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Arctic adventure for UC academic

Vanessa Lam and Kristyn Comino 

19 February 2015: From close encounters with polar bears to hunting on frozen seas, University of Canberra academic Scott Heyes had quite the adventure while researching in the Eastern Canadian Arctic for a new book he co-authored on Inuit and Innu communities and mammals. Dr Heyes, an assistant professor in cultural heritage at the University, travelled to Canada's Ungava and Labrador districts in 2012 where his research for the book saw him get up close with the very mammals he was studying.

"The elders and hunters took me hunting, where I was shown first-hand how land and sea mammals were procured and prepared for meals and used to make clothing and tools," Dr Heyes said. "We encountered many hungry polar bears and black bears while on the land – making sleeping in canvas tents at night a frightening prospect!"

Scott Heyes

Scott Heyes in Canada's Ungava and Labrador Arctic districts. Photo supplied.

The book, Mammals of Ungava and Labrador: the 1882-1884 fieldnotes of Lucien M. Turner together with Inuit and Innu knowledge, details US scientist Lucien McShan Turner's unpublished writings on natural history from the 1800s, compared with modern-scientific understandings of Arctic mammals. It also features Inuit and Innu legends, stories, and beliefs about mammals alongside photos and drawings.

"Ultimately, this book is a celebration of Inuit and Innu knowledge of mammals of Ungava and Labrador that teaches us much about the rich understanding and respect that the Inuit and Innu had for land and sea mammals in the late 1800s, and serves to reinforce the profound knowledge that the Inuit and Innu continue to have today," Dr Heyes said.

The book has been met with enthusiasm and support from the Inuit and Innu community, with Dr Heyes saying it is "already serving as an important teaching tool in Inuit schools, where very few books about their lands and history are available".

Dr Heyes, also a US research associate at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History's Arctic Studies Centre and Anthropology program, discovered Mr Turner's unpublished material in the Smithsonian Archives. He said he felt compelled to publish them "as many of the stories recorded by Turner have disappeared from history."

Scott Heyes

Scott Heyes with his new book, Mammals of Ungava and Labrador. Photo: Michelle McAulay.

Having conducted his own ethnographic research on Inuit and Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge and perceptions of landscape for over a decade, Dr Heyes first became aware of Mr Turner's work while doing his PhD at McGill University in Montreal. 

"A highlight of writing this book was meeting Turner's descendants in Washington DC, who supplied us with a shoebox full of notes and letters by Turner that had never before been accessed by researchers," he said.

The book's co-author Kristofer Helgen is the curator of mammals at the US National Museum of Natural History. The book also includes forewords by Inuit elder Sophie Keelan and Australian environmentalist, Tim Flannery.  The book was published by the Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press.