Home > A journey into Inuit Traditional Knowledge > Perspectives on Traditional Law

Photo Dance of the Copper Eskimos

Perspectives on Traditional Law

Maligait, piqujait and tirigusuusiit refer to what had to be followed, done or not done, in Inuit culture. Nowadays these words are often used as equivalents to modern Western notions of law. Through these terms Western notions of law may become more accessible to Inuit. The Legal Glossary, authored by Desmond Brice- Bennet, Michèle Therrien (1997: p250) states: "New terminology is interesting because it uses ‘old' materials to express today's experiences and concepts." In the process of translation, Western concepts as well as Inuit notions are changed. The Western concepts acquire new connotations and meanings associated with the old words that are not always sufficiently acknowledged by Westerners. The old concepts become imbued with new meanings attached to Western concepts of law. The use of these translations tends to obscure the fact that maligait, piqujait and tirigusuusiit on one side, and notions such as law on the other, derive from completely different cultural perspectives. 

Frédéric Laugrand, Jarich Oosten, Wim Rasing.

Mariano Aupilaarjuk
It was only because my mother and father went through many hardships that we survived. They only survived because they followed the maligait of the Inuit. If they hadn’t followed the maligait, our lives would have been more difficult. We are told today that Inuit never had laws or maligait. Why? They say, “Because they are not written on paper.” When I think of paper I think you can tear it up and the laws are gone. The maligait of the Inuit are not on paper. They are inside people’s heads and they will not disappear or be torn to pieces. Even if a person dies, the maligait will not disappear. It is part of a person. It is what makes a person strong. When Inuit used to ataaq-, go down to the coast from inland, or when they would look for game, they would have to do this according to the maligait. (Page 14)