A Unique Atlas Shows How Much of the Arctic Has Been Mapped by the Inuit 

Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
June 16 2014 12:30 PM

A Unique Atlas Shows How Much of the Arctic Has Been Mapped by the Inuit 

The Vault is Slate's history blog. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @slatevault, and find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

A group of researchers has collated historical documents to produce an interactive atlas, Pan Inuit Trails, that shows how the Canadian Arctic has long been explored and mapped by the Inuit people.

Inuit groups in Canada have passed down their knowledge of geography through oral tradition. Knowing locations of trails and resources enabled small groups of people to migrate with the animals they hunted and to maintain social connections. The atlas draws from source maps and other descriptions of trails that were recorded during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as well as from interviews with elders and community members.

Advertisement

If you visit the atlas page, and turn on the “maps” layer, a set of gray rectangles overlays the map. Hovering over a rectangle with your cursor reveals the name of the map; clicking reveals a downloadable image of the original document, with its metadata.

The map below is one of the source documents used to make the atlas. Drawn by Iligliuk, an Inuit woman who collaborated with the explorers of the 1821-23 Sir William Parry expedition, the map shows how the Inuit mentally retained place names, locations of resources, and landmarks. Iligliuk notes locations where many Inuit lived; where one could find asbestos (already valued in Europe in the early nineteenth century) or fish; and places where nobody lived, “there being no food.”

The group that produced the atlas (Michael Bravo of Cambridge’s Scott Polar Research Institute; Claudio Aporta of Dalhousie University; and Fraser Taylor of Carleton University) has a political motivation. In the coming dispute over Arctic sovereignty, the record could serve as proof that the region has been, as Taylor told the Canadian Press, “very much Canadian territory.” 

IligliukChart
"Esquimaux Chart No. 2. The shaded parts drawn by Iligliuk at Winter Island 1822." From Cartographica: Explorers' maps of the Canadian Arctic, 1818-1960.

Pan-Inuit Trails.

TODAY IN SLATE

Frame Game

Hard Knocks

I was hit by a teacher in an East Texas public school. It taught me nothing.

Chief Justice John Roberts Says $1,000 Can’t Buy Influence in Congress. Looks Like He’s Wrong.

After This Merger, One Company Could Control One-Third of the Planet's Beer Sales

Hidden Messages in Corporate Logos

If You’re Outraged by the NFL, Follow This Satirical Blowhard on Twitter

Sports Nut

Giving Up on Goodell

How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.

How Can We Investigate Potential Dangers of Fracking Without Being Alarmist?

My Year as an Abortion Doula       

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 15 2014 8:56 PM The Benghazi Whistleblower Who Might Have Revealed a Massive Scandal on his Poetry Blog
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 15 2014 7:27 PM Could IUDs Be the Next Great Weapon in the Battle Against Poverty?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 15 2014 4:38 PM What Is Straight Ice Cream?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 1:51 PM Why Not Just Turn Campus Rape Allegations Over to the Police? Because the Police Don't Investigate.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Sept. 15 2014 11:38 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 4  A spoiler-filled discussion of "Listen."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 15 2014 8:58 PM Lorde Does an Excellent Cover of Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights”
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 15 2014 4:49 PM Cheetah Robot Is Now Wireless and Gallivanting on MIT’s Campus
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 15 2014 11:00 AM The Comet and the Cosmic Beehive
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 8:41 PM You’re Cut, Adrian Peterson Why fantasy football owners should release the Minnesota Vikings star.