Tulugak: Inuit Raven Stories


Performing Arts in the North

Canada's North is home to a young, vibrant and growing arts community. Tulugak: Inuit Raven Stories is but one example of this. Music and storytelling have long been part of traditional Inuit culture, and today these arts help that culture thrive in the 21st century.

Efforts are underway to build a Nunavut Performing Arts Centre, so that artists from all across the North can come together and share their love of music, song, dance and story (http://www.qaggiavuut.com). A similar performing arts centre was built in Greenland in 1997 (http://www.katuaq.gl/en). Performing arts centres like these allow artists from different areas of the North to come together, and provide venues where their work can be presented.


Inuit Culture

Inuit culture ranges from Siberia to Greenland and includes several territories and large cities. In Canada, Inuit live in Nunavut (its own territory) and Nunavik (currently part of Northern Quebec). Inuit have been highly affected by colonialism since the first Basque whalers arrived in the Arctic centuries ago. Because of this, the different regions have had different colonial influences. Greenland has strong ties to Denmark. Nunavut has strong connections to Ottawa, and Nunavik is currently part of the province of Quebec, and has ties to Montreal and Quebec City. Inuit share a common culture across the North, whether they live in Greenland, Siberia or Canada. This culture is united by a language with disparate dialects that do not relate to Danish, French or English.

Iqaluit, the capital city of Nunavut, is Canada's most northerly capital. About 7,000 people live there, and there are many things going on! If you went to Iqaluit, you would see modern buildings and houses, schools and, of course, an airport – you can't get to any of the communities in Nunavut by car. You can eat many types of food from all around the world – but anything that isn't local has to be flown in, and is often expensive.

Inuit Youth in Nunavut, Nunavik and Greenland are a lot like Canadians from the South (anything south of the 53rd parallel): they enjoy iPods and iPads, hockey, soccer and hanging out together. They watch many of the same TV shows and appreciate the same music as anyone else their age. They also embrace their traditional culture, go seal hunting and wear seal skin boots. If you lived in Nunavut or Nunavik, you would learn to speak Inuktitut and English or French. If you lived in Greenland, you would learn Kalaallisut and Danish. Inuit youth are passionate about the North, and many of them learn traditional songs, dance and stories from their elders.  Canada's Inuit youth magazine is called Nipiit, and you can visit the Facebook page here: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Nipiit-Magazine/355486087869038. You can read a copy of the magazine online here: http://niyc.ca/nipiit/nipiit-magazine-6

Comparing Northern Cities




capital of Nunavut

major city in Nunavik

capital of Greenland

population: 7,000

population: 2,300

population: 15,500

meaning: "place of many fish"

meaning: "the large river"

meaning: "cape"

Referred to as "Nuuk York"

a person who lives in Nunavut: Nunavummiuq

a person who lives in Nunavik: Nunavimmiuq

a person who lives in Greenland: Kalaallit

Here are some examples of Inuktitut words written in syllabics and the Latin alphabet, with their translation in English. They are taken from the Inuktitut Living Dictionary: http://www.livingdictionary.com.






polar bear








Nunavut flag: The star is Niqirtsuituq, the North Star, and the Inukshuk is red, like the Canadian flag.

Greenland flag: White symbolizes ice and snow, and red symbolizes the sun. The colours are the same as the Danish flag.

Inuit Raven Stories

Animals that appear in the Arctic figure prominently in Inuit legends. The Raven is a major figure in Inuit myths and tales. He is very important in the Inuit creation story. In this story, the main character is part Human and part Raven, and he is seen with a raven's beak. According to legend, Raven made the world and brought light. Inuit and other cultures often rely on myths and stories to explain the world around them and it informs their history from generation to generation.

The Raven is also portrayed as a trickster. A trickster plays tricks, or behaves in a way that goes against the rules of a society. Usually the trick or behaviour leads to a good ending. Tricksters often change shape or gender in stories. In the story The Raven and the Whale, Raven takes the shape of a man. This story is told in Tulugak: Inuit Raven Stories. Inuit regions have many variations of the same story and delight in comparing versions when they come together for storytelling.

Here is a link to a short NFB film, The Owl and the Raven, explaining why the Raven’s feathers are black. The song you hear throughout this video is the final song in Tulugak: http://www.nfb.ca/film/owl_raven_eskimo_legend/. In this film, the story is referred to as an "Eskimo" legend. The film was made in the 1970s. Eskimo is an old colonial word that is only used today in Alaska. Across the rest of the Arctic, the proper term is Inuit. The Inuit in Greenland call themselves kalaallit. Inuit in Nunavut call themselves Nunavummiuq, and Inuit in Nunavik call themselves Nunavimmiuq.


Is it a Raven or a Crow?

Ravens and crows are both large black birds, and it can be hard to tell them apart. One way to tell is that crows are more often found in the city than ravens. Look at the table below to learn some of the differences between ravens and crows, and then watch the video to see them in flight. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=guBwMUAWAJI








Louder, harsher, “caw”

Quieter, softer, “rock”


Bob while calling; flit tail and wing feathers when they land

No movement when they call; no movement when they land


more nervous

generally quiet and calmer


caw and flap when flying

playful flight or quiet soaring; wings “whoosh”


tail looks like it has been cut off

wedge-shaped tail


sharper, shorter; top and bottom same size

more hooked; top portion larger than the bottom


Throat singing

Inuit throat singing is generally performed by two women who stand facing each other, clasping arms. It is often a competition to see who can last the longest, who can sing the most difficult song, or who will laugh first. It is very hard! When you hear people from the South singing on the radio, they are usually just singing when they breathe out. In throat singing, you sing when you breathe out, and when you breathe in.

Mothers use throat singing to sing lullabies to their children. Throat singing competitions evolved to keep women from being bored when the men were off hunting. Throat singing can be found in various parts of the world, such as Northern Canada, Mongolia, and Tibet. Throat singing competitions are popular events at the Arctic Winter Games. Here is a video of two young women who were applying to perform in the 2008 Arctic Winter Games: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qnGM0BlA95I

Traditional throat singing is sometimes mixed with modern music, but elders in the Inuit community don’t necessarily agree with these changes. Some people feel that these very old songs should be passed on as they are because they are a meaningful part of history.

The last song in Tulugak: Inuit Raven Stories is an example of ajaaja singing. Ajaaja songs are personal songs about important events or experiences from an individual’s daily life. These songs are often accompanied by someone playing a drum. The rhythm is syncopated and the song is in question and answer format.



Inuit drumming is not at all like the drum sets played in rock bands. Inuit drums were traditionally made with wood and skin, and are held in one hand. They are played with a swaying motion. The sound comes from hitting the wooden rim of the drum, not the skin. Both women and men drum dance for celebration and ceremonial purposes.

There are different types of drums and styles of drum dancers all across the North. Drummers do more than just keep the beat: they tell stories with their drumming. Sometimes they move like animals, or demonstrate hunt techniques, or signal the change of seasons.

Here’s a short video about Inuit drums and drumming: