White Lies About the Inuit

White Lies About the Inuit

Book - 2008
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The Inuit are a familiar part of Canadian identity but also exotic residing in the remote Arctic. The mix of the familiar and the exotic has resulted in the creation and perpetuation of a number of "White Lies." These are stories that have been developed over long periods of time, reproduced in classrooms, anthropology and sociology textbooks, and other media, but have been rarely challenged, contributing to misunderstandings that have ultimately, in subtle ways, diminished the stature of Inuit traditional culture.

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. Debunking these popular myths allows him to illustrate how knowledge is shaped by Western social science, particularly the anthropology of the "Other," and that it can be flawed. In the process, students learn not only about Inuit culture, but about the difference between popular and scholarly research.

Publisher: Peterborough, Ont. : Broadview Press, c2008.
ISBN: 9781551118758
Characteristics: 168 p. ;,23 cm.


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A patron review from the Adult Summer Reading Game: "By tracing ""white lies"" from their roots in our colonial past, through their romanticization by early arctic explorers, to their entrenchment in current Canadian scholarship, the author attempts to repair more than a century of misinformation and misinterpretation about the Inuit. He examines the influence of often-quoted early anthropologists and linguists on more recent textbooks, teaching and literature. Specifically, he discusses the myth of fifty-two Inuktitut words for snow, the myth of the Blond Eskimo and the myth of Inuit elder suicide. The latter is the most serious, as it continues to skew analyses of the current suicide crisis in the North. In each case, he searches out the origin of the lie and how it has been misrepresented, transmitted, inflated and used for personal gain and cultural dominance to the point where the original grain of truth is lost.

Steckley, looking back soberly on his own career in anthropology and academia, is well aware of the ease with which these lies have been perpetuated. His book is a call to shed the lens of colonialism through which we have too easily viewed the Inuit and their stories. It is a plea to look beyond a shallow, sensational and exotic stereotype to recognize in the Inuit culture the same complexity and sophistication we find in our own. Most of all, it is a a serious word of caution to those of us who would allow what we are taught and what we would like to believe about ourselves, as well as our appetite for a dramatic story, to shape and determine our relationship with another."

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