unseen". They tended to believe that spirits controlled the unseen e.g. weather, seasons, tides etc. The Pre-Dorset, Dorset, and Thule to the modern day Inuit (from now on when I speak of Inuit in this answer just assume it also applies for the many groups that led up to them) wanted to communicate with the spirits so they could placate them. Shamans were their bridge to the spirits and spirit world. It was thought they had special powers. To communicate with spirit helpers the shaman would fall into a trance like state. Sometimes the spirits of the dead would communicate through the shaman- usually to tell how upset they were with something the living were doing or not doing.

"Among the Kitengmiut ("people of the middle"), one group of
powerful evil spirits were called agiuktun in Inuinaktun. These were
invisible to ordinary people, but discernible to the shaman. The
angakuk could attack and vanquish these evil spirits, usually in the
porch of the iglu. He would go out to do battle with the agiuktun,
and return, exhausted, his spears dripping with blood. I have listened
to numerous accounts from the elders who, in their youth,
witnessed such triumphs." - Igloo Dwellers Were My Church, J.Sperry, Bayeux Arts p.39-40

Basically, the Inuit had in place a series of taboos not unlike some of our own and the majority of those taboos were governed by the shaman. Popular ones included not eating the meat of a land animal on the sea ice and not eating the meat from a sea animal on the land, women could not sew during the dark winter days, children could not play string games during the day, bone snow goggles were not allowed to be worn by women, women who gave birth must walk through their own snow not the footsteps of their husbands. Many of the taboos were on women as you can see but also many were just common sense for life in the Arctic (interesting note so many women embraced Christianity because they found it to be more free, lol!)

Some of the shaman were good people and if you messed up tried to help, tried to heal, and do the best for their people. Others, well, even up North with great power can come great abuse! A shaman might take some of your best tools just to spite you (naturally it's a taboo to let him take whatever he needs from you) or curse you. They had many tricks to discern the truth when having a council judgement of someone and if a shaman didnt like you, you might be screwed.

Here's an example:
"For example, a rolled-up fur garment (called a kila) was laid on
the ground and the spirit of either a living or a dead person, was
invited to enter it. The shaman addresses the kila with pointed
questions, and interprets its answers by whether the bundle
becomes heavy or light when lifted, similar to the Ouija Board of
our cultures, and with similar dubious authenticity." Igloo Dwellers Were My Church, J.Sperry, Bayeux Arts p.41

Another interesting quote that describes it better than I would from the same book:

"In Arctic society, as well as in many other cultures, the spiritual
leader of the group, whether called the shaman, medicine man,
angakuk, or whatever, was the most powerful and feared person in
the group, due to his (or her; female shamans were not uncommon)
mystical power and contacts with the spirit world. And, of course, as
in the case of leaders in the so-called "civilized" societies, competition
led to intense jealousy.
Shamans often were intensely jealous of others with the same
talents. Curses (hunianit) and counter-curses were common. The
shaman's most dreadful weapon was the power ot the curse; the
placing, even at a distance, of a malignant spell on another, resulting
in sickness, an accident, bad luck in hunting, deep depression,
and even death."

There's a lot more I could write, and I probably will. But I think that's a lot for now. :) See how far people get interested. One thing my instructor told me was when he worked up there there was a man who said he was a Shaman and a Christian. And on certain nights he asked to be put in jail for fear for evil spirits taking him over from the spirit world! Neat stuff.