Quantum Gypsies

The tragedy of Inland Eskimos

Some thirty five years ago, I read a book that affected me deeply and ever since then I have wanted everyone I met to read that book. Now, through these web pages, I have the opportunity to reach a wider audience.

The book was "People of the deer", written in the 1950s by a Canadian, Farley Mowat. It describes the near annihilation of a race of Eskimos called the Ihalmiut in the early part of the twentieth century. It is a bleak and bitter tale of how progress can destroy people and ecosystems, with the main weapons -- like in so much progress on the American continent -- being disease and trade.

These pages contain a rough synopsis of that book, which I wrote in pencil all those years ago. They cannot tell the whole story, nor give much of an idea of the richness of humanity and culture that Farley found on the barren tundra of the Canadian north. But I set them down as markers for a subject I wanted to study further. Now that I have the time, I intend to pursue the story further and will write up the results here. In the meantime, here are my original notes.

One point that must be made clear is that just because Farley Mowat tells us what happened, that does not make it fact. There has been much criticism of his work and hopefully I can find other voices on what happened to the Ihalmiut. There was a dramatic reduction in their numbers during the twentieth century, but Farley reports that there were only ten families left in the 1950s and a goverment census published in 1971 shows Caribou Eskimos in the barrens to the west of Hudson bay at some 2000. Is one of them wrong, or are they counting apples and pears. I will try to find out.

Last updated 16 December 2008