The Book of Wisdom for Eskimo by Canada Department of Mines and Resources; Ford, Samuel G. [trans]; Text supplied by the Department of National Health and Welfare.: Bureau of Northwest Territories …

Via Scoop.itNunavut The Book of Wisdom for Eskimo: Text is in Eskimo with facing page English translation. Some edge wear and soiling to covers. Owner signature on top edge of front cover. Some of the illustrations have been neatly colored. Otherwise a solid, unmarked book. 56 pp. Bookseller Inventory # 22234
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March 17, 2012 – 1:22 pm

Taissumani, March 16

The Book of Wisdom for Eskimo, Part 1

Recently I wrote about The Eskimo Book of Knowledge, written for Labrador Inuit in the 1930s. A syllabic version of that book was planned but never appeared. It would be 10 years before a different but similar book would appear in syllabics, for Canadian Inuit.

By 1947, the population of Inuit in Canada was estimated to be 8,440 and they lived in three Canadian jurisdictions: Northwest Territories, Quebec, and a small number in northern Manitoba. Labrador was not yet part of Canada.

The government was belatedly taking an interest in the welfare of the Inuit, albeit from the far-off vantage point of Ottawa. This was half a decade before the first book by Farley Mowat brought suddenly and dramatically to the attention of the Canadian public at large the starvation that was affecting Inuit in the inland Keewatin district, and before the government relocated a number of Inuit from Quebec and Pond Inlet to the High Arctic communities of Resolute and Grise Fiord.

Inuit still lived on the land and most schools were still run by the Anglican and Catholic missions. Both churches had produced a number of religious items for Inuit to read – Bibles, prayer books, catechisms, biblical interpretations. The Anglicans had been doing so since the 1870s.

Publication of these items was made more confusing by the fact that Inuit used two writing systems – syllabics in Baffin, Keewatin, Arctic Quebec, and part of the central Arctic (now called Kitikmeot), and an alphabetic writing system farther west. The writing system using the English alphabet is usually called Roman orthography.

But there was nothing of a non-religious nature to read. And so the Government of Canada decided to publish a book to inform Inuit about matters it thought that they should know in a post-war world that was changing rapidly, even for isolated Inuit.

The book that resulted was a 28-page effort called The Book of Wisdom for Eskimo. Published with English and syllabics on facing pages, the title on the cover was translated into Inuktitut and written in syllabics – an old style of syllabics without any “finals” and with a glaring spelling mistake caused by the omission of a complete character.


Next Week – More on The Book of Wisdom for Eskimo.

Taissumani recounts a specific event of historic interest. Kenn Harper is a historian, writer and linguist who lives in Iqaluit. Feedback? Send your comments and questions to



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