June 28, 2015

Tuniit: Mysterious Folk of the Arctic

by Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley
Illustrated by Sean Bigham
Inhabit Media
32 pp.
Ages 9-12
February 2015

Forget about references to the Dorset and Thule cultures that I once taught as part of the Grade 6 Heritage and  Citizenship curriculum.  (Of course, since then, that curriculum has changed from Aboriginal Peoples and European Explorers to First Nation Peoples and European Explorers and now Communities in Canada Past and Present.)  While I thought I was so enlightened ensuring that my students were made aware of pre-colonial Arctic cultures, my understanding was flawed.  Happily, this tome corrects any misconceptions I had and expands on the limitations in my knowledge by clarifying the veritable history of the people whom the Inuit encountered when they first arrived to the North American Arctic.

According to the stories passed by oral tradition and by archaeological evidence, Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley share the history of the Tuniit, a people who had been part of a migration coming out of Alaska and the people that the Inuit encountered upon their own migration into Canada’s Arctic.  Though the authors make it clear that what is told about the Tuniit is a blend of Inuit myth and fact, three attributes upon which all agree are that the Tuniit were short, strong, and shy.  They were not a nomadic people, like the Inuit,  instead establishing stone longhouses.  Their hunting, less reliant upon their flint-based tools, was based on their strength and speed, as well as use of inuksuit.  And, amidst the stories of their eccentricities and the Inuit predilection for kidnapping the beautiful Tuniit women, it was believed that the Tuniit were powerful shamans who could access the power trapped in the land.  But, as Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley offer,
We must remember the Tuniit as those who inspired myths, but who were real humans. (pg. 28)
Tuniit: Mysterious Folk of the Arctic is a reader-friendly and accessible history organized into 3 main discussions:  1) the differences between the Tuniit and the Inuit; 2) the unique features of the Tuniit; and 3) the science behind our understanding of the Tuniit.  But, beyond the information, told objectively but with the sensitivity needed when approaching discussions of a little understand peoples, the artwork of Sean Bigham provides visual interpretation of the Tuniit story and how they lived.  What a superb choice, using a concept artist such as Sean Bigham, who works in the video game industry, to generate illustrations of a people without visual representation.  In a neat package, Tuniit: Mysterious Folk of the Arctic presents readers, who should include all Canadian students, with a story that can and should be read, for history's sake. 

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