White Lies About the Inuit
Published: December 2007© 2007
Imprint: University of Toronto Press
Page Count: 176 Pages
Dimensions: 6.00 x 9.00
176 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 x 0.34 in
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.
Chapter 1: Imagining the Inuit
Arctic Urban Legends
Learning about the Eskimo
See You in the Movies
"In This Movie, You Will Be an Eskimo"
White Lies Not Included
The Word Eskimo and Its Meanings
Does Eating Raw Mean Eating People Raw?
Who Are You Calling Inuit, White Man?
Part of a Larger Picture
Chapter 2: Four Major White Figures
Franz Boas: A Paternalistic Father of Anthropology
Stefansson and Jenness: Two Polar Opposites
Farley Mowat: Subjective Non-fiction, Essential Truths, or Fxxx the Facts?
Chapter 3: Fifty-two Words for Snow
A Source of Humour: Jokes about Inuit Snow Terms
It All Began with Boas
Enter Diamond Jenness
Downplaying the Number of Inuit Snow Terms: An Ignored Source
The Birth of 20 Snow Terms: A Sociological Tradition Since 1968
Numbers Ending with Two: 52, 42, 32, 22
Farley Mowat Takes the Number to an Artistic High: 100
How Do Inuktitut and English Differ in Terms for Snow?
English Is Good in the Snow, Too
So How Many "Words" Are There for Snow?
Seven Primary Terms for Snow
Negative Implications of the Inuit Snow Term Cliche
Chapter 4: The Myth of the Blond Eskimo
The Blond Eskimo: A Popular Figure
The Copper Inuit
Stefansson Discovers the Blond Eskimo and Finds Funding
The Greenland Norse and Their Fate
The Blond Eskimo Captures the Literary Imagination
Jenness Takes Up the Challenge
The Return of the Blond Eskimo
Negative Implications of the Blond Eskimo
Chapter 5: Elders on Ice
A Popular Story: Going with the Floes
Why Shouldn't You Believe the Story?
When is Abandonment Really Abandonment?
The Deep Roots of This Myth: Beginnings as Euthanasia
Growing the Myth
Altruistic Suicide, Mores, and Cultural Relativism
Anthropologists Introduce Environmental Causality
Balikci Uses Psychology to Blame the Victim
Guemple Uses Anthropology to Blame the Victim
Colonial Contact: A Neglected Causality
Farley Mowat Popularizes Inuit Elder Abandonment and Suicide
Inuit Suicide Today
Chapter 6: The Lies Do Not Stand Alone
Inuit Snow Terms, Hanunoo Rice Terms, and Nuer Cow Colours
The Blond Eskimo: Atlanteans, Welsh Princes, and the Irish Sati
The Inuit as a Canadian Construct
Best in the Bush
Bold, perceptive, provocative, and incisive, White Lies about the Inuit cautions us to question what we see, hear, read, talk about, and presume to be true. Steckley's book is a long overdue exploration and critique of the cultural assumptions, arrogance, ignorance, and mythologizing that has led to misreadings and misunderstandings of Inuit societies and cultures. Mark Nuttall, University of Alberta
White Lies about the Inuit is a remarkable textbook that teaches the critical reading of ethnography. Anthropologists, both in the past and the present, have often chosen the 'good story' over the complexities of real life. This is one book where I'm glad to see my work not cited! Nelson Graburn, University of California Berkeley