The Alaskan Inuit are a very interesting group of indigenous people. For one, they are not just an ancient culture, they are a modern one. Many of the tribe live as their ancestors did, in spite of the modern world being all around them. For another thing, the Inuit mythology has no gods, no deities. Today’s Inuk, the singular form for a member of this culture, is thought to be descended from the Thule culture around 1000 ACE. The Thule culture denotes those indigenous people who did not settle in the Alaskan tundra but continued their migration eastward. Some left the tribe and headed south, inhabiting the lower regions of Canada and becoming part of the Algonquin and Iroquois groups of tribes. The majority continued their travels until their reached Greenland and interacted with the Vikings.
Today’s Inuit are a group of similar indigenous people who live in the Arctic areas of Canada, Alaska, and Greenland. While many use the designation Eskimo as a synonym for the Inuit, this is really not correct. Eskimo is a group term which includes the Inuit as well as the Yupik and Inupiat tribes. Most Canadian and Greenland Inuit consider the term “Eskimo” to be derogatory as they see themselves as distinctively different cultures. Oral languages of these people are not do distinctive, however. Inuit languages are classified in Eskimo-Aleut language families while Inuit sign language is spoken in Nunavut, the northernmost section of Canada newly formed as the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. Further differences between Eskimo and Inuit are noted in the Canadian Constitution Act of 1982 which refers to the Inuit as “a distinctive group of Aboriginal Canadians who are not included under either the First Nations or the Metis.” Those Inuit in Greenland are citizens of Denmark but not of the European Union.
So what spirits were important to the Inuit? As with all of the indigenous people who inhabited and became the earliest of settlers and immigrants in North America, animism was an important part of life. Animism is a belief that things in the universe possess souls. [ A typical modern-day descendant living the ancient customs will apologize to a table leg that is kicked, recognizing the spirit within the table and respecting it.] The Inuit believed deeply that there were spirit masters of the animals they hunted and shared space with on the planet. Qayaq is the mythology of a hero who could transform himself into all sorts of living creatures – animals, birds, and fish. His journeys are told in an epic cycle of Alaskan Inuit tales, portraying his journey of discovery and mastery of the environment and natural world. In short, his story is an illustration of the process of learning by being.
Qayaq wandered all over and had many different adventures, overcoming enemies and making new friends. IF ever caught and eaten, he would be reborn and continue his journey. Sadly, when he did return home, he discovered his parents had died during the course of his explorations. In grief he turned himself into a hawk, spreading his wings to fly over the land from which his family had been born.
Today in the United States of America it is Thanksgiving Day. It is a day for people to celebrate and give thanks for all they have. The first such festivity was supposedly between different cultures – the American Indians of Massachusetts and the Pilgrims. It was a day of peace and sharing, a time to give thanks for a harvest and, I’m sure, to pray for the future.
The story of Qayaq is one that encourages us to step outside of our comfort zone and live. It also warns of being so focused on the future that we forget the past and our own heritage. The world is a glorious place and we all hope to make it better. However, we should not and cannot forget the blessing of the past. They are the cornerstones of the future.
Today I will give thanks for my life and the ability to live. It is not a perfect life but is continually offers lessons and chances to be reborn and to rebuild. I will also give thanks for each of you. You are my environment and are shaping the future by your own living. My wish for you is a healthy life, one full of prosperity and joy. Most of all, I will give thanks that we have a future. Spread you wings and soar, my friends. We can make it great!