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Critical Inuit Studies

An Anthology of Contemporary Arctic Ethnography

Pamela Stern

Publication Year: 2006

Over the past decade, some of the most innovative work in anthropology and related fields has been done in the Native communities of circumpolar North America. Critical Inuit Studies offers an overview of the current state of Inuit studies by bringing together the insights and fieldwork of more than a dozen scholars from six countries currently working with Native communities in the far north. The volume showcases the latest methodologies and interpretive perspectives, presents a multitude of instructive case studies with individuals and communities, and shares the personal and professional insights from the fieldwork and thought of distinguished researchers.

The wide-ranging topics in this collection include the development of a circumpolar research policy; the complex identities of Inuit in the twenty-first century; the transformative relationship between anthropologist and collaborator; the participatory method of conducting research; the interpretation of body gesture and the reproduction of culture; the use of translation in oral history, memory and the construction of a collective Inuit identity; the intricate relationship between politics, indigenous citizenship and resource development; the importance of place names, housing policies and the transition from igloos to permanent houses; and social networks in the urban setting of Montreal.

Critical Inuit Studies is essential reading for students and scholars interested in today’s circumpolar North and in contemporary Native communities.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

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pp. 1-22

When I was just beginning to do fieldwork in the Arctic, a friend sent me the following quotation from Zora Neale Hurston’s Dust Tracks on a Road: “Research is formalized curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose” (1995: 143). I like the quote because...

Part 1: Figuring Method

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1. Flora and Me

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pp. 25-34

Many times during my subsequent fieldwork in southwestern Alaska, as I have stood on the threshold of other Eskimo houses thousands of miles to the West, this scene has flashed before my eyes. In broad general outline, the circumstances are identical: I am poised to insert myself uninvited into an Inuit household for purposes other than social. The particulars...

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2. Listening to Elders, Working with Youth

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pp. 35-53

Native scholars have long viewed the conduct of research in and about indigenous American communities by non-natives as problematic. Donald Fixico, director of the Center for Indigenous Studies at the University of Kansas, locates the problem in what he sees as a lack of respect for native communities writ large. Fixico notes...

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3. Participatory Anthropology in Nunavut

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pp. 54-70

This is the story of a research alliance between Inuit and non-native social scientists. Although collaboration between researchers and their informants is not new to anthropology (see Berman 1996 regarding Franz Boa’s collaborations with “informants”), the extent and mechanisms of such collaboration have rarely been made explicit. Indeed...

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4. Time, Space, and Memory

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pp. 71-88

Anthropologists working in the Arctic do not always have the time and opportunity before undertaking fieldwork to learn the language(s) of the people with whom they will work. Hence they need to hire local research assistants who will act as interpreters during the interviews. Since oral narratives are often...

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5. Anthropology in an Era of Inuit Empowerment

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pp. 89-101

“We are Inuit, “I was at home with the Negroes at work proclaimed the cover of the 1999–2000 annual report of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK). Formerly Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (ITC), ITK is an Ottawa-based organization representing the twenty-eight thousand Inuit of Canada. Okalik Egeesiak, ITC’s president at the time, explained...

Part 2: Reconfiguring Categories: Culture

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6. Land Claims, Development, and the Pipeline to Citizenship

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pp. 105-118

It is perhaps overly simplistic to describe Canada as a nation of immigrants. Since 1966, however, immigration has proven increasingly important to Canada’s continued population growth. Immigration and the attendant issues of citizenship and identity provide...

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7. Cultural Survival and the Trade in Iglulingmiut Traditions

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pp. 119-138

It was the end of January 1997, dark season in Canad’s eastern High Arctic community of Igloolik. The wind was blowing. I had my parka hood up and my head down as I disembarked from the airplane and made my way across the tarmac toward the terminal. Behind the windows, a group of Inuit stood waving at relatives. The sound of...

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8. Culture as Narrative

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pp. 139-154

The immense changes leading up to the 1999 establishment of the Nunavut Territory in Canada have challenged Inuit there to redefine themselves and their place in the world. In doing so, Inuit have come to question the ways in which they are uniquely Inuit and by what means they remain Inuit....

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9. Six Gestures

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pp. 155-167

more than one hundred years after franz boas traveled to and wrote about inuit of cumberland sound in the central eskimo, it is possible to suggest that the descendants of the people with whom boas worked still have something to teach. boas’s work made a number of significant contributions, not least in advancing the concepts culture and cultural relativism upon which the professional discipline of anthropology rests. in these times...

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10. The Ethical Injunction to Remember

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pp. 168-183

John Amagoalik, chair of the Nunavut Implementation Commission, once asked: “Will the Inuit disappear from the face of the earth? Will we become extinct? Will our culture, language and our attachment to nature be remembered only in history books? ...

Part 3: Reconfiguring Categories: Place

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11. Inuit Place Names and Sense of Place

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pp. 187-205

Among early arctic scientists, Franz Boas was the first to pay attention to indigenous place names. He stated that indigenous place names should be recorded on official maps and vigorously denounced explorers and whalers alike who felt free to baptize any place they wanted and ignore Inuit toponyms. Unlike foreign names, he argued, Inuit place names fitted...

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12. Inuit Social Networks in an Urban Setting

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pp. 206-216

Both government statistics and anecdotal reports indicate that Canada’s urban Inuit population is increasing. The demographic shift gained momentum during the 1980s as more northern-born Inuit relocated to southern Canadian cities (Kishigami 1999; Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples 1993). In 1991, 8,305 Inuit (approximately 17 percent of the Canadians who identify themselves as Inuit) reportedly resided in the largest...

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13. Inuit Geographical Knowledge One Hundred Years Apart

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pp. 217-229

Parallel events occurred one hundred years apart in the history of arctic social sciences in the Tinijjuarvik region on Cumberland Sound in Nunavut in the Canadian Eastern Arctic. Visiting researchers—Franz Boas in 1883–84 and the authors in 1984—conferred with the local Inuit about the same places and sites. Among other topics,...

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14. Iglu to Iglurjuaq

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pp. 230-252

Among Canadian Inuit, the transition from igloos and tents to rigid-frame European-style houses (iglurjuaq) in the 1950s and 1960s severely challenged the methodological practices of anthropology, especially the environmental determinism characteristic of Boas’s early ethnography of Baffin Inuit, The Central Eskimo (1964 [1888]), and the cultural ecology it foreshadowed (E. A. Smith 1984). 1 The...

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15. From Area Studies to Cultural Studies to a Critical Inuit Studies

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pp. 253-266

Anyone who has been reading anthropology recently might have come to the conclusion that the discipline and its primary object, ethnography, have come unmoored from the very places that formed the basis of the anthropological enterprise for so many years. Ethnographers of late have addressed such seemingly unconventional subjects as the state (Taussig 1997), organ transplantation (Lock 2002), embodiment (Martin 1994), international relations (Riles 2000), and international development (Ferguson 1994). Ethnographic studies...


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pp. 267-287


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pp. 289-293


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pp. 295-302

E-ISBN-13: 9780803253780
E-ISBN-10: 0803253788

Page Count: 302
Illustrations: Illus., maps
Publication Year: 2006