Women’s Magic of the Arctic

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Picture of Inuit family from
Inuit Family Portrait, ca. 1890, gelatin-silver print, Archive # P0001.021/01-#PW81 C47-part of ser

As we come to the end of Women’s History month, it seems appropriate to write about the magical and mystical powers of women. This may not seem all that surprising – many of us can still remember the eyes that our mothers possessed in the backs of their heads, their incredible ability to know everything, and the special skill that mothers have to always make us feel better when we are sad, sick, or lonely. Even a woman’s ability to multi-task can seem quite magical – and this is only amplified by the current pandemic that has asked women to take on an even heavier burden. But for indigenous circumpolar people of the Arctic, “women’s magic” is actually key to their survival.

For most indigenous groups around the world, there are gender-based roles and skills, and these skills are taught by their elders in order to pass on their traditions from generation to generation. The same is true for the Inuit-Yupik of the arctic. There are numerous indigenous groups in the arctic, and to be completely correct, we would name them all by their specific linguistic group. However, it is generally accepted to call circumpolar indigenous people by the name Inuit-Yupik.   Read more

Everyday is an adventure

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Umiak on display in International Small Craft Center
Umiak on display in International Small Craft Center

One of the absolute best parts of this job is that I am almost always on some kind of treasure hunt, whether I know it or not.  Frequently I will be browsing through an object file and will find some random bit of information that is either hilarious or incredibly interesting, or sometimes both.  Today has been one of those days.  In the process of locating information for a researcher regarding an umiak that used to be in our collection, I came across a funny handwritten note that said, “the oomiak has unquestionably added atmosphere as well as smell to the museum.”  It was only after I started researching the umiak that is currently in our collection that I understand why someone may have stated something.

Looking through information from when the umiak came to us (the one in the picture above) it was written that “While in Alaska Mr. Woolworth, forgetful of our purchase, brought back an oomiak on the deck of his yacht as a gift for the Mariners.  The boats as already stated, are covered with walrus skins.  When the sun shone for days, the greasy fragrance from this particular craft – plus the stench of urine with which Eskimos saturate the hides to tan them – caused mal-de-mere, anything but pleasant for those on board.  No doubt it was a never-to-be-forgotten trip.  In fact we heard stories about it for several years.”   Read more