I plan to devote several blog posts to presentations from the 2017 Snowalkers Rendezvous in Fairlee, VT. The quality of the presentations is top notch, with several giants of northern adventuring in the line up. Here is the first:
David Pelly- “How Inuit Find Their Way – Navigation in the Trackless Arctic”
David’s talk was drawn from an article that he published in 2001 in ABOVE & BEYOND magazine -January/February 2001. Here’s the link to this highly interesting article
Canadians were well represented at this year’s SnowWalkers Rendezvous.
David presented leadoff slides of traditional Inuit tattoos. In 1982 David moved to Baker Lake, Northwest Territories, Canada, where David eventually learned to speak Unuit.
As examples of superior navigational abilities, David shared with us observations about the uncanny ability of a native named Tulurialik to discern from thousands of small piles of snow out on the tundra one that held a fox trap. David shared with us another story about traveling with Tulurialik on a snowmobile in complete white-out conditions where Tulurialik reoriented a snowmobile’s direction after recognizing a tiny protruding rock as a feature he remembered from passing through the area previously.
Possessing superior visual acuity, the Unuit subsistence hunter’s observations were fundamental to their survival. Men were raised as hunters and were usually taught by their grandfathers. They studied cloud masses and colors, indicating the location of distant land masses. Snow ridges reflect wind directions that offer clues to direction of travel on snowmobiles. Directions for wilderness travel as long as 200 miles are commonly transmitted orally, without maps. Mapping in the Inuit way is extremely sparse compared to the expanded view of modern maps. Descriptive place names and stories are techniques that increase the memory of a path of travel. Proportions do not matter- what matters are the indications of water borders (bodies of water).
As part of the presentation, David displayed a hand-drawn inuit map with minimal lines that looked nothing like I had ever seen.
“ I could actually do a whole half hour talk about this hand drawn simple map,” he said.
David’s talk was bittersweet, as things for the Unuit have dramatically changed for this culture, even in the past 15 years. I encourage the reader to check out the charitable foundation headed by David Pelly in the memory of his 20 year old adopted Inuit son, Ayalik, who had died unexpectedly in his sleep. Money from the foundation supports sending Unuit youth from Nunavut on extended outdoor adventures throughout North America.