“Arnaasiaq” and “angutaasiaq” people deserve love and tolerance



This is in response to recent headlines in Nunatsiaq News about Nancy Karetak-Lindell, the member of Parliament for Nunavut, deciding to vote for Bill C-38, the legislation on same-sex civil marriage.

This really rings a bell for me since I have not sensed that Inuit cultural teachings taught us to be intolerant.

When I was growing up as a little girl in Kalaallit Nunaat, or Greenland, my maternal grandmother lived in a smaller community – Kangaamiut – north of where I was growing up in Maniitsoq. She was the person from whom I was introduced to Inuit silarsuangat, the Inuit world view.

My grandmother was a typical Inuk woman, small and petite in stature and never asserting an authoritarian voice. She taught me to look at my own values in relation to others around me rather than judging other people. Aanaga was a widow – she lost her husband while she was expecting another child.

Her best friend was Aada, a male, and even though he was broad and hefty, his movements were always effeminate. He and my grandmother could talk for hours when they met and much of it full of good laughter. At one time my grandmother told me that Aada was “arnaasiaq” – a man who should have been a woman.

There was no drama involved in this statement, no rejection, no condemnation – just a fact. I loved him as he provided much love and assurance to my grandmother when she needed good company. Now, Aada in his state of “arnaasiaq” would, in the present-day context, be considered a homosexual, a person who, according to the present day social unrest, is to be hated and condemned.

I am so very happy that he never had to experience this kind of hostility, as he also passed away. Have we really become so intolerant as Inuit?

To me, this is against the grain of Inuit thinking. Arnaasiaq and for that matter angutaasiaq (women who should have been men) talk about their roles in Inuit society with no reference to sexual behaviour. Aada indeed worked as a woman, and was very good at cleaning houses, dishes, clothes, floors and what not. These activities are something that women really took seriously and prided themselves as being the best things to do in society.

He was well appreciated for his niftiness, tidiness, thoughtfulness and his kind heart. He laughed at his own mistakes, and was well-respected in the small community – at that time no more than 200 people.

The intolerance that I have noticed now is most likely in reference to the categorization of sexual behaviour. I must say that sexuality is one of the strongest drives in all creation. Humans are not the only was who are active in that regard. Tuktuit do it, the arviit do it and big whales and small insects do it. Human sexuality is no big deal from that point of view, but social values change and one of the biggest changes that happened to Inuit in that regard is in reference to Christianity.

Inuit across the Arctic have been very good at adopting various kinds of Christianity. In Greenland where I grew up, the Lutheran religion has held the Inuit imagination since the 1720s. In Canada, Inuit are either Catholics or Anglicans. In Alaska and Russia, our Inuit cousins have adopted different kinds of Russian religions.

The “arnaasiaq” Aada was a very good Lutheran. He was baptized, and went to all important church services and embraced the Lutheran church activities. He was also buried in a regular churchyard, like the rest of his congregation.

Despite that, I have never swayed from my belief in our collective Inuit belief system. In fact, I am a strong believer in our Inuit culture.

Our new lives teach us to be judgmental and to reject certain people – but our true Inuktitut teaching teaches us differently. Directives on terms such as “homosexual” and “arnaasiaq/angutaasiaq” are very clear on that, and some times it is hard to make sense of changes since Inuit cultures have evolved so rapidly.

It is in the context of the above that I greatly appreciate Nancy Karetak-Lindell’s decision to vote for Bill C-38. I congratulate her on her brave decision and ask the Inuit of Canada to join her in this mark of tolerance and acceptance. I know that many “arnaasiat” and “angutaasiat” embrace hope for life through their church denominations and they, like any other human being are capable of love, to receive and give.

Karla Jessen Williamson lives in Ottawa.

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