Inuit Folktales

9, 10, 11, 12

When life is at its most difficult and grief is great, a generous sacrifice can move the spirit toward life again. In these folktales, two Inuits face death with a truly generous spirit.

PrintTwo Fifty-Five Minute Class Periods

The learner will:

  • use the geographic themes of location, place and human-environment relations to describe settings and cultures represented in folktales.
  • identify aspects of various cultures revealed in stories.
  • explain how some individuals can survive great loss through a generous gift of life to others.
  • describe the "generosity of spirit" revealed in demonstrating respect for all life.
  • Canadian Arctic Profiles: Indigenous Culture. See this site for information on the Inuit. <> (12 June 2005) [no longer available] 
  • John, Elton (music) and Tim Rice (lyrics). "The Circle of Life." The Lion King WWW Archive, 1 June 2005, (12 June 2005)
  • "The Old Woman Who Was Kind to Insects." Millman, Lawrence, gathered and retold by. A Kayak Full of Ghosts: Eskimo Tales. Santa Barbara: California: Capra Press, ©1987. p. 184. Used with the permission of Lawrence Millman.
  • "Tiggak." Millman, Lawrence, gathered and retold by. A Kayak Full of Ghosts: Eskimo Tales. Santa Barbara: California: Capra Press, ©1987. p. 173. Used with the permission of Lawrence Millman.


  1. Anticipatory Set:

    Put the term Inuit on the board and ask the learners to identify the term. Once it is defined as the Native peoples of the far north, which includes Canada, ask the learners what characters might appear in folktales from the Inuit.

  2. Explain that it is important to understand people and their environment when studying folktales. The folktales they will be reading today come from the Inuit people. The Inuit lands include the northeastern tip of Siberia, the islands of the Bering Sea, and the coastal regions of mainland Alaska, the north coast and islands of the Canadian Arctic and most of the west coast and part of the east coast of Greenland. On a map, locate these northern lands’ absolute location (longitude and latitude) and relative location (general descriptors of where the places are located).

  3. In a brainstorming session, have the learners describe these northern areas as a place by listing recognizable physical characteristics (landforms, water bodies, climate, soil, natural vegetation, animal life) and human characteristics (inhabitants, settlement patterns, languages, religions, how inhabitants make a living).

  4. Read the story "Tiggak" together. Identify what type of folktale it is (fairy tale, myth, legend/epic, tall tale, fable, religious story/parable).

  5. As a recurring theme, the loss of an only son is a tragedy in most cultures. The very first night after the loss of his only son, Tiggak went from deep grief to extreme generosity. What enabled him to make this transition?

  6. On the Internet, go to and read the lyrics of "The Circle of Life." What are the song writers implying about how one can survive times of despair? Would this song fit Tiggak’s situation and story?

  7. From time to time in news stories, we read or hear of the story of a person who has received an organ donation coming to visit the parents/relatives of the donor. What emotions are usually revealed from the donor’s relatives and from the receiver? Often, both parties are smiling. In the face of the loss of the donor, why is this possible? Is this an example of a great reward coming from a great sacrifice? Teacher Note: For a news article about organ recipients and organ donor families go to

  8. Read the story "The Old Woman Who Was Kind to Insects" together. Identify what type of folktale it is (fairy tale, myth, legend/epic, tall tale, fable, religious story/parable).

  9. When the old woman was left behind, she knew that her only available food consisted of the few insects left by her family. What character traits did she reveal by refusing to eat the insects? What character traits did the insects reveal in recognizing her sacrifice?

  10. As a whole group, have the learners quickly debate the following question: "Since the old woman knew that her decision meant certain death, how meaningful was the reward she received from the fox?" Now divide the learners into teams of two. Have them answer the question: "If this story was being written for the first time today, what other reward might she have received for her action?" After a few minutes have the teams report their responses.

  11. Ask the learners to identify what is revealed about the Inuit culture through the folktales. Does the way both characters faced death reveal anything about their culture?


Working individually or in teams, ask the learners to write a short poem or haiku that represents the lesson of either folktale. Haiku is a three-line poem, the first line with five syllables, the second line with seven syllables, and the third line with five syllables. Haiku often illustrates some aspect of nature or tranquility.

Philanthropy Framework

  1. Strand PHIL.II Philanthropy and Civil Society
    1. Standard PCS 01. Self, citizenship, and society
      1. Benchmark HS.2 Discuss and give examples of why some humans will sacrifice for the benefit of unknown others.
  2. Strand PHIL.III Philanthropy and the Individual
    1. Standard PI 01. Reasons for Individual Philanthropy
      1. Benchmark HS.1 Define and give examples of motivations for giving and serving.