Wednesday, 2 March 2011

What is Inuit "Culture"?

I heard on CBC North radio this morning that there is a conference happening right now in Iqaluit bringing together Inuit elders and youth, I think, to talk about Inuit culture, child-rearing practices and language use. I also heard a youth struggling with the deep questions of Inuit "culture".

I can say that he's not alone. Many Inuit are challenged by non-Inuit and Inuit themselves to talk about Inuit "culture" as if it was something that can be captured in a sound-bite. I think the word "culture" itself is such a loaded term that no pat answer will ever be satisfying spiritually and/or psychologically.

I think the best way to approach the issue is by discussing societal and personal values regarding education, human relationships, dignity, poverty, etc. (ie, to approach each issue as a problem-solving exercise) by asking questions like, what do I feel about and define education, say; what is it and what is its purpose and usefulness to me?

One of the features of the Inuit Mind, among its many, many facets, is the value and principle of "problem-solving". Being a culture of relative material scarcity, any and all uses of available resources was traditionally to think about how best to get as much out of them as possible. Or to think about how many different ways specific parts could be utilized to serve many different functions. Inuit people think their way through; observation and reflection is a quality of great significance and utility to IQ (Inuit knowledge).

Jerry-rigging has always been a fine art practiced by Inuit hunters; looking at the quality and variety of tailoring and stitching techniques applied to Inuit traditional clothing also suggests a great reliance on imagination and skill. Yin and Yang (how Taoism and Inuit culture understand how things work) are not simple opposites but two features of reality that complement and help and complete each other. Anything (good and bad) can be made to serve a useful function - either as a lesson or material benefit.

But we've always been told and raised to apply not only knowledge but also wisdom in everything that we do because knowledge, or action, should not be applied without thought to its consequences. It's invariably better to wait and observe before acting than to die from stupidity. We, the Inuit, taught those Taoist many useful and wonderful things: knowledge is Yin; wisdom is Yang - very IQ.

A recent editorial in Nunatsiaq News pooh-poohed the apparent reluctance of Inuit of the Qikiqtaaluk region to jeopardize the Arctic environment by allowing off-shore drilling as soon as possible. In fact, it lauded the Greenland premier's embrace of "how the world works" but that is to misunderstand IQ and label it as backward thinking. The oil is not going anywhere and biding our time may avert an environmental disaster by waiting for the off-shore technology to get better. Inuit aren't against development, we just want to wait and see because this is one of those one-shot deals. The world has the know-how but wisdom it still lacks.

Besides, we don't want to act like Rex Murphy whose loyalties was bought by off-shore oil so he dressed himself as a climate change "skeptic". The pedant wears no clothes. Pushover.

Easy promises of the "brave new world" make fools of even the best of us. This is IQ wisdom.


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