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Making a living, making a life : subsistence and the re-enactment of Iglulingmiut cultural practices Wachowich, Nancy


This thesis is about the Inuit effort to adapt to a changing arctic environment through their engagement with outsiders in projects to document their "traditional culture". The Inuit ability to draw subsistence from what southerners perceive as an inhospitable Arctic environment has been an ongoing fascination to the western public. I argue that while westerners seek to reinforce these idealized and exotic notions of the pristine Arctic environment and of the "authentic Inuit" who inhabit it, Inuit themselves have simultaneously and deliberately drawn upon these western iconic categories to communicate their cultural knowledge for social and political ends. Based on 1997 fieldwork in the Eastern High Arctic Inuit community of Igloolik, as well as fieldwork undertaken between 1991 and 1998 in the neighbouring community of Pond Inlet, in Iqaluit and in Ottawa, my dissertation analyses various sites where Iglulingmiut (Inuit from Igloolik) and southerners come together to construct Inuit identities. Each chapter focuses on a different context where Inuit cultural traditions are produced: explorer narratives; arctic ethnography; local community projects in Igloolik; ethnographic film; life histories and national museum exhibits. Drawing on Myers notion of "culture-making", I describe how identity construction at these sites via new representational media (print, film, museum exhibits and others) has become a form of subsistence that co-exists with and supports traditional subsistence hunting. Yet, this social and economic strategy functions at the interface between Inuit and southern cultures. It is an intercultural process largely dependent on southern funding agencies for economic support. Just as the Inuit in the past navigated new territories in search of migratory animals, another type of navigation has emerged in this new cross-cultural environment as Iglulingmiut seek to market their cultural representations on a global scale. Political issues related to land claims, environmental protection, sustainable development and hunting rights intensify this Inuit effort to assert themselves in global arenas. I describe how the particular dynamics of each contact zone provoke new and unique cross-cultural dialogues as Iglulingmiut creatively draw on elements from their past to reiterate their tradition as an adaptive, hunting people.

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