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[Father Roger Buliard was an Oblate missionary in the Canadian Arctic during the 1930s and 1940s. In the passage below from his book Inuk, 1951, he describes the mentality and moral outlook of the Inuit. It might seem unflattering, and it is certainly politically incorrect, but it may be instructive if it drives home something that those of us who are rarely at Nature’s mercy easily forget: Civilization and its resultant technology protects us from much more than the savagery of the elements. They also shelter us from the moral barbarism of the natural man. However much we admire the toughness of human beings who are capable of surviving under such harsh conditions, we must never forget that there is a price to be paid for that toughness.]

Of course, we do meet with unpremeditated murder in civilized countries too, but not as often, I think, as in the Arctic, where the men, primitive as they are, have less control of their emotions, and sudden outbursts of anger are more frequent. There are words in a fit of jealousy or impatience, an arm stretches out, a knife flashes, and there is one Eskimo less to be fed. It might have been Sila, the weather, that got him, or a bear out there on the ice somewhere, or starvation when the hunting failed. It just happened to be a man. Commonly two of our Husky dogs will fight desperately over a bone, and when the fight is over placidly lick one another’s wounds. As quickly and for as little as a bone, two Eskimos will be at each other’s throats, exchange knife thrusts, blows, or rifle shots, and, not very much later, sip tea together, the incident forgotten.

One day Tereak saw his brother’s form silhouetted on a hill-top, and suddenly remembered some old grudge. He raised his rifle before he thought of what he was doing, and fired. Two bullets whistled up the slope, searching for Ignek, the brother, who vanished. “I must have missed,” said Tereak to himself, smiling and quite unconcerned. Ignek came back to camp that evening and the two men enjoyed a hearty meal together, neither mentioning the incident of the afternoon.

South of King William, once, the Mounted Police asked an Eskimo, “Is it true that you shot twice at this man, missing him both times”

“Oh, yes,” the Eskimo explained. “But that was my rifle’s fault. You see, it is old and shoots wild now.”

To accuse him of attempted murder was all right, but no one was going to impugn his marksmanship. At any rate, he and the fellow he tried to kill had long since drowned the encounter in two cups of tea.

Another time a constable said, “Don’t you know that you aren’t allowed to kill a man, even if you do want his wife?”

“Eh!” the Eskimo protested. “That’s not true! I didn’t kill him for his wife, even if she did suggest it to me often enough.”

“Well, why did you kill him, then?”

“Well, you see, Marak was a good friend of mine, a hunting partner, and I had no desire whatever for his wife. But one day we chased some caribou to the shores of a lake and killed two of them in the water. Marak took off his clothes and went into the water to get them. What happened to me, I don’t know. Maybe, as you say, the words of the woman came back to me, but I don’t think so. Maybe just seeing Marak’s naked chest in the water made me realize how easy it would be to kill him, just like a caribou. It occurred to me that I would like to find out what it’s like to kill a man, and while I was thinking my rifle came up and pointed in his direction. At that very moment, Marak raised his head and looked at me, and I realized immediately that if I did not kill him now, he, thinking I had wanted to kill him would kill me at the first opportunity. So I fired. I came home alone, asking myself how I had done such a thing, for I liked Marak. Then that woman, Marak’s wife, insisted that I take her now, and the children and look after them. So you see, the joke was really on me.”

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