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Thin Ice: Inuit Traditions within a Changing Environment

Climate and Weather within the Context of Inuit Life and Traditions

Hood Quarterly, winter 2007
Nicole S. Tuckenberger, Stefansson Postdoctoral Fellow, Curator of Thin Ice: Inuit Traditions within a Changing Environment

The Arctic is home to about four million people, both indigenous and more recently arrived from the south—living in towns or on the land as hunters, fishermen, herders or, most commonly, some combination of all three. The Arctic indigenous peoples have distinct but sometimes related languages and cultures. The largest groups are the Inuit (Eskimo) peoples of Greenland, Alaska, Canada, and northeastern Siberia; the Athabascan groups in Alaska and Canada; the various Siberian peoples, such as the Yakut or smaller groups like the Nganasan and Nivkh; and the Saami (Lapps) of northern Scandinavia.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries indigenous Arctic peoples lived mainly off the land and sea, and their social lives, economic practices, and spirituality were profoundly shaped by the unique Arctic seasonal cycle and its daily weather conditions. Despite numerous changes, both cultural and environmental, Arctic life remains strongly interconnected with climate.

The Hood Museum of Art collections contain nineteenth- and earlytwentieth-century objects that reveal Inuit involvement with their environment through the practice of hunting. The Inuit, who live throughout the northernmost regions of the North American continent and Greenland, developed highly specialized hunting techniques to effectively harvest and make use of animals and fish. They were known for their efficient use of the available materials and the ingenious technology of their hunting equipment, which functioned in one of the most demanding climates in the world.

What makes looking at these objects so invaluable now is that they demonstrate the deep involvement of the Inuit with their natural surroundings and with the seasonal extremes of the Arctic region. While these objects convey much about the past existence of the Inuit people, they also have relevance for the present in their profound linking of culture to nature.

Thin Ice and its accompanying catalogue attempt to look at the Hood collection through the lens of the environmental conditions of Inuit life, the environment’s importance to their culture, their contact with Western culture, and the Inuit’s observations of recent climate change.

Excerpted from the exhibition catalogue Thin Ice: Inuit Traditions within a Changing Environment.

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