Science can’t work without traditional knowledge


“A lot of people say veterans never talk to them. The reason they don’t talk is they couldn’t get the picture over to somebody that wasn’t there. Somebody that wasn’t there, he would think that you’re making that story up.”

– Otha Martin, 1916-1994, former tank commander

It is unfortunate that Inuit are an oral society, because this great knowledge is not being recognized or understood. Today this is changing; Inuit oral history is now being documented. It is pretty difficult for a society that reads and writes to understand the concept that oral history is as strong as written history.

Yes, I agree I am part of the written culture now and I have learned a lot from the writing society. However I must say that oral history is very interesting.

Inuit hunters live and breathe in the wilderness tundra. They smell and see what is happening. They have great in-depth knowledge because they have been told by their fathers of accounts from their lives and their fathers’ fathers.

I was born on the shores of the Kugaaruk River. When I was growing up as a young boy, I noticed there was old caches of rocks all over the place. I asked my grandfather, “how come all these caches of rocks are all over the place?”

He said a long time ago there was caribou all over the place. These rock caches are where the people cached their meat.

I thought to myself, many caribou … what and where are there many caribou? There ain’t no caribou within couple of hundred miles anywhere.

He continued to say that the caribou will return one day and you will not believe your eyes. The land will seem as if it is moving. One day in 1975, I could believe it, there were so many caribou, I said to myself, “boy, is my grandfather a prophet or what.” I did not know it then, but animals live in cycles.

Animals are to be treated with respect. It was not too long ago that Inuit depended on their skill and knowledge to survive. This meant if you didn’t know, you starved to death.

So treating the animals who your life depended on, you came to know their habits and cycles. Animals are to be harvested to be healthy. But Inuit also know that in order for animals to be healthy you leave some behind in order to continue the cycle of life. Just like a farmer who harvests from his crop. He does not take the root but picks the crops in order to keep the cycle going. However, Inuit must not forget to get only what they need.

Inuit elders and Inuit in general like telling stories of what they have seen. What Inuit have are accounts and facts throughout history passed down from generation to generation.

For Hrynshyn to say that “anecdotal” evidence isn’t worth much unless supplemented by scientific research, I have to say the science is not worth much without my grandfather’s knowledge that the animals have a cycle.

What I am saying is that each needs the other. Without either one and without making the other higher they are both very important.

For example, with the Beverly Caribou herd, there was a calving-ground survey done from 1971 to 1980 and the surveyors suggested that the heard was declining. The herd was estimated at 105,000 in 1980. The biologist believed that the herd would soon be in trouble and that the animal harvest would have to be reduced.

Inuit did not believe the biologist. They said the herd was increasing and that the herd was in parts of a different range and that hunting was not the problem. Ten years later the herd estimates were over 276,000. That was an increase of 170,000.

There’s something wrong with this picture. Inuit did not increase their take on the herd. They just went on their daily lives and did what they did.

We cannot change the past. We cannot change the fact that commercial whaling depleted the bowhead and other species of whales around the world. Inuit believe that a limited harvest of bowhead whales is sustainable.

Inuit want to carefully manage the population of bowhead whales to ensure that the species exists for generations to come.

Gabriel Nirlungayuk
Rankin Inlet

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