Keavy Martin – “Are we also here for that?”

Citation: Martin, Keavy. “’Are we Also Here for that?’: Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit – Traditional Knowledge, or Critical Theory?” The Canadian Journal of Native Studies 29.1/2 (2009): 183-202.

Argument   Martin is arguing for the inclusion of Inuit oral knowledge in discussions within Nunavut – both in terms of policy and government, but culture more broadly – based on the possibility that they offer historical and cultural input, as well as offering critical and theoretical tools. In other words, Inuit knowledge is not simply an artifact but is alive and transformative – in flux, even, to use Battiste and Henderson’s term.

Scope/Organization/Main Points: 

Oral history is crucial for preserving Inuit knowledge and culture, to be certain, but Martin is interested in its political dimensions too: “oral histories are tied directly to land claims” (188), in part because they prove prior use and occupancy, and in instances of Inuit resistance, “oral traditions have also been used to create a sense of a collective social memory” (188). Further, oral narratives “bring a particular reality to the history of Arctic administration, as Inuit talk about the experience of residential school, of the death of their dogs, of life in the settlements, or relatives who disappeared into medical ships and never returned” (189).

She includes this important quotation from Jaypetee Arnakak, referring to the danger of incorporating IQ into government policy and thus abstracting Inuit knowledge from its social context: he “deliberately tried to keep IQ from becoming an official policy, knowing that separating IQ from the contemporary realities renders something that is profound, enriching and alive into something that is meaningless, sterile, and awkwardly exclusionary” (189).

Nevertheless, Inuit have “adapted Southern methods for strategic purposes” in governing Nunavut (190).  Martin notes that Inuit stories, told by elders, that emphasize local differences between accounts of the same thing “provid[e] a real challenge for Southern scholars, who are often eager to reconcile differences, iron out inconsistencies, and work toward the development of theories” (191).

Instead of fulfilling the “academy’s desire for broadly delineated and universally-applicable methodologies,” Inuit oral narratives “provide students and scholars with a source of highly-contextualized Indigenous epistemology which is intertwined with the ‘nation’-building or political goals of the region” (195 my emphasis).  

Points of Importance/Interest:

  • The call for inclusion of Inuit knowledge is not controversial, but receiving it and allowing it to be transformative is harder than simply incorporating it as an artifact.
  • Martin gives the example of RCMP being unwilling to include Inuit oral accounts in its investigation of the killing of sled dogs. Is including Inuit knowledge more important when it contradicts or disproves claims that we’re making?
  • In general, this essay provides some very important and useful points about incorporating versus engaging with and utilizing Inuit knowledge.



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