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Winds of Change

In the second oral history series published by Nunavut Arctic College, Inuit Perspectives on the 20th Century, Inuit elders reflect on the changes that drastically transformed their ancestral way of life after the establishment of Anglican and Catholic missions in the North. Four books were published in this series from interviews held during classes of the Language and Culture Program. Students addressed questions to the visiting elders on topics that led to these titles:  The Transition to Christianity, Travelling and Surviving on our Land, Dreams and Dream Interpretation,and Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit: Shamanism and Reintegrating Wrongdoers into the Community.

While each of these books is very much concerned with how things were before the missionary influence, at a time when the shaman had still an essential role in maintaining the individual and collective bodies and souls of his/her people, the angle has slightly changed from the first series of books: here the ancestral customs are questioned in order to better understand contemporary issues.

Memory and History in Nunavut

Rachel Uyarasuq
“It was when people wanted to turn to Christianity. When they decided they were going to siqqitiq, they went to the windbreak. It was nice outside. The sun was shining as it was spring. They brought a seal to the windbreak. They cut the seal open and took out the intestines, the liver, the heart, the eyes, and the tongue and cut them into small pieces. They did not have plates in those days, so they placed the pieces on the seal. They were cut into tiny pieces and mixed together. In the end, people lined up and were given a piece of meat to put into their mouths. People were asked why they wanted to go through this ceremony. Every one of them replied, “We are going through this because we want to become Christian.” My mother told me, if I were asked, to say, “I want to be with Jesus.” When the person giving the meat came to me, he gave me an eye and a piece of intestine. It was cut small enough to chew. I was asked why I wanted to become Christian. Here I was, just a child. I was old enough to speak and I replied as my mother had instructed me, “Because I want to go to Jesus when I die.” Every one of us was given a piece of meat. We did this because all those parts of the seal, the heart, and the intestine were all parts of the pittailiniq, the taboos. They were no longer going to be observed. There wouldn’t be any part of the seal that people would have to refrain from eating. This was not just the case for seal, but for all other animals as well. There was not going to be any more abstaining from eating any part of any animal. This is why we were given bits and pieces of everything.” Transition to Christianity, (Page 123).