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People of the Good Land

by Alootook Ipellie

Voice of the Natives

from the Introduction

... The element of nature does not take kindly to the inhabitants of the Arctic, or to those who visit and spend time in it. That is why it is respected by all human beings like a kindly, old grandfather-- for its gentleness, but mainly for its fury. Many have perished in it, some forgotten forever, since there was no one around to acknowledge their deaths. Nature in the Arctic is like that, uncaring one moment, then lavishing love with its many-splendoured beauty. No wonder it has a way of controlling the behaviour and psychology of its inhabitants.

Over the centuries, the availability of different animal species spawned distinctive fashion apparel crafted by some of history's best seamstresses. What can one say about the integrity of those who designed the hunting tools of survival in an unrepenting land? We will not rest easy until recognition is bestowed on those who invented tools and weapons designed to function in a precise way. Who among us does not marvel at the intricate beauty and resourcefulness of an ulu, the woman's knife?

These are some of the qualities that make Inuit unique among cultures in this world. Even though they live in one of the world's most inhospitable climates, their enduring characteristic is a people warm of heart who are always ready to help anyone struggling with life. If the art of human relations were to be measured among all people on the planet, Inuit would score high on a list of those who are experts in caring for his fellow man. This is not surprising given the fact they have always relied on one another to survive the unpredictable forces of nature....

from A Cultural Whiteout

... As an Inuk living in the Arctic, you can expect to get trapped in a whiteout several times each winter. The cultural upheaval we experienced in our community in the late 1950s and early 1960s seemed in retrospect a lot like being caught in a whiteout--trapped and unable to go forward since you could not see clearly where you were heading. So, our society had to rely on another society to be the guide dog to our blind culture. Some individuals were luckier than others, since they could use a cane to help them make some progress--one step at a time. Those who did not have a cane to guide them soon lost themselves in a whirlpool of no return. No new dawn gave evidence that things were going to turn around for the better even as the Inuit culture screamed in agony. Who or what was going to save this infant in distress? In the end the cultural white-out would not lift for many more years.

The transitional period from hunters and gatherers to community dwellers took some time to evolve. This was the period that proved fatal for many Inuit, who, for various personal reasons, could not readily adjust. For many families it was a time of uncertainty, as they diligently tried so to adopt a new lifestyle and met only with failure. Many individuals became suspended in midstream, unable to go along with the flow or to fight against it. The situation verged on social chaos.

The colonial social reformers--if they were not surprised by the turn of events--would deny full responsibility for the socio-cultural unrest in the communities. Their "cure" for whatever was ailing the Inuit was to put more money in. The powers-that-be had unwittingly opened a Pandora's box. So they had to be grateful for living in a rich country that could afford to fork out millions of dollars each fiscal year to try to put a lid back on the box. But all the money spent on the new social problems did not guarantee easy solutions. And that has proved true to this very day....

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