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White Lies About the Inuit

White Lies About the Inuit

John L. Steckley
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 168
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  • Book Info
    White Lies About the Inuit
    Book Description:

    In this lively book, designed specifically for introductory students, Steckley unpacks three white lies: the myth that there are fifty-two words for snow, that there are blond, blue-eyed Inuit descended from the Vikings, and that the Inuit send off their elders to die on ice floes.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-0333-2
    Subjects: Sociology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
  3. CHAPTER ONE Imagining the Inuit
    (pp. 7-30)

    THIS BOOK HAS BEEN a personal journey for me. It has not been easy to knock the heroes of my youth and early academic career from their pedestals. But it needed to be done. In my early teens, Farley Mowat inspired me to become an author myself, and yet here I am writing a book that takes shots at him. In the academic sphere, anthropologist Franz Boas was one of my first heroes. In my later career, I have been forced to undertake a long hard reappraisal of his material.

    Until recently, I would not have called myself an Inuit...

  4. CHAPTER TWO Four Major White Figures
    (pp. 31-50)

    FOUR WHITE FIGURES WILL appear regularly in the chapters that follow: Franz Boas, Diamond Jenness, Vilhjalmur Stefansson and Farley Mowat. All four had strong ties to Canada: Mowat and Stefansson were born here; Jenness spent most of his life here; and Boas did the majority of his research here. What follows is a brief introduction to the men and their contributions to our understanding of the Inuit. All four are implicated in the production and reproduction of White lies, some more than others. My assessments of these men will have their biases. While all four men have accomplished things that...

  5. CHAPTER THREE Fifty-two Words for Snow
    (pp. 51-76)

    ONE OF THE MOST POPULAR so-called facts about the Inuit is that they have an extraordinarily large number of terms for snow. People from all walks of life, including academics, spout this myth. The above quote from Atwood is a classic Canadian example.

    Atwood, Inuit, and snow—you could scarcely get more Canadian than this. But the belief is not limited to Canadians. In the strange, innovative 1999 movieBeing John Malkovich, one of the actors asks another, “Do you know that Eskimos have not 1 but 49 words for snow?” Don’t be surprised that the numbers clash. Various numbers...

  6. CHAPTER FOUR The Myth of the Blond Eskimo
    (pp. 77-102)

    IN 1989, MORDECAI RICHLER published his Booker Prize-nominatedSolomon Gursky Was Here, a very tongue-in-cheek Wandering Jew story in which Ephraim Gursky, Solomon’s grandfather, is the sole survivor of John Franklin’s tragic Arctic expedition of 1845. His prodigious progeny of Inuit Jews wandering south can be identified by the fact that they are wearing Jewish prayer shawls. This was not the first time such a far-fetched story has appeared. Except that previously, the author was serious.

    Early in the twentieth century, an intriguing tale was being told. Almost instantly, it became the hot “discovery” of the popular press. The story...

  7. CHAPTER FIVE Elders on Ice
    (pp. 103-130)

    In the October 2000 edition of theJournal of the American Medical Association, a medical student published an article in which he spoke of witnessing a 97-year-old Yup’ik Inuit kill himself by “vanishing into the early morning fog.” The August 31, 2001 edition of the Nunavut paperNunatsiaq Newslater reported that the student had made up the story. He wasn’t the first to make up a story like this.

    In spring 2001, cbc television aired a special edition ofTalking with Americans, based on Rick Mercer’s regular comedy routine onThis Hour Has 22 Minutes, in which he lampoons...

  8. CHAPTER SIX The Lies Do Not Stand Alone
    (pp. 131-146)

    It is important to recognize that the myths dealt with in the last three chapters do not stand alone as isolated features about how scholars study and present the Inuit. They resemble to a greater or lesser extent comparable myths about peoples who have been historically positioned as “Other” when looked at through the tinted lens of Western scholarship. On the other hand, the unique features of the myths about the Inuit can be illuminated through a look at similar, but also different, myths about other peoples. Finally, by examining how Canada speaks of the Inuit tells us something about...

  9. Works Cited
    (pp. 147-158)
  10. Index
    (pp. 159-168)