Inuit are on the right track

Feb 04, 2009

Inuit trails are more than merely means to get from A to B. In reality, they represent a complex social network spanning the Canadian Arctic and are a distinctive aspect of the Inuit cultural identity. And what is remarkable is that the Inuit's vast geographic knowledge has been passed through many generations by oral means, without the use of maps or any other written documentation. These findings, by Dr. Claudio Aporta from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, were just published in Springer's journal Human Ecology.

Using a combination of historical documents, ethnographic research, geographic tools including GPS, GIS and Google Earth, as well as a recent journey following Inuit along a traditional trail, Dr. Aporta shows the geographic extent of the Inuit's sophisticated network of routes. He describes how the Inuit have made use of the Arctic environment and how their trails represent significant channels of communication and exchange across the territory. To the Inuit, the Arctic is a network of trails, connecting communities to their distant neighbors, and to fishing lakes and hunting grounds in between.

What is remarkable is that although the trails are not permanent features of the landscape, their locations are remembered and transmitted orally and through the experience of travel. They do not use maps to travel or to represent geographic information. Rather the journey along the trail, or the story of the journey, becomes one of the main instruments for transmitting the information.

The memory of the trail is intertwined with individual and collective memories of previous trips, as well as with relevant environmental information - the conditions of the snow and ice, the shape of snowdrifts, the direction of winds - and place names in the Inuktitut language. The trails are not permanent, but disappear when the sled tracks get covered after a blizzard and as the snow and ice melt at the end of each spring. Nevertheless, the spatial itinerary remains in people's memory and comes to life again when individuals make the next trip. The trails are 'lived' rather than simply travelled.

By mapping the trails with modern geographic tools, Dr. Aporta is able to show that complex and intricate knowledge can be precisely and accurately transmitted from generation to generation orally for centuries. He comments that "oral history should not be a priori dismissed as unreliable and inaccurate."

Reference: Aporta C (2009). The trail as home: Inuit and their pan-Arctic network of routes. Human Ecology. DOI 10.1007/s10745-009-9213-x

Source: Springer

Explore further: Love at first smell: Can birds choose mates by their odors?

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

First atlas of Inuit Arctic trails launched

Jun 10, 2014

New digital resource brings together centuries of cultural knowledge for the first time, showing that networks of trails over snow and sea ice, seemingly unconnected to the untrained eye, in fact span a continent ...

On the trail of Mongolian steppe lakes

May 05, 2014

To catalogue more than 12,000 lakes and lagoons in Mongolia's steppe, to identify new Entomostraca species and to develop strategies to diagnose the state of lakes in the Iberian Peninsula and Europe are ...

Researchers examine online networks used to recruit terrorists

Feb 05, 2013

"Lone wolf" terrorists—individuals with no apparent ties to known extremist networks or conspiracies—have inflicted casualties in recent years and have drawn increasing attention from the law enforcement community. According ...

Recommended for you

How can we avoid kelp beds turning into barren grounds?

2 hours ago

Urchins are marine invertebrates that mould the biological richness of marine grounds. However, an excessive proliferation of urchins may also have severe ecological consequences on marine grounds as they ...

Genomes of malaria-carrying mosquitoes sequenced

18 hours ago

Nora Besansky, O'Hara Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Notre Dame and a member of the University's Eck Institute for Global Health, has led an international team of scientists in sequencing ...

Bitter food but good medicine from cucumber genetics

18 hours ago

High-tech genomics and traditional Chinese medicine come together as researchers identify the genes responsible for the intense bitter taste of wild cucumbers. Taming this bitterness made cucumber, pumpkin ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Zygo
not rated yet Feb 04, 2009
This article fails to mention the INUKSHUK, the cairns of of stones that are found throughout northern Canada. It is generally recognised that these inukshuk are used for navigation by the Inuit to find their way across the otherwise featureless landscape

see http://en.wikiped...Inukshuk

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.