Sensory studies arises at the conjuncture (and within) the fields of anthropology • sociology • history • archeology • geography • communications • religion • philosophy • literature • art history • museology • film • mixed media • performance • phenomenology • disability • aesthetics • architecture • urbanism • design

Sensory Studies can also be divided along sensory lines into, for example, visual culture, auditory culture (or sound studies), smell culture, taste culture and the culture of touch, not to mention the sixth sense (however it might be defined)

Inuit Orienting: Traveling Along Familiar Horizons


Dr. Claudio Aporta
Associate Professor,
Department of Sociology & Anthropology
Carleton University, 1125 Colonel By Drive,
Ottawa, ON, Canada K1S 5B6

w. 613-520-2600, Ext. 4143
f. 613-520-4062



How Inuit are able to live and travel in such an environment as the Arctic has fascinated outsiders from the first encounters, as they were narrated by European explorers. The Arctic itself has exercised an endless fascination, and stimulated people’s imagination (Simpson-Housley 1996). I was not an exception, to the extent that I made Inuit traveling the topic of my doctoral dissertation and chose Igloolik as a geographic focus mainly because the island and its surroundings presented low topographic features that made wayfinding a particularly demanding task.

That the Inuit are able to orient across large masses of tundra, sea ice, and open sea, through apparently indistinguishable and seemingly monotonous landscapes, and quickly changing seascapes, without the use of maps or orienting devices known to European navigation, puzzles the external observer. In November of 2000 I was traveling with a hunter while he searched and found seven fox traps hidden under a thick layer of snow that his uncle had set across twenty square kilometres of what seemed to me a flat and indistinctive territory. The traps had been set 25 years before and he (the hunter I traveled with) had not seen them since then. Yet, he was able to find each of them in about two hours of searching. Questions arise: How is it that precise locations can be identified, remembered, and communicated without the use of maps? How does a hunter manage to find and keep his bearings in such an environment as the Arctic?

This paper adds to previous studies and builds from my own experience of traveling with Inuit hunters, as well as from observations, interviews, and informal conversations carried out in Igloolik. It also discusses some theoretical problems regarding space and orientation, and attempts a comprehensive explanation of the Inuit approach to wayfinding. Finally, it poses the question of what it really means for Inuit hunters to know where they are.

The environment of the Inuit in Igloolik is dynamic, and involves such features as moving sea ice, drastic contrasts between seasons, animal migrations, and the mobility of people. This paper argues that to understand such environment and people’s place in it, Inuit use different frames of orientation. The most important of these are the winds and certain spatial referents such as shores, the mainland, the open water and the floe-edge. Journeys and places are frequently described as vistas, and knowledge of the horizon (of how landmarks look at a distance) is essential to travel and to describe the territory successfully. Within these large frames of reference, landmarks, icemarks and seamarks are not memorized as isolated entities but remembered in terms of relationships. Traveling and orienting are not considered by Inuit to be activities or bodies of knowledge liable to be taught and learned as sums of techniques. On the contrary, both traveling and orienting are parts of the broader task of dwelling, which implies a comprehensive engagement with the environment. This engagement is not only accomplished through knowledge of the territory but also through a relationship with the environment that includes emotional attachment and memories of significant places.


The problem of spatial orientation from a theoretical perspective

It is not always easy to talk about how we understand the physical world around us, and how we make spatial decisions. Couclelis thinks that “the difficulty to define space is indicative of the fact that unlike most concepts developed to refer to some specific thing or property of the real world, space is part of the definition of that world” (1992: 215). Downs and Stea showed that the need to know about the world around us is a fundamental human need (1977: 4), and stated that “we are so adept at using this ability to know the world around us that we rarely notice its existence” (ibid: 6). Orienting is, in fact, an activity that we rarely rationalize. From the moment we are born we behave in spatial contexts. Whenever we move, we orient. We continuously face (and solve) spatial problems without even noticing that we are performing some specific task. Levinson thinks that spatial conceptualization is central to human cognition, and states that “spatial understanding is perhaps the first great intellectual task facing the child, a task which human mobility makes mandatory” (1996: 179).

All cultures have developed and are aware of different methods of orienting, but questions about how humans in general and cultural groups in particular approach space remain far from having definite answers. Attempts to answer such questions have been made from the fields of psychology, linguistics, philosophy, geography, and anthropology, and although they differ greatly in their solutions, most of them agree on one basic point: the answer to that question is a complex one. Easy explanations proposing the existence of a sort of intuition or sixth sense in indigenous populations (Porteus 1931) have long been abandoned at a theoretical level, but still persist in the popular imagination. The same can be said of theories explaining spatial behaviour as a mere response to an environmental stimulus (Tylor 1871). But the debate regarding how humans relate to their environments in the daily business of living remains very much alive, and it often lies in the broader analyses of the relationships between culture, nature, and the goals of the individual (Golledge and Stimson 1997).  The problem of spatial cognition among indigenous peoples that live in environments perceived as difficult in terms of orientation is understandably positioned at the very basis of that discussion. The three environments which have been the focus of most scientific research and reflection in connection with indigenous peoples are the desert (e.g. Lewis 1976), the south Pacific ocean (e.g. Gladwin 1970, Lewis 1972, Hutchins 1995), and the Arctic (e.g. Nelson 1969, Carpenter 1973, MacDonald 1998). Those three environments all present challenging spatial contexts for orientation, and the way their native populations have chosen to solve those problems have puzzled western understandings of space, which have been based for a very long time on instrumental navigation and on bird’s eye-view representations of the territory.

Environmental psychology proposed an appealing answer to the question of spatial orientation, postulating that people generate “cognitive maps” of their territories (Tolman 1948). A cognitive map has been defined as “a person’s organized representation of some part of the spatial environment. It reflects the world as some person believes it to be” (Downs and Stea 1977: 6). According to Downs and Stea “cognitive mapping is a process composed of a series of psychological transformations by which an individual acquires, codes, stores, recalls and decodes information about the relative locations and attributes of phenomena in his everyday spatial environment” (1973: 9). The idea of spatial cognition as a mental representation of the real world has been applied by several authors analyzing indigenous spatial cognition[2]. The idea of a mental grid framing or organizing the world around us has been debated and rejected in different fields. In a study of spatial orientation among the aboriginal peoples of central Australia, Lewis used the concept of mental map, but indicated that this was “continually updated in terms of the time, distance and bearing, and more radically realigned at each change of direction” (1976: 262). Cornell and Heth (1999) showed how route learning and wayfinding take place within an interactive process with the environment. Widlok stated that “the experience of moving through the bush has a role to play in solving orientation problems, even those of a rather non-practical nature” (1997: 320). Finally, Ingold rejected the concept of a cognitive map altogether, indicating that the information we obtain in the environment “is not in the mind but in the world, and its significance lies in the relations context of the hunter’s engagement with the constituents of that world” (2000: 55).

Ingold provides a comprehensive analysis of the debate around space and proposes that wayfinding should be understood as a way of dwelling in the world, and that the answer to the question ‘Where am I?’ lies more in “situating [one’s] position within the matrix of movement constitutive of a region” (2000: 235) rather than in the definition of a precise location (as postulated by Hutchins 1995: 52). A region, in Ingold’s terms, is the relationships among places, which “exist not in space but as nodes in a matrix of movements”, and “wayfinding is a matter of moving from one place to another in a region” (2000: 219). Knowledge of the environment, according to this approach, is not really stored in the mind, and susceptible to be transmitted as if it were a definite body of knowledge. Learning means unveiling, and the education of the novice takes place as a process of revelation, of showing, of fine-tuning of the senses. “What each generation contributes to the next, in this process, is an education of attention” (Ingold 2000: 21-22), a form of perceptual learning that was first labelled by Eleanor Gibson (1969: 155-160)[3].

This approach is implicitly or explicitly shared by most people in Igloolik, for whom learning takes place out on the land in a process of interaction with the environment. Furthermore, it breaks through theoretical assumptions such as the idea of a mental map, and the ones implicit in such English terms as “navigation[4], a concept in itself absent in the Inuktitut language. The tasks of traveling and of orienting are not separated from the daily business of living. A good hunter is always a good wayfinder because both hunting and wayfinding require a comprehensive engagement with the environment. Understanding animal behaviour is not separated from understanding winds or snow formations.

The process of education of attention takes place not in solitude but within a social and historic context, and knowing the landscape becomes a way of belonging to a particular community. This process through which places become remembered places, has been fruitfully labelled as people’s memoryscapes (Nuttall 1992:38-58).


Previous studies and methodology

Inuit geographic knowledge and their ability as wayfinders have been a focus of attention for Europeans since the first encounters. The British expedition led by Captain Parry, for instance, navigated Northern Foxe Basin with sketches of the shores drawn by Inuit (Lyon 1823, Parry 1824). Explorers and early ethnographers produced valuable material regarding the way Inuit moved about in their environment (see also Hall 1864, Boas 1888, Stefansson 1913, Mathiassen 1928, Rasmussen 1929, Rowley 1996, among others). The Inuit knowledge of the territory has also been the focus of numerous studies, including topics such as Inuit cartography (Spink and Moodie 1972, Rundstrom 1990), conflicts between Inuit and European approaches to representing the territory (Bravo 1996), survival techniques (Nelson 1969), language and environment (Gagné 1968, Fortescue 1988), perception (Carpenter 1973), and toponymy (Müller-Wille 1987, Collignon 1996) . Some authors have approached the topic from the more comprehensive perspective of Inuit navigation (Nelson 1969, Simeon 1983, MacDonald 1998).

The most important sources regarding how Inuit understand and move in their environments continue to be the Inuit themselves. Regardless of the current use of maps and new transportation and navigational technologies, there are numerous hunters that know and go by methods that have been used in Igloolik throughout many generations.

This paper is based mainly on observation and active participation in traveling that I undertook during four visits to Igloolik between 1998 and 2002. Most of the travel was done by snowmobile between November 2000 and March 2001, and by boat in the summers of 1998 and 2002, with the main purposes of hunting and fishing. I always traveled with experienced hunters, frequently accompanied by boys in their early or mid teens. My main travel companion was Maurice Arnatsiaq, a hunter in his mid-fifties. Travel took place in the most variable weather conditions: across sea ice, flat tundra and mountainous landscapes, during clear days where landmarks were perfectly visible and during blizzards in the darkness of December. The only traveling situation that I did not experience was fog, which in Igloolik presents one of the most challenging conditions of wayfinding. Figure 5-1 shows the area traveled during this study and situates maps and photographs used in the following sections.



Figure 5-1: Area of travel covered in this study, and location of maps and photographs used in the following sections


All the interviews cited in this paper are part of the Igloolik Oral History Project, and can be consulted at the Igloolik Research Centre. Some of the most valuable sources were self-recorded monologues of elders who were asked to speak of a topic of their choice, and taped conversations between two hunters. Those recordings provided information on how people remember and speak about familiar landscapes, and on how concepts of space and wayfinding are used in regular conversation.

During this study I made intensive use of technologies for mapping and spatial analysis. The combined use of Global Positioning System (GPS), GPS mapping software, and Geographic Information System, proved invaluable devices to analyse movement and spatial decisions while traveling, map place names and trails, and represent the geographic data in a number of different ways, including oblique views that differ from the classic bird’s eye-view of regular topographic maps.


A brief description of Igloolik geographic situation

Igloolik is an island approximately 18 by 9 km in size, situated in northern Foxe Basin between Baffin Island and Melville Peninsula, in the Canadian Eastern Arctic. Northern Foxe Basin and the island of Igloolik itself have been a center of Inuit and pre-Inuit cultures for over 4000 years, according to archaeological evidence (Maxwell 1984). According to Crowe, during this long historical period “there has been a striking continuity in the cultural landscape, cultural history and cultural ecology of the region” (Crowe 1969: ix ). Igloolik is situated in a biologically productive region, where cases of starvation and infanticide related to scarcity of food have been rare (Mary-Rousselière 1984: 436). The combined action of winds, the topographies of the shore and bottom of the sea, and marine currents create several polynyas in Fury and Hecla Strait (known in Igloolik as Ikiq), including the productive polynya southeast of the island, rich in marine mammals, especially walrus and seals. Beluga, walrus and seals are hunted in the summer and early fall, and caribou and polar bears are found throughout the year in different locations on Melville Peninsula and Baffin Island.

The patterns of travel and land use have changed throughout different historic periods. In the early 1820s Parry pointed out that the most knowledgeable people of the Igloolik area were familiar with a territory of a “a distance of more than five hundred miles reckoned in a direct line [south-north], besides the numerous turnings and windings of the coast along which they are accustomed to travel” (1969: 513). By the time members of Rasmussen’s Fifth Thule expedition visited Igloolik in the 1920s, the patterns of travel included regular long journeys to the distant trading posts of Repulse Bay, Pond Inlet, and Arctic Bay (this last one established in the 1930s). The patterns of travel changed quite dramatically with sedentarization in the early 1960s and with the introduction of motor boats and snowmobiles. Part-time and full-time jobs, and formal education created new contexts for traveling, which is now frequently undertaken as a weekend activity. Despite all the changes[5], traveling is still a very important part of people’s lives, and it takes place along routes that have been used for generations by Inuit and that belong to the memoryscape of Inuit of Igloolik (Aporta 2002a). Hunting and fishing are the main reasons for travel, but trips to visit relatives in the communities of Arctic Bay, Pond Inlet, Repulse Bay, Clyde River, and Hall Beach are undertaken on a regular basis, spring being the preferred season for long journeys. Hunting involves trips whose lengths range from a few hours (e.g. hunting on the floe edge) to several days (e.g. searching for caribou or polar bears).


The landscape the Inuit of Igloolik live in

The territory the Inuit of Igloolik travel is quite diverse. It includes deep valleys and fiords on Baffin Island and Northern Melville Peninsula, large extensions of flat tundra in the mainland across from Igloolik, and the crossing of long straits of frozen sea in northern Foxe Basin.

The following three sections describe some aspects of how Inuit in Igloolik perceive their environment, focusing mostly on the perspective of travelers. These sections, the mainland, the sea and the coast, do not correspond with an Inuit categorization, but each of these three features is recognized as distinctive, and each of them plays a significant role in the configuration of a framework of spatial reference.

If language is a way of dwelling (Basso 1988), then naming is a way of experiencing the environment. This is particularly true with Inuit cultures, where place names have an enormous importance (Carpenter 1973, Arima 1976, Correll 1976). Each section below includes a brief reference to place names associated with coastal, land and marine features. Naming often reflects a distinctive approach to the environment as names bring attention to what people consider significant. The place names cited in this paper are part of a database I built in Igloolik from different sources (Aporta 2003). Terms used to refer to larger areas are also discussed.

The Mainland

Inuit in Igloolik are familiar with open space that is usually characterized by far away horizons. Flat and mountainous landscapes and seascapes are traversed by numerous routes that have been used for generations, are recreated year after year on trackless snow, and belong to the memoryscapes of the Inuit of Igloolik. Spink’s and Moodie’s conclusion that, judging from the maps they drew for explorers, coastal Inuit knew little of the inland seems overly simplistic. The authors argue that “the coastal Eskimo uses his rivers as reference points for aiding movement in coastal waters” (1972: 15). Carpenter also points out that an old Igloolik hunter who was asked to draw a map “mentioned no names for most of the islands, though he did for salient points on their coastlines. In other words, he had no interest in land mass, only in geographical points” (1973: 18). Inuit in Igloolik, however, have always practiced inland hunting and fishing, and some of the most important routes to distant places go through chains of lakes and rivers across large extensions of land  (MacDonald 1998: 162, Aporta 2002a, see also Boas 1888: 450).

What counts as mainland? The mainland in Igloolik is known as iluiliq, which can be defined as “a mass body of land without any islands” (Aqiaruq 1993a). Iluiliq is applied to the mainland of Melville Peninsula, but elders in Igloolik remember that in the past the term iluiliq was also used when referring to Baffin Island, which was also considered to be mainland. Aqiaruq said that “if it was in the past [Baffin Island] definitely would be iluiliq, but now we tend to term it as Qikiqtaaluk [“big island”] … this island is so huge [that] we used to refer to it as iluiliq because we did not know any better” (1993a). Igloolik was, therefore, located in the strait known as Ikiq between two large landmasses each known as iluiliq.

The definition of what distinguishes an island from a mainland is, of course, a matter of scale and perception. The Webster’s Dictionary defines island as “a land mass, esp. one smaller than a continent, completely surrounded by water,” and a continent as “one of the principal land masses of the world.” For the Inuit, for which space is mostly considered in terms of what is seen (or unseen) in the horizon (see section below), the criterion seemed to have been that a mainland is a large mass of land where the shores are not visible from the interior. The interior of the mainland is known as nunavik, which was formerly defined as “a place where the shore cannot be seen” (Kupaaq 1993). An iluiliq, therefore, contains a nunavik. Both Melville Peninsula and Baffin Island possess a nunavik, and they are, therefore, mainland.

Although Baffin Island is no longer considered to be a mainland, terms still used today in the community referring to travellers going back and forth between northern Baffin Island (known in Igloolik as tappakkua) and Igloolik imply the consideration of Baffin Island as mainland. Itijjaaq (“gone overland”), for instance, is a term that refers to a traveler who has left Igloolik and is on his or her way to the Arctic Bay and Pond Inlet region (Amarualik 1994). Terms that refer to large, distant territories on the mainland are also used. The term kiva, for instance, means “where there appears to be nothing” and among the Inuit of Igloolik indicates the southern part of Melville Peninsula (the Keewatin area). This word is the root of words like kivavvaat, referring to travellers going to that region[6]. South of kiva there is taungna, which was known as “the land of the white man” (Kupaaq 1993).


Place names in Igloolik refer to a large variety of features. Of 400 place names collected in Igloolik, over 35 per cent refer to land features, including lakes, rivers, hills, rocks, river bends, rock cairns, and portages. The size or scale of the named features vary from large lakes, such as Tasiujaq (Hall Lake), to such specific features as individual rocks (Iksivautaujaq). Names referring to different parts of the same geographic feature are also common. For instance, there is a river named Ajagutalik that has a bend named Sanguraq. There is a precise turning point in the river bend named Avalagiavvik. It is likely that such nesting of descriptions reflects a universal method to organize spatial memories (Kitchin & Blades, 2002).


The Sea

Virtually all environments the Inuit of Igloolik live in are highly dynamic. Raised beaches are a common feature around Igloolik, and old campsites situated far from the coast are permanent reminders of where the water once was. Some old place names also remind people of the dynamics of the land. Qikiqtaarjuk, for instance, is a peninsula on the Island of Igloolik, but the name means “little island,” referring to a time when Qikiqtaarjuk was separated by the sea from Igloolik island proper. The land also changes its appearance on a yearly basis and routes are modified in relation to the snow coverage and the freezing of lakes and rivers.

The sea, however, remains the most dynamic of all environments. Inuit hunters understand the codes of such a changing place, and have discovered its predictability, to the extent that they can exploit the moving ice on a regular basis and make the landfast ice their home for part of the spring. Places like Agiuppiniq (an ice ridge), Naggutialuk (an ice lead), Ivuniraarjuruluk (an ice build-up), and Aukkarnaarjuk (a polynya) recur every year at the same locations, and are identified with names in a similar way as places on the land. I was able to identify 110 terms among the many expressions that hunters use to describe sea-ice topography (Aporta 2002b). The open sea also has a topography that can be recognized and, in some cases, geographically situated. I also identified 15 terms describing the topography of water (Kupaaq 1990, Qunnun 2002), each of them of remarkable technical precision.

Within the environment limited by the sea, there are islands. Islands are not merely positioned but understood in relation to their role in modifying currents and in creating the topography of the sea ice. Michel Kupaaq, for instance, (1987) explained that Simialuk (“the big plug”) prevents the currents of Ikiq from flowing freely from the west, and creates the conditions for the existence of three adjacent polynyas. The geologic characteristics of each island are well known to the knowledgeable hunter. Each island is recognized as having particular kinds of stones or gravel of different colours and shapes (Kupaaq 1987).

Twenty-three percent of the place names collected in Igloolik refer to sea features, including islands, ice features, polynyas, and submarine features. The naming of islands does not follow a unique criterion. The island of Igloolik was only named as such by Parry’s second expedition in search of the Northwest Passage. For the Inuit, the name Iglulik refers to a camp southeast of the island. There are nineteen named features on the island, but the island itself has no Inuktitut name. Some other islands, however, are named as a whole (e.g. Saglarjuk). There are also names for clusters of small islands (e.g. Uqsuriattiangujaak, referring to three adjacent islands, or Uglit referring to two islands).

Within the sea-ice environment, the floe-edge plays an important role in Igloolik, both for its productivity and as a frame of spatial reference. Within the frozen sea, the microenvironments constituted by polynyas are significant in defining the territory. Several features are recognized in that environment of which the most important are the landfast ice (tuvaq), the moving ice (aulajuq), the open water (aukkaniq) and the floe-edge (sinaaq).

Ice cracks and leads are identified depending on whether they run parallel or perpendicular to the floe-edge. Although the floe-edge moves, it is always spatially situated in one specific area which is visible in the horizon as a dark blue reflection of the water on the sky, a phenomenon known in Igloolik as tunguniq (MacDonald 1998: 184). Tunguniq is sometimes strikingly visible as a thick line above the horizon, and sometimes as a distant dark point. It becomes an important spatial reference when traveling across the flat tundra on the neighbouring mainland.

Travel over open water and ice are sometimes recognized with different terminology even when the terms refer to the same spatial action of going towards or away from the shore. Kangivaq and tuvviaqttuq refer both to a return journey from the sea, but the former term is used when boating in the open water and the latter when coming back from walrus hunting in the moving ice. Sammuk and mauttut are terms that refer to the same spatial action of going out, the former referring to leaving the beach for the open water and the latter to leaving the landfast ice or the beach for the moving ice.


The Coast

Inuit in Igloolik interact with the marine environment all year round, and most camps (present and past) are situated on the beach. The shores are also portages between land and ice routes, and they help determine good anchoring places and shallow areas. Rising beaches, deep cliffs, long fiords, broad bays and low shores are all significant features for the traveler.

The coast plays a significant role as a framework of spatial orientation, as it does in other cultures whose livelihoods are tied to the sea (Cablitz 2002). Fortescue noted that terms indicating away from and down to the shore, and left/right-along-shore are an important part of coastal Inuit orientation systems (1988: 25). The importance of the littoral is evident in many stories told by Inuit elders in which the action frequently takes place in reference to the shore (see for instance Siakuluk 1996). It is also manifested in the terminology used to describe the shore and people’s relative position to the shore. Noah Piugattuk remembers how, in the summer, people would split between those going caribou hunting inland, and those staying in the littoral. “There was a time when certain individuals would be planning a trip for the inland for the summer… those that stayed on the littoral would hunt marine animals to store them for the winter. Those that stayed on the littoral would be in a place that was identified by the name of the land” (Piugattuk 1989). In Igloolik, the term ataartut is used to refer to people going down to the littoral from the interior (Aqiaruq 1993b). People who remain on the coast while others went inland are known as Singmiujuq.

Numerous features are defined in reference to their position relative to the shore. The terms tilliq (higher) and salliarusiq (the one further down), for instance, are sometimes used to refer to the relative position of mountainous ranges in reference to the shore (as seen from the sea) (Kupaaq 1993). Shore cracks (qungiit) are important, as they help to observe the tidal movement and tidal shifts. They are also named in relation to their relative position to the shore (here the observer is situated on the shore): tilliqpaaq (“the one that is higher than the rest”) refers to the first shore crack, akulliq is the one in the middle and salliq the one further away (Imaruittuq 1990).

Almost forty-two per cent of the place names collected for Igloolik refer to coastal features. As with the names of land and sea features, place names related to shores designate features of different scale. Many of them refer to points, but others refer to long stretches of shore. Names defining specific points within larger named features have frequently the same linguistic root as the name of the larger feature. Iqaluit Nuvua (“the point of Iqaluit”), for instance, refers to a point within the bay of Iqaluit. Other names refer to fiords, cliffs, landing points, places from where one can have a good look at the surroundings, places that are shallow, places that are deep, and campsites.

As can be inferred from the place names cited above, naming of the shore is not only related to residence but also to traveling. Both land and ice trails are fairly stable from year to year and they begin or terminate at specific coastal places for landing and launching. While traveling across straits of open water or sea ice, named places are marks on familiar horizons. As I will show below, the named horizon constitutes an important spatial framework for the traveler, in that names referring to larger- and smaller-scale features help define where one is.


How Inuit move and find their way about

Intimate knowledge of the land, the shores and the sea is not enough to make someone a confident wayfinder. Someone who feels at ease while undertaking long journeys, hunting, and talking about such large territory, must know how to answer such questions as Where am I? (or where a place is), and How do I get there?

Ingold defines wayfinding “as a skilled performance in which the traveler, whose powers of perception and action have been fine-tuned through previous experience, ‘feels his way’ towards his goal, continually adjusting his movements in response to an ongoing perceptual monitoring of his surroundings (2000: 220). Traveling does not take place through abstract space but between places. Places, in turn, are nodes within a network of coming and going which Casey defines as a “region” (Casey 1996: 24, cited by Ingold). A region in Igloolik is constituted by the territory a person is familiar with either through his or her own travels or through somebody else’s narratives.

Inuit in Igloolik organize such regions and places within different frameworks of spatial orientation. There is enormous variation with regard to how people from different cultural groups construct and use these frameworks. Micronesian navigators use East as a cardinal direction and use “moving islands” to monitor traveled distance (Hutchins 1995: 183). Ulysses is said to have used the winds and stars to navigate (Homer 800 BC: 24, 60), as did Marco Polo (1228: 26,93), and the Argentinean gauchos guided themselves in the pampas by the use of stars, the sun, the winds and the behaviour of animals (Hernández 1872: 132). A wind-rose composed of sixteen wind bearings is said to have oriented European sailors from classical times through the Middle Ages (Aczel 2001: 36).

Hutchins referred to these ways of organizing or looking at space as “representational assumptions” and stated that beyond these representations all cultures answer to essential questions such as ‘Where am I?’ in fundamentally the same way:  by fixing a position through a combination of one-dimensional constraints (1995: 50-52). The spatial frameworks used by Inuit in Igloolik are better described as ways of experiencing the territory rather than of representing space. Having a spatial framework is not seen here as imposing an abstract grid onto the world, but as a way of experiencing or perceiving the environment through the engaging process of moving (literally or figuratively) in it. These frameworks are shared by the members of the community, and have been developed through generations. A memoryscape can exist at a social level only because people within a community share ways of experiencing the landscape they live in. That is why people from a particular culture can understand each other and why people from different cultures can misunderstand each other (Bravo 1996).

Despite the interest that Inuit wayfinding ability has aroused in the past, systematic studies regarding what constitutes Inuit spatial frameworks are rare. Fortescue’s analysis of orientation terms from Siberia to Greenland brought to light the existence of a pan-arctic system of perceiving space, with regional variations and similarities. Fortescue identified two major frameworks of orientation: the one constituted by the prevailing winds, and the one determined by the shore (for inland Inuit groups, rivers take the place of the shore) (1988: 25). MacDonald’s study of Inuit Astronomy describes the role of the sky in Inuit spatial orientation, and provides also a detailed description on how Inuit of Igloolik use winds and snowdrifts in navigation (1998: 173-182). Other authors (Carpenter 1973, Nelson 1969, Simeon 1983) have approached this issue marginally.

MacDonald rightly points out that there is no one single method of Inuit spatial orientation and that hunters and families differ in the knowledge they possess and in how they learned it (1998: 6). Hunters in Igloolik give different answers when asked which methods they prefer for orienting and wayfinding. Stars, animal behaviour, the sun, landmarks, seaweed, the moon, and snowdrifts are nearly always mentioned but while some people, for instance, have a thorough knowledge of stars’ trajectories and constellations, others simply use some stars to keep occasional bearings while traveling. All wayfinding methods, however, are used and understood in relation to a limited number of shared frameworks of spatial orientation known to everyone in Igloolik. These frameworks are constituted by the direction of prevailing winds and by the position of the mainland, the shores and the floe-edge. All methods are understood in relation to such frameworks: animals and seaweed move in reference to the shore or the floe-edge; sky features are situated in reference to wind bearings; and people move in and see the territory in terms of horizons where winds, shores, mainland, sea, floe-edge, celestial marks and familiar landmarks are situated, described and experienced. The most significant element in terms of how Inuit experience the environment around them is constituted by the winds.

The Winds

Winds occupy a central place in the lives of the Inuit of Igloolik. The winds foretell weather changes, shape patterns on the snow, and regulate (along with the tides) the behaviour of the moving ice. They are by far the most discussed of all environmental phenomena (MacDonald 1998: 182), they largely regulate hunting activities, and they play a fundamental role in spatial orientation. Education regarding the learning about winds starts at a very early age. Inuit who were born on the land remember when they were told to anijaaq (“go out and report on the wind and sky conditions” (Amarualik 1994)). The winds, or the anticipation of a shift, are “read” in cloud formations, weather patterns in distant regions, sea waves, and in the behaviour of marine mammals, which face the direction of the wind even before it starts to blow.

Contrary to Carpenter’s opinion (1973: 22) Igloolik hunters point out that navigating by the winds can be deceiving, and that subtle changes are sometimes difficult to notice. For someone who is navigating by the winds, a gradual shift can bring about a dangerous situation, resulting in the loss of his spatial framework. Wind shifts are even more difficult to notice today due to the use of new means of transportation. Amarualik points out that “since we have the fast machines that we use now it always seems like we are traveling against the wind even if we are not” (1994) .

The winds, therefore, are mainly considered in relation with their shaping of the snow. The snowdrifts (technically “sastrugi”) left by the prevailing winds are the most reliable source of spatial orientation for the attentive observer. There are various snowdrifts of different shapes and sizes, but only the drifts left by prevailing winds can last throughout the winter. Experienced travelers can thus read the substantial spatial information left by the winds in the snow[7]. The Inuit of Igloolik recognize four primary winds: Uangnaq (WNW), Kanangnaq (NNE), Nigiq (ESE) and Akinnaq (SSW) (MacDonald, 1998: 181). Uangnaq and Nigiq are the two prevailing winds.

Uangnaq produces snowdrifts that range in height from several centimetres to almost one meter. These snowdrifts are named uqalurait (like a tongue), and are easy to recognize as their shape is distinctive and they become harder and permanent features on the snowscape. The tips of the uqalurait always point towards WNW, providing a reassuring orienting aid. Nigiq, on the other hand, is a constant wind blowing from ESE, which smoothes the ground over and produces snowdrifts known as uluangnaq (like a cheek)[8].

Hunters usually use uqalurait to set their bearings while traveling across large extensions of flat tundra, or during periods of poor visibility due to weather conditions or darkness. When snowdrifts are not visible they can be felt as snowmobile or dog-team drivers set a course that involves cutting across the drifts at particular angles. Hunters are able to indicate the location of different named places beyond the horizon just by identifying their current position in relation to a landmark and by using the snowdrifts as reference for direction.

Along with the uqalurait and the uluangnaq, there are other snow formations that provide spatial information to an attentive hunter, including qimukjuit (drifts formed on the lee side of rocks), sivingajuq (snow build up on the lee side of a hill), tissujaaq (snow build up on the lee side of an ice floe, usually by a Nigiq wind), and tullimajuq (snow surface which has been smoothed over by a Kanangnaq wind and has been compacted by human or animal tracks.

Wind bearings: Winds are not merely winds. They constitute an abstract (but environmentally situated) frame of orientation, a way of placing oneself within the territory and of placing the territory around oneself. As with the Ojibwa (Hallowell 1955: 191), winds are named from the direction they blow. The Uangnaq direction, for instance, is WNW, which is actually the place from where it blows. But Uangnaq exists beyond its actual blowing at a particular moment. It exists as a cardinal direction. Winds constitute a kind of wind-compass, which is neither completely abstract nor completely concrete (see also MacDonald 1998: 177, 298). It is not completely abstract because it is ultimately connected to the blowing of a prevailing wind and is manifested through a distinctive shaping of the snow. It is not completely concrete because it exists independently of the blowing of the wind. Qunnun explains the functioning and spatial terms derived from this axis:

The prevailing wind Uangnaq is the determining factor to tell direction. For instance, Uangnaq direction can be visualized as an animate object with its back to the Uangnaq… This wind is transformed to a person facing away from Uangnaq …[left] would be termed as Kanangnaq, [and] the other side is Akinnaq (2002).

The use of the wind compass, as an environmentally-situated orienting device, allows a familiar egocentric frame of reference[9]. The axis is spatially situated around the Uangnaq-Nigiq pair, with Uangnaq as the determining cardinal direction. Uangnaq, as pointed out above, is clearly indicated by the tip of the tongue of the snowdrifts uqalurait. On the island of Igloolik, MacDonald measured the winds with a theodolite as their directions were pointed out by an experienced hunter. He established the bearing of Uangnaq to be 296 degrees as translated to an European compass rose (1998: 181). I determined an identical bearing when measuring the pointed part of the uqalurait with a GPS unit at about 200 km south of Igloolik. Ikummaq said that uqalurait were reliable directional aids all the way during a trip from Igloolik to northern Greenland and that they keep a similar directional pattern as far south as Repulse Bay (2000).

MacDonald identified “in between” winds, and stated that the vocabulary allows the recognition of up to 16 bearings:

The term akurruttijuq, used in conjunction with any two adjacent primary names, indicates a “midpoint” wind, hence uangnamillu kanangnamillu akurruttijuk signifies a wind bearing approximately NNW (338°). Winds occurring in the sector between a given cardinal point and the akurruttijuq “midpoint” line take the nearest primary name to which is added the suffix –passik. Thus uangnaqpassik is a wind bearing approximately 317° (NW), while kanangnaqpasik bears almost true north. In this way, variation in wind direction down to gradations of 23° can be readily specified (1998: 181).

Wind bearings are used in descriptions of places and routes. Stories, and even dreams are frequently spatially situated by using wind bearings (see Siakuluk 1996). In self-recorded interviews, when describing hunting or travel episodes that took place a long time ago, the direction from which the wind was blowing is nearly always mentioned (see, for instance, Kappianaq 1990).

In some extreme travel circumstances, the wind becomes the only factor that allows hunters to ascertain and maintain their location and bearings. As long as hunters keep in mind the spatial reference provided by the wind, they do not get lost. At the end of November 2000 I spent several days ice fishing with a knowledgeable hunter and his son on a river not far from the island of Saglarjuk. We were planning to cross a part of the strait that leads to Majuqtulik where we were going to search for caribou. We were among the earliest travelers to Majuqtulik, and the sea ice was just stabilizing. The sea ice was rough and there were no established trails for the crossing, as they varied from day to day due to the pattern of the freeze up. It was dark, and the blowing snow limited the visibility to the extent of the snowmobile’s front light. There were no patterns on the snow, no visible stars, no coastal features in view, and the ice was so rough that we had to turn around several times just to find a passable route. The track recorded by my GPS unit, however, reveals no hesitation regarding the setting of the course, which indicates that the trail breaker was completely aware of the target location at all times.


Figure 5-2: GPS track of a trail broken across rough ice during a blizzard

After the trip, I asked the hunter how he managed to keep his bearing in such poor conditions. He answered that the wind itself was an indication of direction, and pointed out that “as long as you know where the winds blow you can know where your are going.” Blizzards in Igloolik usually come from either Uangnaq or Nigiq direction[10]. Both Uangnaq and Nigiq have different characteristics that often make them recognizable, and travelers can maintain their sense of direction as long as they identify the direction from which the wind blows.

I asked many hunters what was the most challenging situation in terms of wayfinding. None of them mentioned blizzards. On the contrary, they all agreed that the worst situation is fog in calm conditions, where winds cannot be perceived. That is basically the only situation in which even a knowledgeable hunter can seriously lose his bearings. Having lost the spatial framework provided by the winds, the hunter can only regain his bearing by identifying another spatial framework such as the shore or the floe edge, or by recognizing a familiar landmark[11]. In the open water, kelp can be used to determine direction if the tides and currents are kept in mind. Otherwise, this is the kind of situation where knowledgeable hunters simply advise that it is best to stop and wait until it clears up.

The Horizon

People in all cultures are able to move without the use of maps. Maps, however, have become significant for western European approaches to space, resulting in the developments of the science of cartography and of sophisticated mapping and surveying technologies. Long distance voyages are today unthinkable without maps, and one of the obsessions of maritime enterprises through several centuries was that of discovering and mapping terra incognita. Two elements are distinctive in a map: the view from above, and the representation of the territory at a certain, uniform scale. When Europeans and Inuit met in Foxe Basin, and the European explorers inquired for information about unmapped places, one of the great difficulties encountered was that of reconciling the European bird’s eye-view of the territory, as represented in maps and charts, and the Inuit approach to the territory as viewed from the perspective of the traveler.

European navigators, of course, were not unfamiliar with horizons.  Nor was a bird’s eye-view of the territory completely foreign to the Inuit[12]. Communication of geographic knowledge was ultimately possible because both parties were able to understand the other’s approach (a point noted by Parry 1823 and Bravo 1996). Despite this, for most Inuit hunters knowing ‘where one is’ is related to one’s ability to identify familiar horizons or vistas[13]. Topographic features (on the land or on the ice) are spotted from a distance and bearings are determined by orienting such horizons with various spatial frameworks, of which the most important is constituted by an axis of prevailing winds.

The importance of the horizon becomes evident while traveling, to the extent that, in some cases, the horizon is the main means of orientation. Inuit in Igloolik experience the territory in terms of vistas of the horizon even when talking about places that are far away, or about large extensions of land, or while describing a long journey or a route. That is why experienced hunters stress the importance of not focusing only on the trail ahead, but also of looking back and to the sides, to be able to identify a place from a number of different perspectives. Although the slow motion of the dog team was better suited for this practice, hunters traveling by snowmobile still look around while taking tea breaks or when re-fuelling their machines. A common way of teaching younger or inexperienced people during these stops is to ask them to point at different places in the horizon[14].

Narratives of journeys are full of descriptions of vistas (see, for instance, Kappianaq 1990). Amarualik says that in the past these descriptions were so detailed, that “you could almost picture the place where you are going; even if you had not taken the route before you would recognize the places that were instructed to you… nothing was ever written or maps were not used” (1994).

For the experienced traveler, familiar with the surroundings, horizons do not need to be visible (Cornell & Heth 2003). Traveling at night or in poor visibility, a hunter should still picture the surroundings around him. Iqaqsaq stresses the importance of looking at and remembering landmarks: “If you left in search of caribou when it is still clear and you can see all mountains and the landmarks that you pass, it is important that you memorize these landmarks as you go along. When you get caught in a fog you should be able to tell where you are and get the general direction of your tent” (Iqaqsaq 1993). There are examples of people who became lost because of bad visibility, but who were able to regain orientation by recognizing one single landmark (Kappianaq 1990). George Qulaut remembers that, when he was in his early twenties, he lost his sense of direction on a windy day and drove his snowmobile to the mainland instead of to Igloolik. He started traveling along the coast until he was able to identify one landmark on the shore, “and I knew Igloolik was straight across” (2000).

A correct reading of landmarks on the horizon is critical for making accurate landings in the long crossing of Ikiq between Igloolik and the Baffin Island coast. The crossing of the strait, from Igloolik to Iqaluit Nuvua is approximately 50 km. In good visibility, coastal features of Baffin Island and Melville Peninsula are visible on some parts of  the distant horizon. During the crossing, travelers are able to orient themselves and keep their bearings by recognizing named places on the shores. I crossed the strait several times accompanying experienced hunters, traveling both by boat and snowmobile. During one of the crossings, my travel companion helped me identify several landmarks on a very low horizon that had seemed to be quite indistinctive to me. Figure 5-3 is a panoramic view of the horizon during a boat crossing in August 2002. Some named landmarks that my travel companion pointed at have been included.

Figure 5-3: Photograph of the horizon during the crossing of Ikiq, and some of the names identified by Arnatsiaq (the photo has been divided into two parts for printing restrictions).

A GPS track of that boat trip (Figure 5-4) shows how the hunter aimed at an island called Nuvukliqpaak. Nuvukliqpaak means “the farthest point of land from the mainland,” referring to its relative position in the horizon as seen from Igloolik, as can be appreciated in the photograph of Figure 5-3.


Figure 5-4: GPS track of a boat  trip across Ikiq.


Defining and describing precise locations

Oral descriptions of routes for people unfamiliar with a place, or descriptions of a very specific location (e.g. a turning point in a trail, a caribou cache, a fox trap, a broken sled) are frequently given in relation to a landmark appearing on the horizon. Asked to describe what kind of information he would give to another hunter to describe the precise location of an object, Louis Alianakuluk explained:

If I left something behind at Ikiq…it might be that I left my machine behind, if I was to say that it is somewhere at Ikiq, no one would know where it is at. But if I was to say that it is just above the old floe-edge, or if I was to say that it is close to the nipititaaq [moving ice that has stuck to and become part of the landfast ice], or just below it, at once someone would identify the location. Then I might say that I left my machine behind, where certain pressure ridges were in view at a certain direction. If I was to give this kind of information, even a person that did not leave the machine behind would now be able to go to the place (2001).

Alianakuluk narrowed down the description of the location in different stages. First he mentioned Ikiq, which defines a relatively large expanse of territory. Then he described some topographic features of the ice that people sharing his memoryscape would identify and locate. To define a more precise location he mentioned that at the specific spot where the object is located there is some landmark visible on the horizon in a certain direction. His hierarchical descriptions of spatial relationships recapitulate what may be, in fact, a fundamental organizational property of human spatial cognition (Kitchin & Blades, 2002).

Within vistas defined by horizons, places and people can be situated, but even familiar horizons need to be oriented in order for them to be meaningful from the point of view of the wayfinder. The relative position of an individual or a place in relation to a landmark on the horizon is defined by the use of wind bearings. Theo Ikummaq remembers that on one occasion he was traveling to Repulse Bay when he got off the established, well-known trail and found himself confused as he tried to locate it again. He used his shortwave radio to communicate with his uncle in Igloolik and ask for advice. Ikummaq explains how his uncle asked him several questions to understand where he was situated:

Question: If you are facing down wind, what do you see?

Answer: A couple of hills, a couple of large hills.

Question: Facing toward the wind, what do you see?

Answer: Some rocky outcrops.

Question: To your left (that means towards Repulse) what do you see? Look to your left, what do you see?.

Answer: I see a narrow rocky outcrop, but it ends, and then it starts again a little further on and then it continues on.

Question: That’s the trail to take. You go between that and then you will find the main trail.

And such was the case. He wasn’t there. But he could determine where I was from what I described (2000b).

Ikummaq’s story illustrates how the territory is seen and remembered as vistas orientated by some spatial framework (in this case wind bearings). Place names help enormously in defining specific geographic locations. If someone has to explain that an object was left in, say, Iksivautaujaq (a boulder located southeast of Igloolik), no major descriptions are required other than the name. The name itself conveys a precise geographic location for those who share the same memoryscape. Some places are identified with names that in themselves inform of their particular location in relation to some spatial framework. Aggu, for instance, is a bay whose name means “facing the prevailing wind,” and Alarnaarjuk is a lake whose name means “facing away from the sun”.

If an object has been left in an unnamed place, its location is most commonly described by calling up a name or a distinctive landmark that can be spotted on the horizon and identifying the location in reference to that place by using wind directions and an estimation of distance. Alianakuluk stresses the importance of place names and winds in determining a precise location, and implies the historic continuity of such knowledge:

Inuit always use the name of a location to determine where he is going. Most of the landmarks have their own names, so it is important that these place names are passed on. In our times we knew the names of places … we knew place names from the time of our youth. Places should have names, these names should be well known. We knew the place names, we learned these from our parents… If a hunter had left behind a catch or something worth returning for… If I was to be asked to go and get it, if I knew the location of the place name that he mentions, then using the direction of the wind, I am able to retrieve the item to be brought back…He would also mention how far the object is from that place name. With these instructions then I am able to go and retrieve the object. That was the way we used to do it in our youth (2001).

Qunnun compares this approach with a spatial grid provided by maps. He points out that place names are called out and the target locations are defined by the winds. “It is important that place names are visible, as it would help you to go and look for something. It is just like map bearings with all the numbers, this is identical to that” (2001).

A knowledgeable hunter, therefore, can move and talk about the land, using numerous spatial references in an environment that he sees from the perspective of the traveler: as vistas. Furthermore, the dynamics of the environment and the dynamics of animals and people take place within the stability of fixed spatial frameworks provided by the shores and the winds, and within familiar places and regions. A knowledgeable hunter is engaged in such a way with the environment, that what may appear a homogenous landscape to an outsider is in fact full of spatial references. Figure 5-5 shows, in a schematic manner, some of the ways in which the space and movement can be experienced by Inuit in Igloolik.


Figure 5-5: Schematic drawing of some directional terms and features

In this environment, everything takes place and makes sense within several frames of spatial reference: fish swim up and down the shore, seals move against or towards the floe-edge, birds fly towards and away from the shore, places are located in reference to the winds, and winds and celestial landmarks are identified with positions on familiar horizons. Descriptions and narratives make sense without the need of drawing or pointing at places on a map. A clear example was provided by Siakuluk while he was telling a story of two people who committed murder. Siakuluk pointed out that after the murder was committed they built an inuksugak (stone cairn) which was shaped like a human figure. The inuksugak “is facing the direction where the two fled. It is located some distance away from Ualinaaq towards the land away from the littoral” (1996b). Siakuluk situated the story by naming a place (Ualinaaq) and using some spatial referents for direction.

Knowledgeable Igloolik hunters repeatedly say that they have never been lost. They have all faced challenging wayfinding situations and have been uncertain of their location, but they see those situations as temporary losses of orientation. A changing wind, moving ice or bad visibility has confused them, and their response to such a situation is always the same: stop traveling or look for a directional clue until a spatial framework can be regained. A hunter who is knowledgeable of the spatial frameworks described above and who is knowledgeable of the geology of the ground, the patterns of the water and ice, and who is familiar with placenames around him, is traveling through a territory that is so familiar that it feels like home. Confident travelers are simply knowledgeable people who are able to understand the environment as a whole and people’s place in it. A good wayfinder in Igloolik is identified with the term aangaittuq, which means “attentive.” “Aangaittuq is a person who is real observant and who knows where he or she is at all times” (Qamaniq 2002 and also Qunnun 2002). The opposite of aangaittuq is aangajuq, defined as “one who moves away from the community, and immediately loses where his destination is at, so as a result he will travel blindly” (Qamaniq 2002). Both aangaittuq and aangajuq have extended meanings that go beyond wayfinding (MacDonald, personal communication). They imply an attitude towards the environment and towards life in general. Being a good wayfinder is not different from being a good provider as both hunting and wayfinding are parts of the broader task of dwelling. In a changing context of part time jobs, formal education and life in town, being aangaittuq is perhaps more important now than it ever was before.



Several hunters told me the story of two young people, in their early twenties, who got lost a few years ago somewhere in Northern Melville Peninsula. Elders were all amazed when telling the story at how these two people traveled in the wrong direction for ten days until a search party found them in a state of near starvation. Their amazement is based on the fact that there is enough information in their environment to prevent them from ever becoming seriously lost. The story, told and retold, is also seen as a warning sign of what is happening today with people who spend most of their lives in town but for whom traveling and hunting are still significant activities.

Undoubtedly, the Inuit experience of their environment goes beyond the understanding of spatial frameworks. People move at ease in an environment that contains considerable spatial information, but also through places and regions that are known and named, through topographies of the ice, the snow, the water and the land that are familiar and that in themselves provide more information about specific locations and general directions. They also move through and live in an environment that is significant from many different points of view beyond that of spatial orientation.

People remember places not as mere locations but in contexts, because places cannot be separated from past experiences, including such emotions as sadness, happiness or love. A respected Igloolik hunter and skilful wayfinder, George Kappianaq, made this clear:

My memories would return to me to the times we all lived in big families. There are so many things that remind me when I go back to the locations where we used to live; today memories will return to me as if things were there; with the passage of time I no longer feel too much emotion but memories still come back to the time when we were whole. [What] I remember most was the time both of my parents were alive and well. Even the thought of the late wife will come … thinking she too was alive and well. I would imagine others too have fond memories (1990).



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[1] This paper is a copy of Chapter 5 of my thesis “Old Routes, New Trails: Contemporary Inuit Travel And Orienting In Igloolik, Nunavut”, 2003, University of Alberta.


[2] Gagné wrote about the “cognitive maps” used  by Inuit to represent their environment (1968: 38). Both Simeon (1983) and Nelson (1969) used the concept of mental map to analyze the Inuit approach to space. See also Hutchins’s (1995) concept of “representational assumptions”.

[3] E. Gibson has a pertinent analysis of how language and sociocultural conventions of naming help novices see important features of  their environment. The idea is that labeling can identify attributes that serve to differentiate an object from similar objects or environmental events.

[4] Defined by Hutchins (1995: 12) as a collection of techniques to answer questions such as ‘Where am I?’

[5] For a detailed description of social and demographic changes in contemporary Igloolik, see Rasing 1994.

[6] Fortescue has suggested that the word Keewatin can be an anglicized form of kivallin (southerners) from the directional stem kivat, which in turn refers to the spatial organization of the igloo (1988: 10).

[7] Ikummaq warns that local topographic features may affect the general directions of drifts. Side hills, for instance, may produce downdrafts that differ from directional patterns of snowdrifts shaped by winds (2000).

[8] MacDonald (1998: 173-181) offered a detailed description of the use of snowdrifts in Igloolik. According to MacDonald (2003, personal communication) several elders are noticing a slight change in the direction of prevailing winds, which may eventually affect the reliability of snowdrifts as directional aids.

[9] Because of the bilateral symmetry of our bodies, humans find it  easy to conceptualize our surroundings with ourselves in the center, facing forward (Howard & Templeton 1966). Cornell (personal communication) states that the forward orientation is specified by the frontal position of our sense systems for guiding locomotion and avoiding obstacles. Our spatial sense systems are symmetrical around a central axis, providing for binocular vision, stereophonic  sound, and olfactory localization to the left and right. The wind compass preserves the egocentric framework from  the perspective of a traveler looking  at the horizon.

[10] Winds can blow strongly from other directions, but they do not possess the persistence and intensity of Nigiq and Uangnaq (Kappianaq 1993).

[11] Zachariasie Panikpakuttuk provided an example of losing the wind bearings and regaining a sense of orientation by locating a large mass of floating ice (1992)

[12] Some place names such as Ulunguaq (“it looks like an ulu”) and Usuarjuk (“small penis”) refer to shapes of the land as pictured from above.

[13] This, again, is not a unique Inuit approach. See Heft (1996)

[14] Tests such as these are a natural example of prospective memory strategies; similar rehearsals have been experimentally demonstrated to be effective (Heth, Cornell & Flood 2002)