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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 14:
Arctic Tales

One of my favorite movies in the whole world is, “Never Cry Wolf.” (Ironically enough, it is also one of my favorite books as well.) In the story, Farley Mowat is sent to the Canadian Arctic to study the diminishing caribou herds, and more specifically, the wolves that are decimating the caribou population. Farley is befriended by an Inuit elder named Ootek. The old Inuk expresses a keen interest in Farley’s research and the two become friends despite language and cultural barriers. One night, Ootek relates the reason why wolves were created.

The story Ootek tells went something like this, “In the beginning, there was a man and a woman, nothing else on the Earth walked or swam or flew. And so the woman dug a big hole in the ground and she started fishing in it. And she pulled out all of the animals. The last animal she pulled out was the caribou And so the woman set the caribou free and ordered it to multiply. And soon the land was full of them. And the people lived well and they were happy. But the hunters, the hunters only killed those caribou that were big and strong. And soon all that was left were the weak and the sick. And the people began to starve. And so the woman had to make magic again, and this time she called Amorak, the spirit of the wolf, to winnow out the weak and the sick, so that the herd would once again be strong. The people realized that the caribou and the wolf were one, for although the caribou feeds the wolf, it is the wolf that keeps the caribou strong.”

The story of the Amorak, or the spirit of the wolf, can easily be viewed as just that - a story. However, this particular type of story can easily be classified as a type of traditional knowledge. In this example, traditional knowledge is defined as the information (knowledge) held by indigenous people on the arctic environment and the management of its resources for present and future generations. This knowledge is passed down to younger generations through normal daily activities, dance, songs, and of course, stories and legends. Many Inuit stories deal with the passing of traditional knowledge to others. The Inuit had no written language until one was introduced by missionaries in the early 1900's. Before that time, their history, customs, and religious practices were passed down from one generation to the next through a rich oral history. Many of theses stories and legends were integral parts of the Inuit culuture.Usually, it was the grandmothers who were the storytellers. Inuit children listening to the accounts of legendary characters and events would learn about the traditions, values and beliefs of their people. Other times, the hunters would tell stories of pursing game or avoiding polar bears where the details provided valuable lessons for young men.

Charles Moore in Keeveeok Awake states, “Common themes and motifs are repeated in many of the stories and legends. The topics can be distilled into the following: an abused orphan who gains supernatural strength and uses it to get revenge for mistreatment he has endured; a woman who manages to survive on her own after separation from a husband who mistreated her; a bachelor who, after being rejected by women, takes an animal or bird as his wife and does quite fine; a woman who after rejecting every admirer, finally accepts a spouse, only to learn that her husband is an animal; people who are raised by animals and animals who are raised by people; and an Inuk who encounters evil spirits during the course of many adventures and outsmarts them to get away.”

The Inuit didn’t have TV, books, or movie theaters. There wasn’t a formal education system either. Of course, that doesn’t mean that people didn’t learn a great deal. Inuit stories, legends, and folklore provided an almost formal environment for young people to learn. These same stories also provided entertainment, which in the depths of the polar winter, were crucial to survival. Today, the Inuit have a written language and stories are being recorded in books. Many older Inuit artists remember listening to storytellers in their youth. They call upon their imaginations and their memories when they make art that illustrates the stories from the past. The written accounts are an important part of preserving a unique history

Inuit legends and stories aside, there are other types of arctic stories as well. Europeans also have (since the early 1700’s) an arctic history. Lacking the traditional knowledge and centuries of experience, the stories Europeans tell have their own unique style. The hardships of arctic travel were new to most and traveling, exploring, and living was often an extreme test of survival. The stories of European exploration and settlement take on a very different feel than their Inuit counterparts.

For example, Robert Service writes, “There are strange things done in the midnight sun by the men who moil for gold; the Arctic trails have their secret tales that would make your blood run cold; the Northern Lights have seen queer sights, but the queerest they ever did see was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge, I cremated Sam McGee.”

Starvation, frostbite, and death were common themes of these stories. Many published their works realized, only after the fact, that the arctic was a unique place, where methods of travel and survival were best learned from the Inuit - not adapted from their own present (and limited) knowledge. Regardless, many of these stories serve as an inspiration for many of today’s explorers and adventurers. Appreciating an area often means understanding it on many levels. Climate, geography, and wildlife are all important parts of the arctic region. However, for us people, the stories associated with the land, the weather, and the animals, give us the a deeper connection.

For more information about story telling visit the following websites: Real People Real Stories

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