The Involvement of Inuit Women in the Formation of Arctic Co-operatives

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Pitseolak, the famed Inuit artist, writes in her autobiography, “I know I have had an unusual life, being born in a skin tent and living to hear on the radio that two men have landed on the moon.” [1] Many Inuit of Pitseolak’s generation experienced the transition from living nomadically on the land to settling in towns. During the 1950s and 1960s Inuit in Canada’s North experienced a dramatic transition. One scholar, Janet Mancini Billson, notes, “it is as though the Inuit … crossed 5000 years of history in a generation.” [2] In this paper, I examine the interconnections between two aspects of the immense social change that occurred during these two decades: the emergence of co-operatives and the transformation of gender roles among Canadian Inuit.

When I began to research this paper I envisioned completing a comprehensive study of the prominent role women played in developing co-operatives in the Canadian Arctic. However, that was not where the sources for this understudied aspect of Canadian history have led me. Instead, I discovered some information on the development of co-operative infrastructures in the North, which occasionally mentioned Inuit men but almost never mentioned Inuit women. I unearthed some information on the gender history of the region, but these mostly ignored the co-operative movement. I found only limited information on the lives of women involved in the formative stages of the emergence of formal co-operatives in the Canadian Arctic.

In the following, I approach the subject first through the general context of co-operative development in the Arctic during the late 1950s and early 1960s. I then focus on the gender history of the time period and, finally, I present four life stories of women who were involved in the early co-operatives. I conclude by arguing that some Inuit women operated within the context of co-operative development and changing gender roles to create situations that benefited themselves and their communities.

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Creator - Author(s) Name and Title(s): 
Julia Smith, BCICS Researcher
Publication Information: 
Published on the website of BC Institute for Co-operative Studies, Victoria, BC, Canada
Date: 
Tuesday, April 6, 2004
Publisher Information: 
BC Institute for Co-operative Studies, University of Victoria

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