Ann McElroy. Nunavut Generations: Change and Continuity in Canadian Inuit Communities

By Hartmann, Nicholas | Ethnologies, Fall 2011 | Go to article overview

Ann McElroy. Nunavut Generations: Change and Continuity in Canadian Inuit Communities


Hartmann, Nicholas, Ethnologies


Ann McElroy. Nunavut Generations: Change and Continuity in Canadian Inuit Communities

(Waveland Press, 2008. ISBN: -10: 1577664892)

At the beginning of the first chapter of this book, Ann McElroy includes a quote from Inuit leader Jose Kusugak, who said, "Nunavut offers a lesson to the broader global community. And that lesson is about the resilience of the human spirit." Resilience in the face of sociocultural, economic and other issues is indeed a core part of the Nunavut experience, and McElroy's book discusses such an idea through a cultural history of those who call, or have called, home Canada's most recent territory.

Using a mixture of oral history, geography and folklore to describe how Inuit generations change over time, McElroy's book is broad in its scope, diverse in its targeted audience and accessible to people beyond the academy. People interested in cultural geography, anthropology, folklore, religious studies and Canadian history would reap the most benefit from the text, and the bibliographies following each chapter are extensive and well organized, offering encouragement to look further into the material at hand.

Consisting of eight chapters and a field note-based epilogue, the history of the Inuit in Nunavut starts by describing Nunavut's rise to territorial status. The first chapter, "Inuit and Astronauts," successfully describes how Inuit culture is both rooted in traditional lifeways and embraces both modern technology and lifestyles. McElroy describes a Nunavut Day celebration, which includes Inuit country music and visits from astronauts, as a way to frame the premise of her ethnography. She makes it clear that personal experience is important and is widely incorporated in the book to describe how Inuit deal with sociocultural and political issues m a way that blends together natural landscape and cultures of multiple generations.

The notion of the authenticity of Inuit culture also plays an important role in the text, especially in recognizing the fact that Inuit life has been heavily romanticized by outsiders. In the second chapter, "Early Encounters," European romanticism is brought to the reader's attention in a historical context. McElroy does an excellent job of demonstrating that this romanticism is false; the Inuit lifeways were just as rooted in tradition and variation as any other culture of their era, and embracing new things was not always something detrimental. Such embracing carries on to the third chapter, "Dance from the Heart," which discusses Qallunaat (European) influences on Inuit life with an emphasis on religion, health and authority. Oral history describes how such interactions are met with both fondness and ambivalence, and McElroy does not shy away from including the fact that there were issues with many outside influences.

Up to this point in the text, there is little about McElroy's personal experience in the field, but this changes with the fourth chapter, "Living with the People." Breaking down her fieldwork experience chronologically, we learn of McElroy's quest to understand Inuit life from their perspective; the chapter is unromantic in describing the fact that conditions were not always the best. An emphasis on relationships with the locals is also brought to the reader's attention; she saw the families she interacted with as mentors and peers, bringing a personal touch to the ethnography. …

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