|Tiriganiarjuk Arctic Fox|
Arctic foxes occupy a distinct position in the northern community: although they are not large, fear-inspiring predators like polar bears and wolves, they nevertheless hunt for a living. They are also great scavengers, and Inuit food caches had to be built carefully to prevent tiriganiarjuk from stealing the food. Poetically, the arctic fox is known as "the little white one", to differentiate it from nanuq, the polar bear, "the great white one". In sacred language it is known as "the one who walks a lot", as it always seems to be trotting off somewhere. Foxes were helpful to Inuit in their search for seal dens in the spring, because the foxes, also hunting young seal pups, often left droppings outside dens they had sniffed out. Like a lemming, a fox can dig through deep snow very rapidly, sending up a spray of snow that the Inuit compare to the spouting of a whale (Randa 1994).
Traditionally, foxes were trapped for meat and pelts, which could be made into warm clothing. Fox trapping took place mostly in the winter, even during the dark period when many other activities had ceased. By this time, foxes had grown thick, warm fur that was prized for clothing. Foxes were trapped in beehive-shaped stone enclosures that they could enter from the top, but not exit. Stockpiled blubber or other food served as bait for the traps.
With the arrival of European fur traders, the arctic fox acquired a new importance to the Inuit. Fox pelts were highly valued, and the income from fox trapping could supply a family with rifles, ammunition, tea, pots, fuel, and other items. At first, trapping continued using the traditional stone traps. Later on, metal traps became more popular, with various combinations of stones, metal, and cord also being employed.
Inuit observing the habits of foxes noticed that they sometimes appeared "not to be hungry" and did not come to the traps. It was suggested that this was because there were lots of lemmings for the foxes to eat. Whenever a silu, the carcass of a marine animal, such as a whale, washed up on the shore, numerous foxes always crowded around. Foxes experienced large fluctuations in their population some years there were too many foxes to handle, while at other times not one could be caught. "From the time of my childhood I have noticed that whenever the foxes are too numerous they usually get some disease like rabies, so that the number can be reduced" (IOHP 180). Like caribou, foxes were expected to vary in number and location sometimes they were present, and sometimes they were not (IOHP 180, 162, 158, 147).
The arctic fox figures in several Inuit legends, one of which speaks about the creation of night and day. A long, long time ago, when the world was young and light had only just been created, the fox argued with the raven over the new situation. The raven, who sees better in the daylight, was in favour of having sunshine all the time. The fox, however, prefers to hunt in the obscurity of dusk, and wished for the light to go away. In the end, a compromise was reached and time was divided into dark and light periods. A second legend tells of an Arctic hare that married a female fox. Eventually the hare became ashamed at his inability to provide game for his wife, and the two separated tearfully (Randa 1994).