White Lies About the Inuit

By John Steckley

© 2007

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.

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Product Details

  • Series: Teaching Culture: UTP Ethnographies for the Classroom
  • World Rights
  • Page Count: 176 pages
  • Dimensions: 6.0in x 0.3in x 9.0in
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SKU# HE000298

  • PUBLISHED DEC 2007

    From: $23.76

    Regular Price: $27.95

    ISBN 9781551118758
  • PUBLISHED DEC 2007
    From: $22.95

Quick Overview

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.

White Lies About the Inuit

By John Steckley

© 2007

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.

Continue Reading Read Less

Product Details

  • Series: Teaching Culture: UTP Ethnographies for the Classroom
  • World Rights
  • Page Count: 176 pages
  • Dimensions: 6.0in x 0.3in x 9.0in
  • Reviews

    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
  • Author Information

    John Steckley teaches Anthropology at Humber College in Toronto. He is the author of Aboriginal Voices and the Politics of Representation in Canadian Sociology Textbooks (Canadian Scholars' Press) and Words of the Huron (Wilfrid Laurier University Press).

  • Table of contents

    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?
    Conclusion

    Chapter 3: Fifty-two Words for Snow

    A Source of Humour: Jokes about Inuit Snow Terms
    It All Began with Boas
    Enter Diamond Jenness
    Benjamin Whorf
    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
    Summary

    Chapter 4: The Myth of the Blond Eskimo

    The Blond Eskimo: A Popular Figure
    The Copper Inuit
    First Contact
    Lost Races
    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 

    Conclusion

    Works Cited

    Index

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