Taissumani, July 19

The Name Game – Nanisivik


In the early 1970s I lived in Arctic Bay. The Nanisivik mine was in the planning stages.

It was known then as the Strathcona Sound project, named for the fiord that runs eastward from Admiralty Inlet, parallel to Adams Sound, immediately north of the Arctic Bay community.

I was one of eight members on the settlement council — Arctic Bay was not yet a hamlet — and periodically we received visits from officials from the mining company’s offices in Toronto.

On one of these visits a contest was announced. The mine needed a name, we were told, that could be used for both the mine and the town site that the company hoped to build.

Moreover, it should be an Inuktitut name because it was hoped that many Inuit from Arctic Bay and other communities would work there, and some would even live there permanently. So company officials had decided that they would help the council sponsor a contest in the community, to find a new name for the site.

But there were some rules to this contest. The name had to be simple, preferably short, and be easy enough to pronounce that even an uninitiated white man could say it correctly. And its meaning should have some relevance to the site.

Simple enough, we thought. And so the council announced the contest in the community. I can’t remember most of the names that were suggested.

But at the end of the month, when council met, it was obvious that we had a winner. Percy Pikuyaq had suggested that the mine and town site be named Nasaglugannguaq — after the unusual inverted hat-like shape of a mountain behind the proposed location.

This brilliant name seemed to meet all the criteria the company’s representative had suggested. To prove it, we all pronounced it a number of times around the table. Yes, Nasaglugannguaq was the perfect name!

And so when the mining man paid his next visit, we offered him the name we had chosen.

This put him on the spot. It wasn’t exactly what he had expected.

As if to prove his point he proceeded to try to pronounce it a number of times, each time increasingly badly, finally mangling it beyond recognition. You see, he seemed to be saying, a white man can’t possibly pronounce Nasaglugannguaq.

He must have been anticipating this result. For, once the unwieldy Nasaglugannguaq had been denied the mine’s seal of approval, he announced that he had two suggestions of his own, and that rather than go back to the community for new ideas, we, the council, should choose between his two suggestions.

They were simple, short and meaningful. Above all, they met what was now apparent as the most important criterion of all, a white man could pronounce them.

Again, to prove his point, he pronounced each of them repeatedly, doing not badly on one of them, but pronouncing the other with almost native-like clarity.

The two suggestions were Qinirvik — the place where one looks for things — and Nanisivik — the place where one finds things. Two sides of the same coin, so to speak.

Worn down by this logic, and impressed with this white stranger’s ability to pronounce four syllables in a row correctly in a language other than his own, we opted for the longer of the two, knowing it to be the simplest.

Thus Nanisivik came into being, an artificial name for an artificial community. As for the mountain known as Nasaglugannguaq, it was a wonderful place for the new white residents to skidoo and snowboard.

But Nasaglugannguaq was too hard for them too. They called it Mount Fuji.

Feedback? Send your comments and questions to kennharper@hotmail.com.

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