Material and Animal Agency in Inuit Ontology: How Inuit People could Speak with Polar Bears

Maryssa Barras

Abstract


Ontological analyses of archaeological remains have provided archaeologists with new insight on how to effectively interpret past peoples. By considering recent alternative methods of interpretation in experimental archaeology, and in ethnographic analyses, I argue that ontological analyses present an opportunity for archaeologists to reconcile western interpretations of the past with those of Inuit people to create a more inclusive and considerate archaeological practice. This argument rests on the assertion that multiple ontologies, and thus multiple realities, exist in our world, and that no single ontology is more correct than any other. Using this premise, I explain how an Inuit tale in which people and polar bears were not mutually exclusive beings is valid from the point of view of western academia in order to re-establish the legitimacy of Inuit oral traditions in academic interpretation.

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