Inuit Mythology

October 6, 2021

Inuit mythology is a repository of Inuit culture, passed down by elders through generations to enrich and enlighten. Traditionally used in all aspects of daily life, Inuit mythology has undergone a resurgence in popularity as community groups aim to preserve traditional teachings as a method of cultural and political solidarity.

Inuit myths and legends are usually short dramatic forms dealing with the wonders of the world: the creation, the heavens, birth, love, hunting and sharing food, respect for the aged, polygamy, murder, infanticide, incest, and death and the mystery of the afterlife. Inuit storytellers continue to remodel old myths and create new legends.

Among the most famous Inuit myths is the legend of the sea goddess, known by various names (Sedna, Nuliayuk, Taluliyuk, or Taleelayuk). In the myth, a young girl is cast into the ocean, where she becomes the keeper of all the sea mammals.

The legend of Lumiuk (Lumak or Lumaag) tells of an abused blind boy who finds refuge in the sea, where he recovers his sight and ends his abuse. The legend of Kiviuk (Kiviok or Kiviuq), a major mythological figure in the same sphere as Sedna, explains the abundance of fish and the absence of trees in the Arctic tundra; while the legend of Tikta’Liktak tells the story of a young hunter’s journey home after becoming lost on an ice floe.

Supernatural beings accompany many Inuit myths, including Mahaha, a demon that terrorizes the Arctic and tickles its victims to death; Ijiraat, shapeshifters that may change into any arctic animal but may not disguise their red eyes; Taqriaqsuit, shadow people who are rarely seen but often heard; Qallupilluk (or Qalupalik), scaly, human-like creatures that snatch children into the sea; Inupasugjuk, giants who capture humans; and Tuniit, who are seen as simple-minded but extremely strong ancestors of the Inuit.

Ancient tools and art objects may lie preserved in the permafrost unharmed for countless centuries waiting to be discovered, but oral culture represents a valuable intellectual possession that, once lost, has no way of returning. Thus, many programs exist to promote the use and understanding of traditional Inuit myths and legends. One such program was developed by the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and encourages readers to speak with elders in the community to learn more, and to pass the stories on to themselves, thus reinforcing the importance of listening and storytelling to the survival of oral culture.1

Inuit mythology has experienced a resurgence as a vehicle for cultural vitality. Programs exist to support the oral traditions and encourage interaction with traditional stories through youth and elders. Young Inuit are expected to learn by example, through close association with adults. Many of the values and beliefs of society are demonstrated implicitly in behaviour. For instance, the constant sharing of food and other commodities exemplifies the value of generosity and cooperation and discourages stinginess, greediness, and selfishness. Stories that elders like to tell, especially to children, reinforce these important lessons.2

  1. 2021. Inuit Myth and Legend | The Canadian Encyclopedia. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 February 2021].
  2. 2021. Arctic Indigenous Peopls in Canada | The Canadian Encyclopedia. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 February 2021].