Symbolism and Expression Additional Reading

Symbolism

Inuit Traditions and Values

To survive in Canada’s Arctic required that the people willingly cooperate and share—primary values of Inuit life both then and now. The sharing of food best illustrates how these values tied the Inuit community together socially. When animals were killed, the meat and skin were shared among the community. Formal rules evolved that established how food would be distributed. For example, specific parts went to the hunter who killed the animal, other parts went to the helpers and other parts went to women. Leftover meat was divided among everyone, ensuring that everyone got an equal share. When Inuit were in need, they looked after each other.


Before people lived in the larger permanent communities of today, the values, traditions, skills, and knowledge that defined the culture were expressed differently. The elders still speak of times when their lives were in sync with the seasons and, though life was somewhat nomadic, the people returned to the same places year after year. The nomadic movements provided opportunities to exploit seasonal resources and establish family hunting territories. This pattern did not imply that anyone owned the land or had exclusive hunting rights. It did, however, identify a group’s territory and established localized social systems and patterns of land use. Again the principles of sharing and cooperation were central to life and to survival.

The Inuit have a long-standing code of behaviour based on time-honoured values and practice. Their values are communicated to children early in life through stories, legends, songs and direct modelling of behaviour. In addition to sharing and cooperating, children are instilled with values based on connecting with others (respect, generosity, love, equality, significance, and trust); work (observation, practice, mastery, teamwork, unity, consensus and conservation) and coping (patience, endurance, improvisation, strength, adaptability, resilience, resourcefulness, survival, interconnectedness and honesty).

Within their network of social relationships, they placed equal status on men and women even though they had different roles within the family and community. Women were usually keepers of information of family trees and storytellers. Women had certain patterns on their clothing and may have had tattoos on their faces. Women and young girls tended to qulliq (seal oil lamps) and used ulus to prepare skins and then sewed them into clothing.