The inspiration for this next column came from a rather abnormal source: Ms. Angela Scioli’s Honors Sociology class.
The class has been studying different cultures, in this case, the Inuit– attempting to understand them.
“I try to trap them into seeing how ‘weird’ other cultures are, then I teach them the concept of cultural relativism (you should only evaluate a culture from the perspective of someone IN the culture), and ultimately I try and convince them how totally WEIRD (historically, numerically, and otherwise) our culture is,” explained Scioli via e-mail.
Apparently this concept flew directly over those students’ heads, as immediately after, I received a text message crudely labelling me as an Inuit.
The Inuit people are what most people recognize as “Eskimos.” The latter term is offensive, however, like the Native American versus Indians idea. They live in Canada, yes. But not all Canadians are Inuits.
“The Inuit are a native people, much like we still have tribes of Native Americans in the U.S., so the Canadians have native tribes that still inhabit Canada. They have an older, distinct culture very different from mainstream Canadian culture,” continued Scioli
I have no ties whatsoever to the Inuit. My heritage is strictly German and Russian, with no Native influence at all. This is the case for most Canadians. Look at the Native Americans to Caucasian ratio in America. The exact same concept applies to the Inuit and Canadians in Canada.
Inuit communities are found in the Arctic, in the Northwest Territories, Labrador and Quebec in Canada, above tree line in Alaska (where people are called the Inupiat and Yupik), and in Russia (where people are called the Yupik people). Commonly accepted customs involve wearing fur coats, riding dog sleds, and building igloos.
When I lived in Canada, I did not own fur and riding sled dogs was my little girls dream after watching Balto. Building igloos was a fun after school activity, and I’ve never seen the Northern Lights.
Misconceptions are common. The possible dangers involved in slapping a derogatory title on someone are blatant. Being informed about cultures before you assume someone is a part of that culture is crucial, as it could be, not in this case, but it could be, taken offensively.
The Inuit translates directly into “the people,” and after all, we are all the people of the world.