The Wisdom of Elders: Inuvialuit Social Memories of Continuity and Change in the Twentieth Century

Natasha Lyons

Abstract

The Inuvialuit of the Canadian Western Arctic are no strangers to change. From the arrival of whalers ca. 1890, they underwent a century of monumental societal upheaval. Perhaps against the odds, they sustained many of their traditional socioeconomic activities and continued to follow a land-based lifestyle through much of the twentieth century. With a few notable exceptions, historical accounts of this period were written by cultural outsiders who conveyed their own perspectives on Inuvialuit culture. This paper focuses on the social memories of present-day Inuvialuit Elders who recount aspects of their lifeways throughout the twentieth century, including seasonal practices, traditional skills they maintained, and responses to the historical events that challenged their ways of living and spurred continuous change. These oral narratives form part of a larger history for succeeding generations, and a platform from which to construct contemporary identities and to negotiate a collective future.

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