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'Don't go looking for Antarctica without this book.' - Susan Solomon




Ethnology of the Ungava District, Hudson Bay Territory

by Lucien M. Turner; Introduction by Stephen Loring

McGill-Queen's University Press
ISBN: 1 56098 965 3
Price: £21.50/ US$29.95

This is a reproduction of work originally published 1894 as part of the Eleventh Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology, Smithsonian Institution, 1889-1890.

The reissue of this valuable manuscript, with an added section of photographs taken by Turner, is long overdue. It forms the principal source of information on the life of the Ungava Inuit and Innu during the early contact period for students of the archaeology, ethnology and anthropology of the Northeast.

The republished volume is enhanced by a detailed introduction by Stephen Loring of the Smithsonian's Arctic Studies Centre, himself an ethnographer and archaeologist who has done extensive fieldwork in Labrador, particularly among the Innu. Loring, having made an extended archival study of Turner's papers, explains and critiques Turner's work. His critique forms a useful counterbalance to Turner's report.

Turner's opportunity to go to this remote region had come about as part of an international scientific effort to conduct coordinated observations of meteorological and magnetic phenomena during a two-year period from August 1882 until September of 1884. The project was titled the International Polar Year and it resulted in the first professionally-based anthropological studies in the eastern Arctic.

Turner considered himself primarily an ornithologist, and made extensive bird and other wildlife observations and collections while working in the Ungava region. Living at the Fort Chimo Hudson's Bay Post, he regularly encountered Innu and Inuit visitors coming to trade. Turner' ethnography efforts were somewhat handicapped by the nature of his instructions: he was to record meteorological data which kept him tied to his observation posts. Further, the HBC manager was suspicious of him and warned him to stick to his own business and not interfere in any way with that of the Post.

Despite this, Turner was able to conduct the anthropology by making friends with the natives coming to trade and camping in the area, and bought almost everything they were willing to sell him. His records about the material culture were made possible by the Metis wife of the Post's cooper, Mrs. Maggie Brown, who translated and taught him both Inuktitut and Innuaimun, the languages of the Inuit and Innu natives. Because of her background, she was also able to acquire sacred objects that Turner himself would not have been permitted. The resulting collection of several hundred ethnological items, along with detailed notes on their construction and use, forms a priceless Smithsonian legacy.

Many of Turner's fellow anthropologists paid local informants to do their fieldwork for them and only occasionally visited their areas of study during the summer. Turner, living at the Post continuously for more than two years, tried as much as possible, in the limited freedom his observatory and its instruments afforded him, to experience and explore the environment of his subjects. This afforded him the opportunity to gather an enormous collection of natural history specimens. He also encouraged the native children to collect specimens for sale to him.

Written in a precise Victorian style, Turner's monograph details traditional customs, rituals, stories and daily life among two distinct peoples at a crucial period in their history. It should be in the library of everyone with an interest in the people of this region.

Review by Jane Sproull Thomson, a Research Associate of the Arctic Institute of North America and a former ethnology curator with the Newfoundland and Glenbow Museums; she presently teaches native art history for the University of Calgary.


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