Human Ecology

, Volume 37, Issue 2, pp 131–146 | Cite as

The Trail as Home: Inuit and Their Pan-Arctic Network of Routes



This paper provides ethnographic and historical evidence for the existence, in time and space, of a network of well-established trails connecting most Inuit settlements and significant places across the Canadian Arctic. The geographic and environmental knowledge relating to trails (and place names associated with the trails) has been orally transmitted through many generations of Inuit. I use historical documents, ethnographic research, and new geographic tools such as GPS, GIS and Google Earth, to show the geographic extent of the network and its historical continuity. I particularly draw on a trip following Inuit along a traditional trail connecting the communities of Iglulik and Naujaat (Repulse Bay). Inuit have made systematic use of the Arctic environment as a whole and trails are, and have been, significant channels of communication and exchange across the Arctic. There are some types of oral history and knowledge that can be accurately transmitted through generations, and I propose that some aspects of Inuit culture are better understood in terms of moving as a way of living.


Inuit Oral knowledge Arctic Canada Hunters and gatherers Indigenous knowledge 



The main source of funding for this research was a grant from the Committee for Research and Exploration of the National Geographic Society. Additional sources included a Carleton University Startup Grant and travel funds provided by the Inuit Heritage Trust for mapping of place names. Some of the work done in Iglulik and Cape Dorset received support from an IPY Canada grant (Project ISIUOP), and from NSTP (Northern Scientific Training Program). The Igloolik Research Centre (Nunavut Research Institute) provided considerable support during most of this research. John MacDonald and his wife Carolyn were exceptional hosts in Iglulik. John also provided critical help in the organization of the trip to Naujaat, and he offered crucial feedback and constructive critique on earlier drafts of this paper. Conversations with John through many years helped developed some of the ideas expressed in this paper. A key person in this research was Maurice Arnatsiaq, who guided the trip between Iglulik and Naujaat, aided with interviews and mapping, and helped me understand the importance of Inuit travel. Several elders in all the communities the research took place collaborated in providing geographic information. Of those, the key participants were Herve Paniaq in Iglulik, and Abraham Tagunak and Maliki in Naujaat. Theo Ikummaq, in Iglulik, also provided critical information and helped with interviews and translations. This research also benefited from the work of several graduate and undergraduate students at Carleton University who helped with data collection (Kelly Karpalla and Karen Kelley) and data analysis (Allison Berman, Ana Fonseca and Andrew Black). Timothy Di Leo Browne helped in editing this paper. Finally, I would like to thank the reviewers of the journal, whose critiques and suggestions made this paper better.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Carleton UniversityOttawaCanada

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