Matthiasson, John S. (1992) Living on the Land: Change among the Inuit of Baffin Island, Broadview Press, Peterborough, Ontario

Keywords: camp lifegender, qarmaqPond Inletresettlementsocial housingtents

Matthiasson spent two field seasons (1963-64 and 1973-74) traveling around and living in the settlement of Pond Inlet on Baffin Island, Nunavut. The focus of his study was on the shift from camp to settlement life and how federal policy influenced this change, the impact of commercial whalers on Inuit lifeways, and Tununermiut response to these transitions (p. 11). The ethnography includes his observations of different housing structures, which he described in varying detail. Matthiasson attributed the disappearance of camp life to the policies and procedures implemented in the 1960s by the Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources (DNANR) (p. 53). It is unclear if the author found the housing program to be good or bad for the Tununermiut.

During 1963-64 Matthiasson lived with Tununermiut in a summer camp and then for an extended time in Aullativik, a winter camp. He stayed in a tent made of white canvas and later in a winter home (qarmaq) constructed of sod, whalebone, and scraps of lumber (p. 59-60). The inside of the tent had caribou skins placed furthest from the entrance on the floor, with the fur side of the skin faced up (p.58). The furs provided insulation, and a blanket or cloth would be placed over the furs which made up the sleeping area. The author stated that the Tununermiut Inuit would normally set up their camps so each tent or house was side by side. The summer camp Matthiasson observed, however, was laid out so that the tents provided “maximum protection” against the elements (p.58). Unfortunately the author did not specifically describe what this layout looked like. The winter houses in Aullativik were set up in a linear fashion along the waterfront (p. 60). Upon arrival at the winter camp, the sod houses would need repairing so Inuit families continued to live in tents until the repairs were made. The houses were then covered with the summer tent and later topped by several layers of snow that acted as insulation (p. 62). Round entry halls made of snow blocks were added to the front of houses once the snow conditions were right. These additions were used to store meat and hunting equipment. Matthiasson described the space inside the houses as divided by gender. Facing the door, the right side of the house was considered the woman’s domain and the left side the man’s domain due to placement of material goods and through observations of social visits between Inuit families (p. 63). Matthiasson observed that all of the houses at Aullativik were one room, although a couple of camps in the Pond Inlet area contained two- and three-bedroom houses (p. 61). All of these houses were made from sod and scrap lumber and covered with canvas tents.

 Matthiasson also observed that the Inuit who lived in the settlement in 1963-64 were either disabled, elderly, or were employed by Euro-Canadians. The elderly and disabled Inuit were provided heavily subsidized prefabricated houses (p.98). These houses had small bathrooms with no plumbing, so Inuit often used the bathrooms for storage. The few Inuit who worked for the DNANR were provided housing at relatively low rental rates (p.112). There was no mention of a specific rental program or welfare housing. Euro-Canadians were provided government housing as well but their homes had large bathtubs and large tanks to melt ice (p.96). Matthiasson did not provide figures for rental rates or the number of Inuit living in the settlement. Because the author spent the majority of his first field season on the land, he was unable to provide an in depth analysis of settlement houses until his return to the Pond Inlet settlement in 1973-74.

Matthiasson’s second field season was spent in a subsidized three-bedroom house in Pond Inlet with an Inuit family. This house had a small porch with a freezer, small entry hall, combined kitchen/living room area, a small storage room, 2 bedrooms, 1 master bedroom, and a bathroom with a honey bucket and no running water. There were also no stairs built to get to the front door, which was several feet off the ground, so the author and Inuit family entered the house through a side door (p. 134). According to Matthiasson, similar houses were found throughout the settlement. He reported being most surprised by the accumulation of material goods as well as the amount of space in the houses.

The Pond Inlet Housing Association (PIHA) was created in 1970 and had the authority to determine who would live where and what the rental fees would be (p. 153 & 155). Matthiasson considered the PIHA’s allocation of housing and rental rates to be fair. For instance, a person with a well-paid job would have to pay more than a widow. But the author did not explain specific policies implemented by the organization or the attitudes of Inuit residents toward the PIHA.