Learn More About Inuit Culture

For National Aboriginal History Month we’ll be dedicating our June posts to Aboriginal titles published by Groundwood Books.

Raquel Rivera’s two books about Inuit culture include an educational resource and a novel. Arctic Adventures features biographies and stories, with pictures and descriptions of four Inuit artists she interviewed herself. Below you can read an excerpt from her novel Tuk and the Whale, set on the eastern coast of Baffin Island.


Grandfather suddenly stopped working.
He had been drilling holes through a flat piece of driftwood. Wood was a rare find. This piece would fill another gap between the sled runners of the family’s kamotiq.
Now he sat perfectly still. His bow-drill stopped spinning.
Tuk watched while Grandfather slowly leaned back on his heels. Did the old man hear something? Tuk strained his ears. All he could hear was the whump-whump of a raven’s wings beating at the wind.
“They are here,” said Grandfather. He went back to work, spinning the drill shaft deeper into the wood.
Tuk’s eyes widened.
They are here! Just the way Grandfather had dreamed. Tuk had to see this. He jumped up and ran toward the beach, stumbling over the snow-covered rocks.
“Sure, go,” Grandfather said to the air. “He’s young. He gets excited.”
Tuk climbed the crest that protected their camp from the wind. He reached the top and looked out over the bay.
There was the beach, cleared of snow by strong winds off the water. The sea ice stretched into the bay. It broke up into floes at the far edge.
Nothing unusual to see here. He waited a moment. Grandfather was hardly ever wrong.
There it was!
It looked like two great narwhal horns rising from the water, piercing straight through the sky. Tuk squinted against the glare that bounced off the ice. Those flapping white skins must be the “sails” Grandfather had mentioned. He said they could be turned to catch the wind, or turned away when the wind was too fierce.
Next into view came the great hull. It was the biggest boat Tuk had ever seen. What kind of creatures would travel in such a large boat? They must be giants!
Tuk felt a chill.
“Mother!” he called, even though he knew she couldn’t hear him. He turned and ran all the way back to camp.
Mother was outside the snowhouse. She was chewing on a scraped sealskin, making it soft enough to sew.
“Mother, when is Father coming back?” Tuk gasped as he reached her side.
“The light is still strong,” she replied. “He may return today.”
“Because the boat is coming! The boat that Grandfather dreamed about! I can see it already. Tomorrow it will be here!”

Arctic Adventures by Raquel RiveraAbout Arctic Adventures
The land, hunting, hunger, magic and extreme weather are themes that resonate for Inuit who live in the Far North. These stories, drawn from the lives of four Inuit artists, offer young readers a glimpse into this rich, remote culture, past and present. Accompanying each story are illustrations by Jirina Marton, who has spent time in the Arctic and whose deep appreciation for its subtle beauty shines through her art. In addition to the stories, there is a feature spread on each artist with a photograph, a brief biography and a reproduction of one of the artist’s works.

Tuk and the Whale by Raquel RiveraAbout Tuk and the Whale
This story is set on the eastern coast of Baffin Island in the early decades of the 1600s. Told from the point of view of a young Inuit boy, Tuk, it imagines what might have happened if the people of Tuk’s Baffin Island winter camp had encountered European whalers, blown far north from their usual whaling route. Both the Inuit hunters and the whalers prize the bowhead whale, but for very different reasons. Together, they set out on a hunt, though they are all on new and uncertain ground.

Scrupulously researched, this beautifully told story will inspire extremely topical discussion about communication between two groups of people with entirely different world views; and about a productive partnership that also foreshadows serious problems to come.

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