The traditional landmark of the First Nations: Inuit was when the first schools were established in our communities they were taught that the Arctic lands remained undiscovered until the Europeans arrived and drew their own maps and created a new cultural landscape defined by English place names.
The exploration at the beginning was only at the margins and the rest was Terra Incognita meaning the unknown land. Being taught in classrooms at school we are providing history that begins at the real beginning, not at the one having its start some 4,500 years later. Not only are we replacing the European calendar of historical events with one of our own, we are also starting to replace the gazetteer of the north by getting Inuktitut names on the official maps of Canada.
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For most of the schools in other places, however, the history and geography of the Arctic still begins with the European voyages of “discovery.” One of the projects ITK hopes to initiate in the near future is to work with southern schools to help supply students with the types of materials needed to expand their understanding of the role Inuit and other indigenous peoples have played in the history of Canada. The concern about the history does not mean that Inuit history stops when the Europeans arrive. As Inuit are interested in these voyages of exploration in part because their encounters with Inuit and with the Arctic environment are part of our own history.
More important, however, Arctic exploration set the stage for a process of contact between Inuit and Europeans that would eventually have a devastating impact on our way of life. Encounters between our ancestors and Europeans began in the late 1500’s when the first explorers sailed into the icy waters of Davis Strait, Hudson Strait, and Hudson Bay. Although these first encounters were limited in their number and duration, as well as being geographically dispersed, they did set the stage for an eventual transition to what we can call the period of contact. Between the arrival of Martin Frobisher in 1576 and the famous disappearance of Franklin in 1848, about 22 explorers entered our territory.
Not all of these had any direct impact on the course of our recent history.