Monday, June 04, 2007

far north

I found two books at work about living in the far north. I seem to have had a "jag" of books on native cultures being overwhelmed by foreign ones.

"The Last Gentleman Adventurer" by Edward Beauclerk Maurice, is an memoir of an English boy who signs up with the Hudson Bay Company, serving as a trapping agent in the far north of Canada. Unlike most of his compatriots, he learns the Inuit language and falls deeply in love with the Inuit culture and people. By the end of his stay his Inuit name has changed from "The Boy" to Issumatak, "He Who Thinks."

It is a great, and someone romantic story, and only slightly tinged with the paternalism, you might expect. He uses the term Eskimo -- not a term of derision in his time, it was the name the Cree (I think) gave to their enemy the Inuit: "eaters of raw meat." (That's a whole fascinating sideline... how many tribe names do we know by the names their enemies gave them -- the Sioux is the name the enemies of the Lakota gave them, the Anasazi is a Navajo word which means ancestors of our enemies. )

To give a deeper picture of the Inuit, you could turn to "The Long Exile," by Melanie McGrath, chronicling the history of one particular group of Indians who ends up exiled to the high arctic far away and much further North than they were used to.

This story is told through that of the son of a Canadian filmmaker, Robert Flaherty, who as he was filming his opus "Nanook of the North," had a child by the films female star, Maggie Nujarluktuk. With really amazing and poetic language, Ms. McGrath, weaves the story of these people, giving us a broad sense of their culture, their history, and their interaction with whites and other Native North Americans.

The two stories intersect only tangentially, the name of a ship, a waypoint on the way farther north. They share a certain sadness for a people caught up in greed, and blinded by ignorance. Both are well worth reading.



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