Mountain Skyline

Photo of Bernadette Uttaq

Bernadette Uttag shows a traditional way to start a fire (Photo by Kira Van Deusen.)

The Inuit Way of Life

Spiritual Culture

One important thing to understand about Inuit culture is the belief in reincarnation. When a child is born, elders understand who is coming back into life — usually a member of the child’s family who has died not too long ago. They may call the child by that relative’s name and title, for example calling the baby grandma. Having the same name gives people a strong sense of spiritual affinity.

Kiviuq is known as an angakoq, or shaman. This means many things — he has helping spirits: the polar bear, the snow bunting, sandpipers and maybe others. He can journey long distances by singing. Some shamans can turn into animals and birds, and all of them use their extra powers to help their people. They are excellent healers. Unfortunately in the past there were also some who abused their powers and did harm to others, although this would always come back on them.

Many things are created or done for the first time in this story. Bee Woman creates the first sea ice with her ulu. The first fog appeared from the grizzly bear’s stomach. The Fishmaker created the first fish. It’s also possible that Tuutalik taught the people how to hunt seals at the breathing holes. Creation imagery is one of the things that proves how ancient and important the story is.

You can read more about Inuit shamanism and other aspects of spiritual culture in books published by Nunavut Arctic College, available online at:

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Buildings, Boats, Clothing and more...

If you’d like to know how to build an igloo, check out

To find out about Inuit clothing, the way it was made and its ability to keep a person warm in the coldest winter while still looking great, take a look at: (re clothing)

There’s lots to know about kayaks. Take a look at:

An interesting thing we learned about kayaks in Kiviuq’s story involves the sandpipers. When Kiviuq was a baby his grandmother cleaned his body with the skin of a sandpiper. She whispered in his ear, bestowing a gift on him. “You will always be able to come home, no matter what the obstacles!” As he grew older and his first kayak was made, they used sandpiper skins as padding between the frame and the sealskin cover. And that’s how the sandpiper became his helping spirit, his ikajuqti.

Breathing Hole Hunters go out to the places where seals come up to breathe during the winter. The seals keep the holes open using their sharp claws. The hunters have to wait a long time for a seal to show up, sometimes up to nine hours standing motionless over the hole in temperatures of minus 40 or colder. At last the hunter sees the feather that they have placed in the hole begin to vibrate. The movement is caused by a seal coming up under the ice. Now the hunter shoots down into the hole — in earlier times he would have used a harpoon. His companions cut out blocks of ice until there is enough room to get the seal out. You can see this in the film Diet of Souls.

For more about This site has great links to everything from kayaks to language, history and more. is another great source.

Scenes from Nunavut

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