Sedna created by
Rebecca Guay


"The sea ice is our highway."
Inuit quote


Turtle Island: Storytelling Peopling North America:When? North American Culture Areas of Native Americans Maps

Inuit Location | Storytelling | Sedna | Inukshuk
Shaman| Bears | Suggested Lessons


The Inuit are located up around the Arctic Circle in Alaska and Canada and are some of the last people to inhabit that area of the world. They have been referred to as "Eskimo", which is based on an Algonkian word that translates out to "eaters of meat". The term preferred is Inuit which means "people". There are variations among the Alaskan Inuit according to the name and that is Inupiat or Yupik. 1

Based on archaeological evidence, Inuit ancestors may have arrived in North America from Siberia approximately 2500 to 1000 B.C.E., thereby making them some of the last to migrate here from Asia. Inuit still live in Siberia and they have migrated as far East as Greenland. Defining Inuit ancestral homesites through archaeological evidence like tools and midden piles has been difficult due to the lack of artifacts found and the unfriendly weather conditions.

The Inuit have made many contributions to the body of storytelling using many modern means of communication: movies, written and the Internet. Furthermore, Inuit legends have made it down "South" through various Internet sites , Youtube.com and Inuit owned and administered site Isuma Productions.

According to Inuit culture regarding their legends it is basically stated, "First were unipkaaqs : myths, legends, and folktales which took place "back then" in the indefinite past (taimmani)."2


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The Sedna story captures the essence of how the Inuit see their world, created from strife and a desperate need for survival. Sedna is depicted often as a sea goddess but in some renditions of the story she is not described as a goddess but also referred to as the Great Woman.

In today's world of storytelling, she is portrayed as a sea goddess. Her story is found in various formats: short movies, cartoons, printed text online and of course the oral story itself. legend to share.

The Legend of Sedna the Sea Goddess and Sedna is the Inuit Goddess of the Sea are provided here. There are subtle differences in the stories and a careful read will establish that the Sedna story extols a certain geographical distinction for each area where it is told around the Arctic.

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Inukshuk at Igloolik Inukshuk is another story worth sharing from the Inuit culture that means "in the likeness of a human." The Inukshuk has become a ubiquitous symbol for the presence of the human being. The Inuit do not present a creation story for the Inukshuk but the legend itself suggests how the Inuit have learned to live in the hostile Arctic environment. Listed are two references to Inukshuk legends, Inukshuk Story and a simpler story about how ancestral peoples used the Inukshuk.



Photo by BaShildy 28 June 2008

Complete Inuit shaman life story 1922 spoken in Inuit and has English subtitles is a video that provides a glimpse into the life of the Inuit shaman and the storytelling/education that takes place. He is telling how he came into the world and provides a real lesson for his people. The video was uploaded on 27 Sept 2006 and is a scene from the Journals of Knud Rasmussen.

The Inuit value their storytelling traditions and commented about how the storytelling they practice for thousands of years was almost lost thorough the teachings and Christianization of their small cultural groups. Located here is a link to a candid comment from Zacharias Kunuk (b. 1957, Kapuivik near Igloolik) won the Camera d’or at Cannes 2001 for Isuma’s first feature, Atanarjuat The Fast Runner. The movie, Atanarjuat, tells an Inuit legend about how powerful the social norms are and how Atanarjuat addressed the retaliation of a neighboring clan.

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Bears, brown and white are important animals in the Inuit legends. The Knowledge and its Bearberryfirst telling- BearBerry explains how the bear and the otter came down from the Upper-Air to help the animals that were without fur (humans). It is a great story that shows how animals are an integral part of the cosmology of the human being and in fact, the animals are the ones who save humans.

The Bearberry ("Kinnikinnick",
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
) pictured to the right. 3


Suggested Lesson Ideas:

Students are fascinated by the Inuit culture and will benefit from information provided from this area.

1. Lessons about Inuit contributions to society will create an overall look at their tools, society, food and cultural ways. This is a 3-5 project with each student creating a slide in PowerPoint on the contribution they chose to investigate. A short video posted to Youtube is here as an example of final project, Inuit Contributions Movie. Project was started in PowerPoint, slides saved as jpeg documents and then converted into a movie using Windows Movie Maker. Click here for Lesson Plan located at K-12 Study Canada.

2. Storytelling is highly evident in the Inuit culture. Review the film Complete Inuit shaman life story 1922, and the quote : "First were unipkaaqs : myths, legends, and folktales which took place "back then" in the indefinite past (taimmani)."2 The shaman retells the story about his own conception and time in the womb as a story for his people. How is his complete story an example for "back then" or even the indefinite past, which is an oxymoron of terms for many people?

3. The Knowledge and its first telling- BearBerry is a fun story to share with students beacue it highlights the importance of animals in their world. Compare other animals from your physical environment that may have a story to tell.

4. The retelling of Sedna suggests the transformation of a human being into animals that eventually inhabit the Arctic ocean. Sedna is portrayed as a super female goodess, the Big Woman, a sea witch: The Legend of Sedna the Sea Goddess and Sedna is the Inuit Goddess of the Sea In your opinion, what makes a character have such dual roles in a largely similar and intact culture?


1. Waldman, Carl. The Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes, 3rd Edition, 2006. New York, NY: Checkmark Books.

2. Lowenstein, Tom; Asatchaq (informant); Tukummiq (translator) (1992). The Things That Were Said of Them : Shaman Stories and Oral Histories of the Tikiġaq People. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kinnikinnick


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This site was created by Diana T. Mackiewicz at the NEH Summer Institute "Native Americans of New England: A Historical Overview," administered by the Five Colleges, Inc. and held at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, MA, Summer 2013. Last updated August, 2013.