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Northern Studies
Item #: 100022
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by Colin A. Ross, M.D. This collection of essays was written in Norman Wells and Inuvik, Northwest Territories, Canada between 1970 and 1974. During that time period, Dr. Ross was working as a laborer, freight handler, truck driver, warehouse man and forklift operator. He dropped out of high school in 1968 and completed his grade twelve education by correspondence in June, 1975, just before his twenty-fifth birthday. He entered medical school at the University of Alberta in 1977. The essays deal with politics, northern development, native culture, and aboriginal states of consciousness. The following is an extract from an essay entitled, "Eskimo Prints," in which Dr. Ross discusses a collection of prints edited by James Houston: Western science is established upon an experience of the world against which Houston is no rebel he doesn't see the boundaries of his own mind. He lives in a human world which to him is unquestionably authentic and real, and he sees no other world it's not his business to be an explorer. But the Eskimo lives, or lived, in daily imaginative response to another external actuality, effectively another world. So it seems to me. And it seems to me that having failed to perceive what the Eskimo means by "cold" the white man has failed to root himself in the actual living continent. Even Thoreau has failed. The sources of creativity in modern North America have remained exclusively human we have done European things on a little scale. But now those sources are exhausted and we must open ourselves to the creative power that is in the wind, the rocks, the trees, and the birds. For there undeniably is a force of creation in all things. A science that developed in response to this other principle of perception would be a science of the living imagination. It wouldn't be an objective science any more than being hungry need be an objective experience it is the business of first-hand living to be hungry and to eat. The other objective science isn't required for the immediate act, any more than animals require science to eat. But the Indians and Eskimos were really a part of North America and had a language to express that truth. Their magico-religious language was based not on illusion but on the knowledge that was taken into the psyche through open sensual contact. It's as if the white man's senses are closed up and like Houston he receives only a faint, filtered shadow of what cold is, what the Eskimo knew. When an Eskimo shaman talked about a bear he was also talking about some inward presence of bearhood he had received into himself. But there was nothing metaphysical about the essence, any more than there was about those men in the print shop they quite simply felt warmer. When the shaman says the bear spirit is in him he means something closer to "I smell a bear," than to anything we would mean by spiritual contact. Shamanism is remote from ESP or psychic phenomenon. Having failed to really settle in North America the white man has had to exterminate the Indians, at least their deep connection with the continent. For no reminders of that profound consciousness have been allowed to disturb the development of western civilization here. We have progressed unhalted into a void, wherein we are so remote from the physical presence of the earth that we are unconscious of it. It's as if there is a full-grown lion in the room and we don't know about it. The Eskimo says, "Look, a lion!," and James Houston replies: "A fascinating idea, but the ink remains stiff." What does it have to do with ink? It's certainly not a theory, idea, or hypothesis. In fact the belief that everything is alive is no more a piece of theoretical science, in a primitive attempt to explain the universe, than is the statement that one is profoundly moved by a sunset. But the primitive man not only was moved by the sunset he received it so richly and fully into himself that he was a participant in the event. Eskimos did not contemplate nature, they took part in nature. Nature was external to them in a way not so unsimilar to the externality of the hands.