November 2016

Wolves as human beings

A story from Nunivak Island


Wikimedia Commons

I want to tell a story from Nunivak Island, Wolves as human beings. I think it gives a great insight to Nunivak culture and their perception of animals. Also, this story gives a new perspective to the human-nature relationship I try to investigate: It is not always the simplified, respectful relationship towards nature and other forms of live which western society likes to think of. Sometimes it’s more complicated.

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Nunivak Island in the 20th century

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Nunivak kayaks (wikimedia commons)

Hans Himmelheber was a German ethnograph who travelled to Nunivak Island between 1927 and 1980. While he lived with the Nunivak Inuit, he recorded their stories and traditions. This blog is based on his book “Where the Echo began” and gives an insight of 20th century Nunivak Island. I highly recommend to read it by yourself, it is fascinating!

Nunivak Island lies in the south-east of Alaska. The Inuits living in the south-east of Alaska differ from other Inuit: They speak a different language and they have a distinct culture. Their culture is based on seals, reindeers, walrus, salmon and other fishes. However, they also depend on driftwood, roots, greens and berries. Activities depend on the different season. Therefore the year is divided into Berry time, time of plucking the dry grass, salmon time amongst others.

Hunting is central for the Nunivak Inuit: it determines their survival. For that reason, a man’s worth depends on his hunting ability. Stories are about men and hunting. Qualities like cleverness, faithfulness or heroicness seem less important.

Animals are seen as disguised people. Within it lives a second being which can appear as a human at will. Hunters take care of connections to the animal world but communication with the animal and the spirit world is handled by a Shaman.

There are different types of stories: hero stories, animal stories, myths and creation legends and ancestor stories.  Hero stories are the most popular ones. Mostly they tell the adventures of a poor boy finding a way to a better life. Surprisingly, animal stories are not told a lot despite the spiritual connection to them.

The stories are differ greatly from the stories told in western society. Rather than going into a certain direction, the stories flow like a river. Often, the end comes abruptly and the story is framed by a distinct morality. Death and killing is regarded as more casual, a fact which is might come from the rough environment and the daily struggle for live which inform the Inuit’s experience.

Reference: Hans Himmelheber, 2000: Where the Echo began (edited by Ann Fienup-Riordan)


A short introduction

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Inuit inhabitants of w:Hall Beach, Nunavut (wikimedia commons)

The greatest peril of life lies in the fact that human food consists entirely of souls. All the creatures that we have to kill and eat, all those that we have to strike down and destroy to make clothes for ourselves, have souls, like we have, souls that do not perish with the body, and which must therefore be propitiated lest their souls revenge themselves on us for taking away their bodies.” – An Inuit of Iglulik

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Owl paints the Raven

An Inuit story of Ningeokuluk Teevee

Owl and Raven were close friends. One day Raven made a new dress, dappled black and
white, for Owl. Owl, in return, made for Raven a pair of whale-bone boots and then
began to make for her a white dress. When Owl wanted to fit the dress, Raven hopped
about and would not sit still. Owl became very angry and said, “If I fly over you with a
blubber lamp, don’t jump.” Raven continued to hop about. At last Owl became very
angry and emptied the blubber lamp over the new white dress. Raven cried, “Qaq! Qaq!”
Ever since that day Raven has been black all over.

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Stein Valley

img_7552Me and a friend had the chance to visit a culturally important place 4 hours north of Vancouver on a weekend in the beginning of October: Stein Valley.

Stein Valley is not only scenic, it is also a spiritual place for the Nlaka’pamux nation. On quests for a guardian spirit, adolescents would travel to the valley when they were on the verge of adulthood.  Stein” is derived from the Nlaka’pamux word “Stagyn”, which means “hidden place”.

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What is nature?

An Introduction to First Nations concept of nature


What is nature? As obvious as the answer might seem to you, concepts of nature vary between Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals . How are we connected to nature? And how does nature form part of our everyday life?

Even though Indigenous Nations’ experiences are informed by different environments and practices, they are united in their connection to nature.  Find out about Aboriginal peoples’ traditional views and their fundamental, common beliefs. Continue reading

O’Chiese First Nation member about trees

“When you have to take the life of a tree to build your lodge, you must talk to the tree and assure him that you are only taking his life so that your family will have shelter and warmth. You must make sure that the tree feels good about giving of his life – that it’s for a good purpose and others will benefit from his sacrifice. You see, the tree wants to feel good, wants to feel “usable”, about its life and its contribution to the life of other persons.”

Dumont, J. (1993). Aboriginal Perspectives of the Natural Environment . Penticton, B.C.: En’owkin Centre.