February 10, 2010

Early Inuit were entrepreneurs

Rush for iron spurred Inuit ancestors to sprint across Arctic, book contends

By Randy Boswell"It would seem plausible to suggest that metal—meteoric iron from the Cape York meteorites and metal goods traded from the Norse—may have been the magnet that drew ancestral Inuit eastward from Alaska," McGhee contends.

He adds that this interpretation of Inuit origins in Canada—as resulting from "commercial motives" and "mercantile exploration"—challenges the prevailing view that ancient native cultures would only migrate to new territories incrementally and in response to environmental pressures, dwindling food supplies or competition from rival peoples.

"We may have been led astray by the deeply rooted archeological tendency to ascribe different sets of motives and different cultural processes to aboriginal peoples than we apply to Europeans or other societies with a written record of individual accomplishment," McGhee concludes. "Future archeological work may indicate that ancestral Inuit may be more accurately viewed as an entrepreneurial people" driven by the same kinds of economic opportunities that prompted such explorers as Christopher Columbus, John Cabot and Jacques Cartier to sail for the New World centuries later.
Comment:  This article makes a telling point about our view of indigenous cultures. Namely, that we're programmed to think of them as static, incurious, inward-looking. Like sheep or other animals who have no ability to explore, learn, or change.

Never mind that many Indian tribes were nomadic, which means they sought new territory as a cultural imperative. Never mind that most tribes had extensive trade networks, with people going to great lengths (literally) to bring back exotic goods. Never mind that their medieval European counterparts were mostly peasants who lived their entire lives within a few miles of their birthplaces. (With the exception of a few expansive cultures such as the Vikings.)

No, our culture idolizes seekers, explorers, and conquerors. So we compare a few exceptional Europeans such as Columbus and Magellan to Natives who supposedly stayed rooted to one pueblo, tipi, or igloo. We don't compare these exceptional Europeans to the Natives who boldly migrated from Asia to America...spread throughout two continents...truly settled an untamed wilderness...built great cities and cultures...and continued to migrate and trade across the land. And we certainly don't compare a millennium of stick-in-the-mud European serfs and peons with intrepid Native voyagers such as the Inuit in this article.

For more on the subject, see Alaska Natives = "Ingenious Inventors" and The Myth of Western Superiority.

Below:  Two bold European explorers?

1 comment:

javalina said...

Too bad 'American history' as it is taught in schools doesn't include comprehensive history of the Americas, as opposed to starting with the arrival of Europeans.
Also, the Inca, Aztec, and Maya were pretty damn enterprising too :)