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SPRI Review 2012: Polar Social Science and Humanities

Polar Social Science and Humanities

A pan-Inuit region of horizons and trails

In this study, a component of the Inuit Northwest Passage project, the investigators examine the conceptual bridges linking local and regional scales of Inuit trails. Previous anthropological research on Inuit geographical knowledge has focused predominantly on local knowledge linked to units of ethnicity and place. Our hypothesis is that places of significance to Inuit life are linked across great distances through an interconnected regional-scale system of trails. However, explaining how traditional techniques of navigation, which use the horizon as a primary framework of orientation, are able to synthesise multiple views to generate knowledge ‘beyond the horizon’ is a complex problem. This is because, while the geographical knowledge of neighbouring peoples overlaps, it is not shared symmetrically or evenly.

Fieldwork carried out in summer 2011 in collaboration with elders of Pond Inlet, Nunavut, Canada, combined with the use of printed and archival sources, formed the basis of this ongoing analysis. It was revealed that different groups of Inuit would traditionally have distinctive as well as shared techniques of navigation. Groups inhabiting mountainous terrain possessed skills for negotiating difficult ascents that would not be shared amongst neighbouring groups inhabiting flatter terrains. The study also demonstrated that, in spite of knowledge and technique being local, trails were interconnected, shared, and communicated through narrative and travel. This study was based at SPRI and Carleton University, and was collaborative with Dr. Claudio Aporta.

Michael Bravo

Searching for Franklin: a modern Canadian ghost story

When, in 2008, the Canadian federal government signalled its intention to sponsor a marine hunt for the sunken and lost ships of the 1845 Northwest Passage expedition led by Sir John Franklin, one of the main reasons given was the need to assert their claims to Arctic sovereignty in an unstable and tense circumpolar geopolitical environment. The wrecks of the Erebus and Terror in this context were seen as important due to their historic associations with the development of Canada as a nation. Through literature, documentary, popular culture, and heritage policy, the Franklin expedition represents a haunting inheritance for modern Canada that can be approached through three thematic gateways: haunted history, possession, and geopolitical sovereignty. Through an examination of recent Franklin searches this project locates the place of this ‘quintessential interdisciplinary, diachronic, semiotic subject’ in the contemporary imagination.

Shane McCorristine

Relations between hunters and spirits in the Thule region of northwest Greenland

Terto Kreutzmann carried out extensive fieldwork on contemporary culture, with particular focus on religion and spiritual beliefs, among the Inughuit in the Thule region, the remotest area of northwest Greenland. She focused on explaining which aspects of Inuit spiritual belief are still maintained and how they function in a hunting society today. Further topics are kinship and sharing; secrecy and revelation; and naming and dreaming. This is the first in-depth study of religion in this area, and the culture here is likely to prove significantly different from the rest of Greenland. The Greenland government considers the Inughuit to be engaged in the supposedly primitive and non-profitable activity of hunting. The current move towards Greenland’s full independence is based mainly on the hope of revenue from hydrocarbons and other minerals. Much of this exploitation will take place in Baffin Bay, adjacent to the Inughuit, and the military imperatives of the Thule air base remain powerful. Because of their isolation, their dependence on hunting, and the geopolitical demands of military security, all these issues are currently affecting the Inughuit to a greater degree than any other community in Greenland. The project is funded by the Commission for Scientific Investigations in Greenland and Greenland Self-Government.

Terto Kreutzmann and Piers Vitebsky

Mental health services and psychotherapy in the Norwegian Arctic

Tania Kossberg has carried out ethnographic fieldwork studying therapy as a cultural practice, the research

on mental health care services in the Finnmark area of northern Norway. The study combines the perspectives of managers, health practitioners and community members. During her fieldwork she gained access to a mental health organisation which specialises in the delivery of psychological services for the indigenous Sami population. There, she conducted participant observation in family therapy. Drawing on multiple personal experiences the study shows the complexity of the perception of mental health services, as well as the perception and experience of therapeutic practice and healing. By addresses the link between the development of mental health service delivery on the one hand and the history of northern Norway, the history of the Sami populations, and the Welfare System on the other. The research reveals contradictory ways in which the meaning of ethnic background is situated within the health organisation and therapy, particularly in terms of intergenerational aspects, family history and family explanatory systems. The study also explores family and individual belief systems, and other perceptions of what is the most effective therapy.

Tania Kossberg and Piers Vitebsky

Garden of the Governor’s residence in Port Stanley, Falkland Islands

Garden of the Governor’s residence in Port Stanley, Falkland Islands