This book is fascinating. It should be required reading for any academic “outsider” involved in the study of a culture or group of people. It is a solid academic work—no doubt—but as a layperson I was enthralled. It felt as if Dr. Keavy Martin lifted my eyes and revealed the top of the world to me.
The stories impart Inuit principles (“What Inuit have known for a very long time”), with an understanding that, if one listens carefully, the story may one day save your life. What is valued? Real, lived experience. Sila —knowledge of one’s environment. To live in a good way with the land and people. Relationship to land, family, inner spirit, and community. ADAPTATION.
The stories of the Inuit also tell the history of everyone around them—the Dene, Cree, the Whites and the animals. The stories trace the sweeping changes: epidemics from European encounters, the 1940’s fur trade collapse when the Inuit were forced into settlements, residential schools that tore families and traditions. But the storytelling never stopped, represented in contemporary writings and film. These stories remain vital to Inuit youth, have much to teach humans about survival, and sometimes contradict “southern experts”.
These became guiding principles for Dr. Keavy Martin as she created curriculum and learning experiences for her students of Inuit literature. She also applied them to her personal life and professional practices. She had a PhD, but was “infantile in many skills of good living”—self sufficiency and the ability to read and make use of her environment. “Most importantly, it taught me the meaning of community, and the responsibilities that come with it.”
Despite academic pressures, she chose to set aside ego and the myopic quest for tenure. She tried to freely share resources and help others—ideally without being asked, seek and speak from personal experience, and focus on what is at heart in the process of living, teaching and learning in a community. Community.
Dr. Keavy Martin strikes me as a rare and remarkable academic. She is funny, brilliant and a great writer. Her description of making—and unveiling—her first pair of seal skin mittens made me laugh out loud!
- Review by Goodreads member Leigh Anne Kranz