Ice Worms and Appropriation of Inuit Culture

April 26, 2023

Six more sleeps until Polar!

Today’s post was going to be about the science of ice worms, a species I wanted to include in the book but ended up cutting because their range (at least in Alaska) is farther south than the Arctic tundra regions that Polar focuses on.

The reason I initially wanted to include them is because, when I was a little girl, my grandparents went to Alaska and brought me back a souvenir: a toy ice worm. It was a strip of white rabbit fur with googly eyes glued to one end, bearing no resemblance to the real species (Mesenchytraeus solifugus, if you want to look them up). But I loved it because I could make it “dance” by stroking a finger down its silky back.

I don’t have the toy any more, so I was googling for photos to illustrate this post and stumbled on references to Inuit folktales about ice worms. I was delighted, because I love folktales from all cultures, and the references were on the websites of universities and museums – places that are normally considered credible.

Not this time. 

It turns out that, in Canada, ice worm toys are an example of cultural appropriation… and the “Inuit legend” about them was a marketing tactic written by white people.

The full story appears in a 2019 issue of Tusaayaksat Magazine, which centres on Inuvialuit culture, heritage, and language. The piece is called Sewing Culture, and was written by Charles Arnold. The section on ice worms is at the bottom, but I encourage you to read the entire article.

Polar is about animals, not people. But people have also lived in the Arctic for millennia, and their true stories deserve to be heard. 

Polar: Wildlife At the Ends of the Earth comes out in 6 more sleeps! EEK! Pre-order a copy from your local independent bookstore to reduce your carbon footprint AND support a cornerstone of your community.

Don’t forget to check my Public Appearances page for Polar virtual events and live events happening near you. Are you a teacher or librarian? I’m available for author visits in May and June – contact me to secure your spot.  

2 Comments on ‘Ice Worms and Appropriation of Inuit Culture’

  1. This is fascinating information about the Sikusi doll. Thanks so much for sharing the history and setting things straight.
    My father ‘n law travelled the north extensively for work and came back with an Ookpik. Good to know the origins of
    these beautiful creations.

    Reply | 
    1. I am so glad that I spent enough time googling to discover Arnold’s article – what an eye-opener.

      Reply | 

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