Have you ever seen a parka made of seal intestine? Or touched a narwhal tusk? Can you say “polar bear” in Inuktitut? If not, hurry over to see the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum’s groundbreaking exhibit Animal Allies: Inuit Views of the Natural World where you can do that and more. But get there soon: the exhibit closes on August 31 at 5 pm.
Since it opened in April 2013, the exhibit has attracted thousands of visitors who have marveled at the contemporary art, traditional tools and clothing, video interviews with Inuit men and women, and other displays that together reveal how Inuit in Alaska, Canada, and Greenland relate to the world around them.
Inuit knowledge of animals extends beyond the sorts of behavioral and population data that interest western scientists. The exhibit explains the ways in which Inuit view the interconnectedness of humans and animals, and conveys the Inuit beliefs that animals are sentient beings who must be treated with respect and generosity or they will shy away from human beings and not allow themselves to be caught.
“Inuit have to be thoroughly familiar with their environment thoroughly to survive,” said exhibit curator Genevieve LeMoine. “They are keen observers who are always watching and learning about animals, and passing this vast store of knowledge on to their children. Increasingly they are sharing this fund of traditional knowledge with scientists as well.”
The exhibit also takes a look at the successes and challenges of collaborations between Inuit communities and scientific researchers, as both groups struggle to understand the impacts of a rapidly changing climate on the Arctic.
Other exhibits at the Arctic Museum will remain on view in September and October while the staff works on the installation of a new major exhibit. On November 14, 2014 A Glimmer on the Polar Sea: the Crocker Land Expedition 1913-1917 will open to the public.
The Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday 10 AM to 5 PM and Sunday 2 to 5 PM. For more information visit www.bowdoin.edu/arctic-museum or call 725-3416.
Swimming Caribou, Jacob Irkok, Arviat, 2004. Antler. Robert and Judith Toll Collection. Photo by Dean Abramson.
Conrad Oozeva, Polar Bear, ca. 1988. Gambell, Alaska. Fossilized whale bone. Museum Purchase. Photograph by Dean Abramson.