Nunavik poet dies suddenly in Montreal

Emily Novalinga, 55, gained award last month


Special to Nunatsiaq News

MONTREAL — One of the few Nunavik Inuit to ever publish poetry has died.

Born near Puvirnituq, Emily Novalinga suffered a heart attack in her sleep Oct. 10.

At the time of her death she was staying at the home of her daughter Caroline in the Montreal suburb of Dorval.

Novalinga was 55.

Last month, Novalinga was chosen winner of Nunavik’s first Aumaaggiivik grant for literature, in recognition for her work as a poet and storyteller.

The grant, awarded from the Nunavik Arts Secretariat’s Fund for Arts and Literature, was established by Kativik Regional Government and Avataq Cultural Institute in January 2009.

Novalinga was scheduled to travel next week to Kuujjuaraapik, Inukjuak and Puvirnituq on a tour of storytelling and poetry readings for children.

“She was very happy and proud about her upcoming trip,” said Brigitte Lebrasseur, a nurse in Puvirnituq who was Emily’s friend.

The two women met while Novalinga was working as an interpreter at the Inuulitsivik Health Centre’s audiology department.

“She was sharing one of her poems in the cafeteria that day,” Lebrasseur remembered. “We became friends because of that.”

The two last spoke just weeks ago.

Lebrasseur persuaded Novalinga to let her produce a short documentary film based on one of Emily’s poems, in 2005. “Sparkling Igloo” uses colour-filled
imagery to speak about the dignity of women.

Novalinga’s verses denounce the abuse of women by men.

“Women are beautiful in this world and they deserve to be treated beautifully by the world and by men,” Novalinga says in the film. “A woman is a colour.”

The film — which has been screened at festivals across North America — will be broadcast on APTN’s “Shortcuts” October 27 at 11 p.m.

“She was always writing, she had books filled with poems,” said Lebrasseur. “We always joked around that one day she would be famous. And then this

Novalinga was self-taught as a poet, yet she possessed a natural talent for mixing gentle humour with edgy emotion in memorable lines.

Novalinga began writing after her daughter Mappaluk died in Puvirnituq in 1997.

She moved to Montreal two and a half years ago to be closer to her remaining daughters and grandchildren.

“She was the best, funny, unique,” said her daughter Annie, 25. “She loved books and reading and storytelling. I was proud of her.”

Les éditions du soleil de minuit published her book, “L’écho du Nord,” in 2005. It is one of the very few books written by an author born in Nunavik.

The story — originally in English, published in French and Inuttitut too — shares in lyrical prose and poetry the belief that people should have a peacefully respectful relationship with nature:

Your sounds, my sounds,
Sound of wind, noise of storm,
I hear it all, I hear happiness
as I hear the Northern Lights

Novalinga was well-known at Montreal’s Nunavik House where she visited the sick, worked on her knitting and volunteered at the Alcoholics Anonymous meeting there.

Emily had been sober for more than two years. She had a history of high blood pressure which was being treated. Her death was unexpected.

“I miss her already,” said Annie Novalinga. “But we have to try and accept what has happened.”

Her funeral was planned for this week in Puvirnituq. Her daughters accompanied her body back up north on Oct. 15.

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