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Inuit Trails Represent Complex Social Network Spanning Canadian Arctic

Date:
February 15, 2009
Source:
Springer
Summary:
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.

Dog sled trail in Canada's Arctic. 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.
Credit: iStockphoto/Ryerson Clark

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 are by Dr. Claudio Aporta from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.

Using a combination of historical documents, ethnographic research, geographic tools including GPS, GIS and Google Earth, as well as a recent journey following Inuit along a traditional trail, Dr.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.”


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Springer. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Aporta et al. The Trail as Home: Inuit and Their Pan-Arctic Network of Routes. Human Ecology, 2009; DOI: 10.1007/s10745-009-9213-x

Cite This Page:

Springer. "Inuit Trails Represent Complex Social Network Spanning Canadian Arctic." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 February 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090204112237.htm>.
Springer. (2009, February 15). Inuit Trails Represent Complex Social Network Spanning Canadian Arctic. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 17, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090204112237.htm
Springer. "Inuit Trails Represent Complex Social Network Spanning Canadian Arctic." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090204112237.htm (accessed April 17, 2014).

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