Among the First Peoples of Canada, telling stories is a way for one generation to set an example for the next one by sharing traditional knowledge. The expectation is that the person who hears the stories will remember them and share them with others. Starting in 2021, the Royal Canadian Mint is releasing a new coin series that pays tribute to the art of Indigenous storytellers, known as the Generations series. Each represents a particular region of Canada and tells a story that is important to the Indigenous people of that region. The first coin in the series features the Sea Goddess, a prominent figure in the mythology of the Inuit, whose homeland is called Inuit Nunangat.
Why Are Oral Traditions Important in Inuit Nunangat?
With a median age of 24, Inuit Nunangat has the youngest population in Canada. Maintaining cultural continuity is important, and intergenerational learning through storytelling has an important role to play in the process. The Sea Goddess is a prominent figure in Inuit mythology. She is said to be capricious, sometimes helping people and sometimes making things more difficult for them. Parents and grandparents use stories about the Sea Goddess to warn children about dangerous situations.
Who Is the Sea Goddess?
The Sea Goddess is known by many different names, including Nuliayuk, Sedna, or Taluliyuk. She is believed to be half-human, half-fish, and the mother of all aquatic mammals, such as walruses, seals, and whales. According to the legends, she holds the sea creatures tangled in her hair. She keeps them from human beings when they transgress nature’s laws. It is then the responsibility of the shaman to appease her so she will release them.
What Is the Legend of the Sea Goddess’s Origin?
Because the legend is transmitted orally, there is a fluidity to the stories. There are at least two different versions of the story explaining how the Sea Goddess came to be. In both versions of the story, she begins life as a human woman among the Inuit. In one version, a young hunter who keeps his face hidden under a hood asks for the woman’s hand in marriage. She agrees, and he takes her to a remote island, where she is shocked to find that her husband is a bird rather than a man.
In another version of the story, a stranger wearing a necklace with two large canine teeth seeks shelter with the woman’s family during a violent blizzard. The next morning, the stranger has disappeared and only animal tracks are left behind, leading the father to conclude that the visitor was his lead dog in disguise. Following the mysterious visit, the daughter becomes pregnant and the father exiles her to a remote island, where the lead dog continues to swim out to provide for her until she gives birth.
In both versions of the story, the father goes to bring his daughter home from the island. As they are returning home, a storm threatens to capsize the boat. Depending on the version, either the father or the boatmen throw the woman overboard to lighten the vessel. Her fingers are cut off when she tries to climb back into the boat, and they become seals. She sinks to the depths of the sea where she becomes a goddess in control of all the animals that live there.
What Is Special About the Coin’s Design?
The first coin in the Generations series is made of 31.39 grams of fine silver with a face value of $20. The reverse depicts the Sea Goddess with her long hair and fishtail, as well as the seals born of her fingers. For this design, the Royal Canadian Mint collaborated with Jason Sikoak, an artist from Nunatsiavut, one of the four regions that make up Inuit Nunangat. Start your collection by purchasing the first coin in the Generations series from Colonial Acres.