North American Indians: Indians of the Far North

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The North American sub-Arctic, home to the indigenous cultures of the far north and the largest region in North America, stretches from Labrador to Alaska and features several ecological zones. Wide swathes of upland and lowland tundra in the coastal areas reflect the former weight of the Laurentide Ice Sheet from the late Pleistocene era. Throughout these sub-Artic tundra areas in both Alaska and Canada, drumlins, glacial moraines, swamps, and post-glacial hummocks provide continuous variation in landforms. In some cases the treeless taiga reaches hundreds of miles longitudinally and latitudinally, into the interior of both Canada and northern and western Alaska. The low-growing sedges, mosses, and lichens provide food and shelter for a plethora of small mammals, indigenous and migratory waterfowl, many species of flies and mosquitoes, and occasional large mammals. The octagonal shapes of post-glacial flora seem flat from a distance, but in actuality are dense with vegetation and hillocks just tall enough to hide the approach of predators for long distances. According to oral traditions, native North Americans have long harvested tundra berries and many species of plants for nutritional and medicinal purposes.

The tundra regions give way to taller shrubs and sedges, and in the interior areas boreal forests provide wood for housing, transportation, and other forms of hunting around the Great Slave Lake, Lake Athabasca in Canada, and the Yukon Flats region in Alaska. Both coniferous and deciduous trees (spruce, cottonwood, alder, birch, tamarack, and poplar) cover this region. In both the eastern and western regions of the southern extension of the sub-Arctic, the boreal forests surround prairies and the northern rain forests of the Pacific.

Adaptation to Climate

The harsh extremes of the climates in the region, including six to eight months of severe winters and correspondingly short summers, set some of the cultural limits of the indigenous peoples. One common feature crossing all cultural boundaries and surviving the passage of time has been the small size of communities. In the past, most sub-Arctic communities were comprised of two or more nuclear families ranging in population from twenty to fifty individuals. The small group sizes reflected the nature of continuous travel with children, and the need to keep noise to a minimum for safety and hunting success. In the present day sub-Arctic communities are inhabited year-round and range in population from a few dozen people to several thousand.

Another dominating feature of pre-colonial social life in the sub-Arctic was reliance on partners. Men and women usually had "same gender" partners among neighboring communities. Partners of this sort depended on each other for protection while in the partner's territory, for temporary housing, and for lifelong friendship. They vouched for each other's credibility and found marriage partners for each other's children. Within their own communities, men and women formed lifelong partnerships among those with whom they hunted, sharing household tasks, family responsibilities, medical and other emergency needs, and company.

Although contemporary societies make desultory attempts at agriculture, none of the indigenous sub-Artic inhabitants appeared to make consistent use of horticulture. Humans depended on hunting and fishing and moss, frond and berry picking. Most of them engaged in seasonal travel between camps, depending on hunting resources such as muskrats in early spring, followed in some areas by caribou and moose hunting in late spring; fishing in lakes and streams during the summer; and early fall hunts for large deer such as caribou and moose. Mid-winter often kept people captive in their dwellings during blizzards, long freezing spells, or heavy snow. They relied during winter on stored food such as dried or smoked meat, fish, berries, and plants. Sometimes their attempts to harvest and successfully prepare food for winter were inadequate. Themes of starvation figure prominently in oral traditions of most of the sub-Arctic nations. Hunting tools included the bola, spears, bows with arrows, and snares designed for most land species from mink to caribou. Weirs, nets, spears, and occasionally hooks served most regions for fishing.

Housing designs varied depending on region, materials available, and traditions. In most areas, dome-shaped structures were made from elaborately woven willows covered with deer hide in the more northerly regions, and bark or straw served as convenient winter structures in the south. The willow housing structure was often made in such a way that it could be transported by sled or boat to the next seasonal camp and covered anew in little time. In Alaska, the Athabascans near the coastal Yup'ik and Inupiat peoples made use of semi-subterranean sod houses for winter. Summer shelters varied significantly by region and culture. Today these structures have given way to year-round framed wooden houses, often subsidized by governmental funding.

Cool, rainy summers in the sub-Arctic can pose a challenge, preventing the collection of adequate dry tinder and wood for smudge fires by which meat and fish can be prepared for winter usage. Additionally, the sub-Arctic is frequently visited by random spring and summer snowfalls, yet another environmental calamity that can prevent families from processing their seasonal catches in time or at all. Hordes of mosquitoes, bot flies, horse flies, and numerous other flying insects often prevent humans (and other animals) from accomplishing planned harvests in a timely manner. The final impact of such disasters occurs in midwinter when supplies dwindle and travel to the nearest human community to get help may prove difficult due to inclement weather.

Indians of the Sub-Artic

European and Asian explorers from the east and west encountered sub-Arctic nations belonging to three linguistic families: the Eskimo-Aleut along the Arctic Ocean; the more than twenty-five Athabascan nations in Alaska and northern Canada; and the fourteen Algonquian nations in eastern Canada, including the Naskapis, Ojibways, Innu (formerly known as Montagnais), and Crees. Among the Algonquian are also included the Abnaki of New Brunswick and Maine (Mi'kmaq, Maleseet, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, and Abnaki), who have preserved vestiges of their sub-Arctic way of life up to the present. The non-Indian Inuit will not be treated here, as they are the subject of a separate article.

The Algonkians

The three largest Algonkian nations are the Crees, the Naskapis, and the Innus. The Innus of eastern and northern Quebec refer to themselves as Innuat, or human beings. The French explorers early on named them for their mountainous environment, hence Montagnais. Like many First Nations peoples in Canada and the United States, they have reclaimed their indigenous name for themselves. The Innu dwell among heavily forested mountains and river drainages. Like most people of the pre-colonial and colonial sub-Arctic, the Innus spent their time making seasonal trips in quest of subsistence game animals and fish. Among the animals they sought were beaver, about which there are numerous stories that match the large technology that attends hunting and processing both fur and meat from the catch. Besides beaver, the Innu are known for their skill in hunting birds with arrows and darts. Innu fishing technology is similar to that of their Algonkian neighbors as well as most Athabascans to the north. The Innus also used stone fences to guide fish into weirs.

Besides fish, caribou and other large deer used to dominate the Algonkian landscape. Like the Athabascans in Alaska and northern Canada, Algonkian hunters developed skills in organizing annual caribou hunts in which corrals made of stone, willow, sinew, and natural formations of cliff sides, rivers, and lakes formed boundaries to trap caribou. Some of the corrals were open-ended but with a tightened funnel shape through which many deer were expected to escape. The purpose of such corrals was to cull specifically sized deer from the rest of the herd for limited harvests. In such a corral, the hunters, including women as well as men, would fashion snares of varying sizes and set them at appropriate heights for the desired size, gender, and rank of the deer taken. Stone mannikins or inuksuks, found throughout Canada nowadays as decorations or roadside sculptures, were used, in the way farmers use scarecrows, to deceive the caribou into thinking the stones were humans, thus leading them away from freedom toward the corrals.

As might be expected when winter temperatures can reach fifty degrees below zero Celsius (eighty degrees below zero Fahrenheit), survival is a constant theme of human existence in the sub-Arctic. Surprisingly, the freezing temperatures and strong winds pose less of a threat in the sub-Arctic than does starvation. Each of the cultural areas developed and have shared with each other their techniques for clothing construction and the best materials to use for each environmental challenge. Where the appropriate fur-bearing creature cannot be trapped or hunted, trading provides a welcome reason for travel to trade in late winter (February through March), when the still-frozen rivers provide convenient sled or snowshoeing avenues for the entire family.

The Athabascans

Occupying the greatest portion of the sub-Arctic are the Athabascan-speaking nations, of which eleven inhabit Alaska and fourteen or more occupy Canada. Linguistically, the Athabascans speak languages that are closely related to Apache, Navajo, and a number of Pacific coast peoples in northern California and southern Oregon. Culturally there are many aspects of material culture held in common between the Athabascans and the Algonkians. One of the most well known and used by men, women, and children alike are snowshoes. Archeologists conjecture that Athabascans began dog sledding around fifteen hundred years ago in Alaska. Davidson (1937) considers that open-frame snowshoes may have originated with Athabascans. In Davidson's view, the style of snowshoe featuring two pieces of willow or alder bound at toe and heel with babiche and held together with layouts based on a mesh of nested triangles, a distinctively Athabacan design, may be the oldest style of snowshoe. A frequent character appearing in Athabascan narratives is He-Who-Faces-Ahead-and-Behind. Often a villain, He-Who-Faces-Ahead-and-Behind provides mystery and tension, much as the tracks of Athabascan snowshoes, pointed at both ends, bewilder the person who happens upon them as to the direction the snowshoer may have taken.

Athabascan values are centered on self-sufficiency, hard work, and family. In-born in Athabascan cultures is the tension between individual autonomy and expectations that one's extended family is more important that any given individual. All Athabascan stories and ritual activities engage in explorations of this core area of trouble and offer three modes of resolution: humor, generosity, and respect. Stories reflect the terrors befalling people who fail to meet any of those standards, and life cycle potlatches, particularly memorial potlatches, provide ritualized opportunities for elders and others who have established their authority in the community to remind the others of their obligations to share with each other, cooperate with each other, and to follow relatively informal rules of protocol in social areas. The most rigidly enforced rule of behavior is silence and waiting before speaking. Long pauses, by American or European standards, between the end of one person's speech and the next fill every notion of respect for reciprocal relations between humans, the spirit world, and the rest of the natural world.

The sub-Arctic methodologies for survival reflect ingenious adaptation to their inland environments, and therefore make a strong contrast with the material cultures of the Inuit along the Arctic coast, who have a complex toolkit specialized for maritime hunting and weather. Another distinctive contrast between Inuit peoples and their interior counterparts is the abundance of subsistence resources. Cold and ice-jammed as the coastlines in the Arctic may be, they provide larger game animals in greater frequency than can be found in the sub-Arctic. The Algonkian and Athabascan peoples have designed a wide array of tools and methods of processing food to meet the ever-constant threat of uneven harvests throughout the year. Algonkian and Athabascan religious traditions all reflect the domination of the climate, the need for reliable means of providing food to growing families on a daily basis, and the dangers represented by animals that are larger, more aggressive, and better suited biologically to hunt, survive, and defend themselves from their enemies. Constant awareness of the need to survive these elements of life in the sub-Arctic serves as a common denominator of the human experience, which is awareness of human vulnerability in a world that treats human beings as subsistence resources rather than as predators and dominators of the world.


As Nelson (1983) observed about the Koyukon of the Yukon and Koyukuk Rivers in Alaska, the Athabascan world is alive and always watching its human inhabitants. Even thoughts become apparent to the animals, plants, and other environmental factors such as wind, mountains, rivers, and air that pass judgment on the struggling sub-Arctic hunters. Epistemological tenets in the sub-Arctic religious traditions inform humans that their hierarchical position in the combined worlds is low, that all other creatures in the natural and spiritual worlds have powers that can harm human beings and interfere with human efforts. Failure to be respectful, generous, loving, or loyal to one's human companions as well as all creatures in the environment can result in the "withholding" of hunting success or good food processing conditions from people whose central theme is survival. Mythological figures fit imagery complying with the omniscience of the physical and spiritual worlds.

Four genres of myth are common in Algonkian and Athabascan oral traditions. The first genre consists of ontological stories designed to enculturate youth about the key forces in the natural, social, and spiritual worlds. The second involves voyager stories in which one and sometimes two characters travel to new places, either populating the world as the first of any given species or performing key actions or behaviors for the first time. Petitot (1886) argued that these stories make up a large pantheon of tales that fit into a large opus of narrative similar to the Iroquoian creation stories. The third genre is made up of morality stories featuring a frightening being of indeterminate ontology who lurks in the forests causing trouble, abducting children, or simply frightening people.

The Gwich'in Athabascans of both Alaska and Canada refer to such entities as nain, and in Koyukon they are called nicolina. Algonkian stories are rife with a similar entity known as Windigo, varying from story to story as a tall man or as a tree. The fourth genre consists of raven stories in Alaska and parts of Canada that serve to explain family relations, in which the raven plays the part of the relation one must regard with simultaneous suspicion and respect.

As nineteenth-century writers like Petitot discovered, Canadian mythologies reveal a chronological, environmental, and social order that complies with social norms of both Athabascan and Algonkian cultures. Mythological tradition is structured by epochal events beginning with a time in which all beings spoke the same language and understood each other's social needs. Petitot wrote of two Dene (Athabascan) first people, a mythological woman who wore dentallium shells and her husband, Ko'ehdan (The Man without Fire), who named her Ch'atthan Vee (Dentallium Shell Woman) in eastern Gwich'in and Latpatsandia (Prize Woman) in western Gwich'in after he rescued her from her Inuit abductors. The term Ch'atthan calls to mind the White Shell Woman in the Apache and Navajo (southern Athabascan language speakers) creation stories, although in fact it carries a direct reference to the Tlingit traders of the Pacific Coast, as dentallium shells were once highly prized trade goods the Athabascans sought from the Northwest Coast. Ko'ehdan by turns reveals his shamanic powers in many adventures, including his blindness and subsequent recovery of his vision. The couple had two sons: the younger is mischievous and the elder is heroic. The brothers engage in adventures that give rise to the voyager or traveler stories known throughout the sub-Arctic. Among the Gwich'in Athabascans, the older brother is known as Vasaagihdzak. The pair of brothers figure together and separately in a number of stories.

Epochs of the World

Generally speaking, the sub-Arctic oral traditions fall into three eras or stages (see Jetté, 1907; Osgood, 1932; and Goddard, 1917). In the earliest period there were no divisions between living creatures; each could assume any animal's form and discard it again at will. All moving creatures spoke a single language; no barriers stood in the way of understanding. A second period began with the birth of a culture hero (woman or man) whose identity changes by region, language and culture. The culture hero is a great teacher and leader. Material and spiritual knowledge derived from the culture hero. The house, tent, snowshoe, sled, bark canoe, bow, arrow, lance, and knifein short, all material cultural objectsstem from the culture hero, as does knowledge of the land of the dead, the stars and constellations, the sun, the moon, and the calendar months. In an Algonkian version, a male culture hero ordered the muskrat to dive into the water to begin creation of the world from the mud that was brought up. This story is patterned along lines similar to Iroquoian, Mayan, Aztecan, and other more southern Native American mythologies. The third epoch is the present time, and genealogy plays an important role in explaining one's role in society. Culture heroes are shamans who continue to mediate between the spirit world and the physical world. Oral traditions in the third era are located in the family and the region, and reveal historical specificity.

Cultural differences prevail, emphasizing differing ontological realities. For example, among the Koyukon, the northwestern-most Athabascan nation in Alaska, oral traditions address five world periods: the hazy time before there was light on the earth; the epoch when man could change into animals and animals could change into men; the time when the traveler created the present state; the past time of legends; and the present as far back as memory reaches (Clark, 1981, p. 595).

Unity between Realms

The mythologies of each region in the sub-Arctic represent worldviews, ontologies, and epistemologies that organized the unity of life for each human being within the province of the tale. Such worldviews persist today in traditional beliefs and customs recalling events or conditions revealed in each epoch. Especially important are the earliest periods in which boundaries between human, natural, and spiritual worlds are permeated, inhabited, and fully understandable as such. An important theme contained in the mediation between realms is unity, harmony, and peace throughout the known world of each nation occupying the sub-Arctic. By the ontological rules represented in their oral traditions, the Gwich'in (formerly known as Kutchin), a northern Athabascan nation inhabiting the region between the Mackenzie River delta and the upper Yukon in both Alaska and Canada, possess a special relationship with the caribou. Ontologically, every Gwich'in human being carries a small piece of caribou heart, and likewise, every caribou holds a portion of human heart. Hence, each of these partners knows what the other feels and thinks (Slobodin, 1981, p. 526). The Sekani of British Columbia believe that a mystical bond links human beings and other animals (Denniston, 1981, p. 439). The Koyukon call the bear "Grandfather" and the wolf "Brother" (Clark, 1981, p. 593). The Chipewyan, an Athabascan nation west of Hudson Bay, identify with the wolf (Smith, 1981, p. 279). The names of certain Athabascan nationsDunne-Za (formerly known as Beaver), Dogrib, Harepoint to familial ties with certain animals. In all of these examples we hear an echo of the earliest epoch, when a common language prevailed and all creatures had the ability to transform themselves and thus to overcome every barrier between them.

The Culture Hero

Legends about culture heroes continue to be popular in the sub-Arctic literary canon. Athabascans nickname their sons Ko'ehdan after The Man without Fire, and many eastern Athabascan storytellers recount episodes of his mythic life. The figure of the hero is well developed by Algonquians of the Atlantic coast. The Mi'kmaq of Cape Breton Island, for example, call the teacher of mankind Kuloscap ("liar" or "deceiver") because he always does the opposite of what he says he will do. Oral traditions of the Maliseet of New Brunswick hold forth Gluscap, a culture hero whose adventures are remarkably akin to those of the Mi'kmaq and the Passamaquody. The settings and events of Kuloscap's life still can be seen in the natural features of the maritime sea and landscapes. Cape Breton Island abounds in references to the hero. Every large rock, every river, every waterfall, testifies to his deeds.

All the sub-Arctic Indians have a similar mythical geography. West of the Mi'kmaq and Maliseet, other names for the culture hero emerge. In Labrador the Montagnais-Naskapi call their culture hero Little Man or Perfect Man. The Cree on either side of James Bay refer to the One Set in Flames or the Burning One. Among the Chipewyan Athabascans, he is called Raised by His Grandmother. Among the Dunne-Za Athabascans, he is called He Goes along the Shore.

Northern Athabascan mythological names exploit their various culture heroes' wanderlust. In the Canadian northern lake regions, the Gwich'in, Koyukon, and Kolchan names for their traveler have been translated as the Wanderer, Ferryman, Celestial Traveler, He Paddled the Wrong Way, He Who Went Off Visiting by Canoe, or One Who Is Paddling Around, designations that refer to a particular task of the hero. He is said to labor continuously to combat giants, cannibals, and monsters for the benefit of mankind. The mass of fantasy figures in whose deeds the mythologies aboundsuch minor heroes as Moon Boy, Moon Dweller, Shrew, Moss Child, Wonder Child, White Horizon, the Hero with the Magic Wandfollow the same path as the tireless figure of the Wanderer. The designation First Brother reveals that pairs of brothers also appear among these parallels to the great culture hero.

Robin Ridington's 1978 account of the religious culture of the Dunne-Za Athabascans of Alberta is the most vivid report we have about an Athabascan people. The emergence of a genuinely sub-Arctic world genesis is remarkable in itself, but of equal importance is the picture of the culture hero, Saya (Swan), that Ridington brings to light. The Dunne-Za view this figure as a paradigm of their most important cultural values. Saya illustrates the means by which young men acquire spirit guides and a song bearing his medicine power. In the myths, Saya eliminates the hostile monsters and teaches humans (both male and female) to hunt and to avoid being caught unprepared for unexpected danger. Daily life mirrors the epistemological expectations presented in Athabascan oral traditions about their culture heroes.

In winter, people of the sub-Arctic abide in their winter dwellings rather than attempt to hunt for animals that are either emaciated themselves or hidden in hibernation. During this time of year, people tell stories to while away long periods of inactivity. Rituals, such as the Athabascan funeral and memorial potlatches, occur irregularly, but some activities have become routinely attached to a time of year. For example, many Athabascan nations in Alaska and Canada engage in riddling contests. Such contests, like the Messenger Feasts of the Inuit, are planned events in which one community invites another community to feast with them. Gifts are mandatory, but the decision about which community provides the gifts depends on which is unsuccessful in solving a riddle posed by the other group. Riddling feasts usually happen in winter.

In spring, the return of specific species and the emergence of new plant life are celebrated in ritual. The national holiday of the Mi'kmaq, Saint Anne's Day (26 July), is a blend of Christian and Indian traditions and celebrated with games, dances, singing and feasting. The Koyukon, for example, celebrate the winter solstice, a time at which they also honor their dead. It is the time "when the long and short days meet" (Clark, 1981, p. 593). Implicit in that phrase is precise knowledge of the movements of the sun, moon, and stars, all part of the hunters' knowledge base for finding his or her way to and from homesites.

Sub-Artic Indians and a Supreme Being

Early explorers sought terms among indigenous peoples of the sub-Arctic regarding a supreme being, but instead they encountered numerous terms for indeterminate powers dominating the lives of all creatures. The Gwich'in Athabascans of Canada and Alaska refer to them by two terms, K'eegwaadhat and Vit'eegw__hchy'aa. K'eegwaadhat means both heat and that which gives orders. Vit'eegw__hchy'aa means that upon which we depend. Both terms refer to something powerful and ubiquitous with no identifiable physical construction. In common with other cultures of the sub-Arctic, Gwich'in leaders had to demonstrate prowess in communication with the sacred for hunting, war, trading, and healing to gain the respect of their communities. Much of this activity was related to dreams that contained prophetic data. Leadership in the sub-Arctic reflects standards of life in an unmerciful environment as well as continental attitudes toward the nature of power. In the sub-Arctic, a crucial aspect of the ineffable quality of the numinous has been its lack of interest in any being, humans included.

Life in the harsh sub-Arctic environment has led to religious and social theories that expect no special treatment from either the natural or spiritual realms, but expect punishment for egocentric behavior. Leaders are thus faced with a dilemma, which is to remain self-effacing while giving orders, making hard decisions, and pulling together human resources to perform community efforts together. Motivational factors stem from demonstrations of shamanic power, thus displacing cause from the personal motives of the leader to the numinous. Like ordinary hunters (both women and men), who act upon dreams or other signals from the numinous, leaders are expected to receive ideas or corroboration for their decisions directly from the unseen forces of the universe. The disparity between these two opposing issues finds resolution through the union of two concepts of strength: vat'aii (personal strength) and dat'aii (public strength). In this sense, the Gwich'in are metaphorically reminded that these two realms of behavior are supposed to co-exist harmoniously. The net effect is that Gwich'in leaders come and go, but individual projects succeed through communal action and need.


Central to all hunting, medical, and life cycle events is the development of shamanic skills. Every hunter is expected to develop his or her shamanic skills to the greatest extent possible. While both men and women are viewed as equally capable of such power, shamanic power is generally thought of as weaker than the power of women to create life. As a consequence, most sub-Arctic cultures include numerous prohibitions against contact between men or men's hunting tools and women engaged in their creative powers, meaning menses, pregnancy, or nursing.

Common to all Arctic and sub-Arctic peoples are principles of mutual interdependence and individual autonomy in the face of imminent danger and starvation. Thus, adherence to such cultural norms follows lines of cultural logic that are substantiated time and again through oral traditions. Sub-Arctic shamans are reputed to engage in a number of feats, including healing through surgery and herbs, levitation and transportation. All such abilities reflect cultural epistemologies about reciprocal relationships between humans, animals, plants, and entities of the spirit world. The most common ability, Dreaming, makes prophecies about the specific location and markings of wildlife. The many who have researched sub-Arctic dreaming customs include Hugh Brody (1981) in northeastern British Columbia and Jean-Guy A. Goulet (1994) among the Dénés Tha (formerly known as Slavey Athabascans). Marie-Françoise Guédon (1994), in a comparison of the Ahtna of Alaska and the Nabesna of British Columbia, describes a revitalization of shamanic dreaming in both regions. In addition, Ronald Niezen (1998) describes a similar investment in reciprocal relationships between humans, nature, and the spiritual world among the James Bay Cree.

The word shaman derives from Tunguz and is thus a foreign term in Indian languages. Indigenous names, equivalents of clairvoyant, dream doctor, singer, and dreamer (DeLaguna and McClellan, 1981, pp. 660 ff.), or shadow man, arrogant one, and head full of songs (Petitot, 1876, p. 224), are translations of concepts far removed from European comparables such as medicine man, sorcerer, and magician.

The shaman's important and essential characteristics are attained through dreams. The visions befall selected candidates. The chosen must have a "peculiar aptitude" (Snow, 1981, p. 607), but family inheritance can also play a role. The strength of a shaman depends on spirit helpers that are either acquired through dreams or inherited from his father or his maternal uncle. Every hunter has one such helper, acquired in the years of childhood through dream-fasting, but the shaman has at least half a dozen. The spirits manifest themselves in the form of animals, in natural phenomena such as the sun and the moon, or in the souls of deceased shamans (Lane, 1981, p. 409).


The sub-Arctic is a large region with relatively few human occupants. Life for humans in pre-colonial eras was fraught with constant fear of unpredictable catastrophic events; tension arising from requirements to be self-sufficient while supporting the rest of one's family and self-effacing while demonstrating amazing shamanic gifts; and emotional upheaval when family members died or became disabled. Religious traditions in the sub-Arctic reflect cultural efforts to resolve these frequent situations and constant fears through development of ritual behaviors to express pain, grief, anger, and fear. Mythologies of this region also educate the young about matters of great technological and environmental importance, and likewise offer a means to communicate personal and cultural histories through one of the few methods of community entertainment, storytelling. Oral traditions also enculturate youth into awareness of moral behaviors, such as the need for men to avoid sexual feelings toward their mothers and sisters, and women in menses and pregnancy to avoid contact with men and their equipment. Each of these prohibitions fits into a holistic union of social and spiritual harmony that honors two forms of spiritual power: the power to predict weather, warfare and subsistence resources and the power to create new life. Men and women of the sub-Arctic are expected to be equals in terms of providing food and shelter for each other, but different in terms of life cycle events and usage of spiritual powers.

See Also

Dreaming, The; Inuit Religious Traditions; Sun Dance.


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North American Indians: Indians of the Far North

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North American Indians: Indians of the Far North