Inuit lauded for role in Arctic science

Conference to bridge gap between traditional, scientific knowledge


The University of Calgary’s Arctic Institute of North America is promoting recognition of the role Inuit have played in Arctic science.

The institute is launching a project called “Silatuniq” that will profile 16 Inuit from the early 1900s to today who contributed to Arctic science.

The identities of many, including Fannie Pannigabluk, the common-law wife and seamstress of explorer Vilhjamur Stefansson, have faded from history.

“Early Arctic science could not have happened without the help of the Inuit,” said Karla Williamson, executive director of the Arctic Institute. “There are very few publications that acknowledge that fact that without the help of the Inuit – it might be with navigation, hunting, sewing and what-not – most of those early so-called explorers would not have become icons. Very little credit has been given to the Inuit who made it possible.”

Each profile included in Silantuniq will tell the story of the individual Inuk and his or her particular support to Arctic science. The narrative text will be written in the first person even though the profiles may be the result of interviews with descendants or based on archival materials.

Writer Michael Kusugak has been selected as Silantuniq’s lead storyteller.

The profiles will be published in the institute’s journal, Arctic, and later, in a book.

At the same time, the Arctic Institute is also preparing to host the 14th Inuit Studies Conference, to be held Aug. 11 to 14 on the theme “Bringing Knowledge Home: Communicating research results to the Inuit.”

The conference will feature speakers such as Sheila Watt-Cloutier, president of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, and sessions, which, among other topics, will look at what means of communication are best suited to deliver knowledge about Inuit to Inuit.

Williamson said next summer’s Inuit Studies Conference is intended to bridge the gap between Inuit traditional knowledge and scientific knowledge.

“These are solitudes – there’s a very strong sense of ownership from the two of them, with traditional knowledge being owned by the Inuit, and the same with science, that’s owned by researchers. But I think that both communities can benefit from each other,” Williamson said. “People do get thrilled once they see there is some real deep human intellectual activity going on.”

Information on the conference and how to submit papers is available at

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