Canadian Inuit and Archaeology

by Daniel Weetaluktuk of Inukjuak, Port Harrison
Northern Quebec

Sponsored by the Northern Quebec Inuit Association, Montreal

To attend the 11th annual meeting of the Canadian Archaeological Association at Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City, Quebec.

April 27, 30, 1978

This paper deals with the general problems that are encountered between the Inuit of the Canadian Arctic and the archaeologists from the South, as seen from Inuit point of view.

1) The attitude of some Arctic pre-historians towards the local people of the area in which the research is being conducted

Too often, in the past some archaeologists have come up North, excavate, then leave after having had a minimal contact with Inuit population. To this extent, they (archaeologists) don't bother to show the natives, the artifacts from their digs. This also results from the general lack of interest by some local people. Some of you might say, what good will it do to show these ignorant natives the finds. On an archaeologists part, at least taking time to explain to the Inuit of the concerned area would better the relations of the two groups at this level.

Some archaeologists, working in the Arctic have been cooperative, as it should be all the time. But some Inuit have had to put up shabby treatment just because they know less about archaeology in scientific terms, seemingly because that some pre-historians have forgotten the humanistic values which were the very reasons for the existence of the Inuit, as it is clearly shown by their arts and tools.

2) The question of the language in which the results of the research are interpreted

Even if the original appears in English or French, the general story should be translated into Inutittut. The Inuit, as the inhabitants of the territory, have the right to demand this language right. This situation can become a very sensitive issue in Northern Quebec where some papers are printed only in French. Language rights have been recognized in the James Bay and Northern Quebec agreement, therefore the Inuit intend to see that they are put into effect on all areas relating to matters affecting them.

3) The problems concerning the artifact collection, on displays storage, or for scientific comparisons

As always, the collections from all over the Canadian Arctic end up in Southern Canada, Quebec, and sometimes in the United States. This practice, because of policies made by Canadian, Quebec and American institutions, takes no consideration of the interest and concern of the Canadian Inuit, who, year after year, have witnessed archaeologists taking off with the tools of their ancestors. Because of these it is possible for the southern kids to learn, if they want to, culture from pre-historic to historic times. All they have to do is go to the nearest large museum to gain such information.

But for Inuit Children such information is non-existent in the north,even if they're curious about their past. Therefore these rules have to see some change in favour of the Inuit, even if it takes worldwide Inuit action.

Arctic communities should receive for display purposes historic and pre-historic collections of their area, as well as the other parts of the Arctic, from the institutions down South. From these collections, Inuit children will learn of their cultural heritage. Seeing for the first time what kind of weapons were used and for what kinds of games.

4) The question of who controls the territory

Up to now, any archaeologist who can get funded for a project have one up North, did their thing and then leave for the rest of the year even if the natives aren't sure what went on. The Inuit should be consulted properly before any work is done on their territory. If for some reason, objection is raised against the project by the local people, both parties respecting each other's rights will have to work it out regardless of attitudes they held toward each other.

In their territory the Inuit have the right to an overall say and control on anything that will affect them the most because it is where they make a living, off the land, although not as totally as they used to.

This signed agreement with Canadian and Quebec governments, in case of Northern Quebec Inuit will undoubtly give them more say in all aspects of their lives.

As a person who has had an opportunity to work with archaeologists, I find it really interesting and rewarding, not only because I'm gaining more knowledge, but also because I'll be able to tell the people what and who were living there thousand of years ago.