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Arctic Blast 2001

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"Weekly Topic & News" is posted here every Monday by 7 a.m. CST

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"The Weekly Topic and News" merges the expedition, educational goals, and the needs of teachers. It is the most important component of your online classroom expedition.

Start each week with an in-depth look at this page.

The topic of the week is emphasized with clearly presented, facts and information supplementing each unit of the curriculum package.

Information is also provided to help make real world connections, investigate personal values and discuss current issues.

Completing the circle, the weekly topic will also be highlighted from the Arctic Blast explorers.

Using the sights, sounds, and wilderness perspectives of the arctic facilitate meaningful and energized classes.

The Weekly Topic and News integrates the nationally accredited, K through 12, Nunavut curriculum package and the weekly reports from the expedition. This is where the adventure of collaborative learning really begins.

WEEK 11:
Inuit Religion



“In the early times, there was only darkness; there was no light at all. At the edge of the sea, a woman lived with her father. One time, she went out to get some water. As she was scraping the snow, she saw a feather floating toward her. She opened her mouth and the feather floated in and she swallowed it. From that time she was pregnant

Then she had a baby. It’s mouth was a raven’s bill. The woman tried hard to find toys for her child. In her father’s house was a hanging bladder that was blown up. This belonged to the woman’s father. Now the baby, whose name was tulugaak (Raven), pointed at it and cried for it. The woman did not wish to give it to him but he cried and cried. At last, she gave in and took the bladder down from the wall and let the baby play with it. But in playing with it, he broke it. Immediately, it began to get light. Now there was light in the world, and darkness, too.

When the woman’s father came home, he scolded his daughter for taking the bladder down from the wall and giving it to the child. And when it was light, tulugaak had disappeared.” - An Alaskan Inuit Myth

Regardless of the religion, most faiths use stories to explain why the world exists the way it does. From good and evil to day and night to human nature, religion has helped cultures throughout history to understand the nature of life. Take previous story, for example. The Inuit were a society closely tied to the patterns of nature; therefore, many legends were employed to give reason to the many wonders of their world. In this specific case, the reason day and night now exist is because of the raven who purposely was born as a human. Once in human form, he still possessed the beak of his former self. As a human child, the raven tricked the woman into letting him play with the bladder that contained light.

Historically, the Inuit saw spirits in every natural phenomenon. Birds, seals, polar bears, and winds could all possess human characteristics. These spirits weren’t necessarily good or bad; however, they could easily become upset or dangerous if they were not given the proper respect that they deserved. Traditional Inuit religion was very similar to animism, a belief system frequently found among aboriginal people world wide.

Animism is a religious belief that everything on Earth contains a powerful spirit. These spirits are capable of helping or harming people and their daily and seasonal activities. The word animism is derived from the Latin word anima, which means “breath of life,” or “soul.” Animists believe that all objects share the breath of life; therefore, all must live in harmony and be treated with equal respect.

The Inuit, however, would not label themselves as Animists - that is primarily a sociologist’s term. Instead, the Inuit would claim to practice Shamanism, which is fairly common to most hunting indigenous cultures around the world. It emphasizes the connection that people have with the land and their environment. In traditional Inuit society, the shaman was seen as a doctor-advisor-healer. Peter Ernerk’s Inuit Spirituality in the Nunavut Handbook states, “the shaman was not the camp leader, though. That honor went to the oldest person in the group, an experienced hunter and trapper. Inuit camps did not have chiefs, as did First Nations (Indians). Parents were role models and instructors for learning life’s daily skills, but it was Shamans who helped people comprehend the subtleties of nature and life.” In any given camp, there were many families living together and usually one or two Shamans. It is important to understand that Shamans were born as Shamans and not trained.

When Knud Rasmussen once asked his guide what Inuit believe, he was told, "We don’t believe. We fear." It is definitely an Inuktitut type answer. The Inuit lived in a constantly changing world. Most of their life was spent trying to avoid hunger and starvation, extreme weather conditions, and other dangerous encounters and unseen eventualities. And much of the world was unseen to Inuit. Each day in an Inuit life could easily end bear starvation, a hungry polar bear, or a misstep on the shifting pack ice. Those things today termed "supernatural" were only a normal part of this: a tunraq, a hostile anirniq, a vindictive angakoq. The unseen was the unseen, whether storm or spirit. For the Inuit, the best approach was to do everything possible and prepare for anything that fate might throw their way. This often meant not hunting on certain days, giving proper respect to weather and animals, observing various taboos, and understanding the unique personalities of the many different spirits.

The Inuits’ religious activities and ceremonies were closely tied to their hunting and gathering lifestyle. Rituals and festivals establish relationships with subsistence animals, the dead, creatures such as giants and dwarfs, helping spirits, and breaches of taboo.

Religious activity is intricately tied to a subsistence lifestyle that relies primarily on sea and land animals. Animals are understood to have human like qualities and behaviors. Animals, too, have families, live in groups, and are capable of emotions. Therefore, the rules for human interaction with animals are often dictated by age, gender, and season of the year. The following are terms and definitions taken from a text describing some religious beliefs of the Alaskan Inuit.

“Inua- All living things, plant and animal, as well as mountains, bodies of water, air and earth, have inua--an independent human like quality, sometimes described as spirit--which enables them to take on a variety of physical forms. An inua may manifest itself as a human like face on the back, breast, or eye of an animal. This form is often seen in Alaskan Eskimo masks and artwork. Inua are honored along with other guests during festivals and feasts. Angakkut - All Eskimos are responsible for maintaining reciprocal balance with the inua. The angakkut (shamans), assisted by helping spirits, often diagnose and remedy situations in which reciprocity has been violated. During a seance they may journey to appease angered Moonman or to the bottom of the sea to appease Sedna, the two principal supernatural owners of the animals. To cure an illness the angakkut often retrieve a human soul (which the Eskimo recognize as residing in bone joints) that has been lost or stolen.

The angakkut initiation often requires lonely wanderings, during which the helping spirits might claim the initiate. Angakkut training periods are kept secret until the first public seance is performed. The knowledge given by the helping spirits is meant to be used in a public way, usually at a community seance. Violation of secrecy can end the initiate's training and prevent the initiate from becoming a full angakkut. Only a fully initiated angakkut can fly, a skill necessary for journeys to Moonman and to the end of the horizon. Sometimes, particularly with women initiates, angakkut training is made public and secrecy is violated to stop development of the initiate's powers. If the angakkut do not honor the helping spirits, the spirits can trouble or even abandon the angakkut.”

Unfortunately, like many other aspects of Inuit culture and belief, Inuit religious beliefs have been forcefully changed. Today, most Inuit are Christians and Shamanism is mostly talked about quietly; however, the Inuit are rapidly regaining their history. Understanding the past, the nature of a specific belief system, and the reasons for religion help people around the world understand others as well as themselves.

Want to learn more about Inuit religion and how legends are an intricate part of understanding the world? Check out these links for more information...

www.camosun.bc.ca/~conklin/pages/martin/ - Comparison of First Nation Religions of Canada
Http://www.aboriginalconnections.com/links/History_and_Culture/ Aboriginal Connections Links
HYPERLINK Http://www.gov.nt.ca/kids/kidshome.htm - Legends and information about culture in the Northwest Territories
Http://www.carleton.ca/~mbell/inuit/stories.htm - Inuit Prints Inspired by Legends

Add your input into the "Who Am I" Collaboration Zone and explain how religion gives people identity.
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