Inuk author shortlisted for $25,000 Shaughnessy Cohen writing award

Norma Dunning’s book on Inuit disc identification system up for political writing prize

Norma Dunning’s book, “Kinauvit? What’s Your Name? The Eskimo Disc System and a Daughter’s Search for her Grandmother,” has been shortlisted for the 2023 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing. The book looks at the mostly unknown history of the federal government’s disc system that was used in the early 20th century to keep track of Inuit in the Arctic. (Photos courtesy of Douglas & McIntyre/Harbour Publishing)

By Madalyn Howitt

Inuk author Norma Dunning is in the running for a $25,000 political writing prize.

Dunning’s 2022 book, Kinauvit? What’s Your Name? The Eskimo Disc System and a Daughter’s Search for her Grandmother, has been shortlisted for the 2023 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing. 

Established in honour of the late MP from Windsor, Ont., the award is given annually to an exceptional book of literary nonfiction that captures a political subject of relevance to Canadian readers. 

Part history book and part memoir, Dunning’s book compiles years of research into what was known as the “Eskimo Identification Tag System,” a little-known identification system for Inuit that began in 1941 as a way for the federal government to keep track of Inuit in the North through digits on physical discs.  

“With Kinauvit?, Dunning balances memoir and information, breaking ground with a uniquely Inuit story that contributes to the broader topic of Indigeneity in Canada, especially in the North,” said the prize jury members in a statement on the Writer’s Trust website.

The jury also said the book is a deeply analyzed must-read for all Canadians.

Inuit Child First, Indigenous Services Canada

Dunning combined archival research, interviews she did with elders and her own personal story growing up with a complicated sense of cultural identity to write the book, which initially took shape as her master’s thesis. 

The winner of the Shaughnessy Cohen Prize will receive $25,000, while finalists will walk away with $2,500 each. 

Other books up for the top prize include From Left to Right: Saskatchewan’s Political and Economic Transformation by Dale Eisler, Sideways: The City Google Couldn’t Buy by Josh O’Kane, Valley of the Birdtail: An Indian Reserve, a White Town, and the Road to Reconciliation by Andrew Stobo Sniderman and Douglas Sanderson (Amo Binashii), and How to be a Climate Optimist: Blueprints for a Better World by Chris Turner. 

The jury members who will decade the winner are Terri E. Givens, Nik Nanos, and Jacques Poitras. The winner will be announced in Ottawa at the Politics and the Pen gala on May 10, 2023. 

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(6) Comments:

  1. Posted by Wait, what? on

    “Eskimo Identification Tag System,” a little-known identification system for Inuit that began in 1941″

    It’s hardly ‘little known,’ though if you live in Ottawa I guess it might be.

    • Posted by oh ima on

      It is meant for general Canadians, not Inuit in general! You can poke holes at anything if you try hard, my friend.

      • Posted by Wait, what? on

        Here’s my gripe, Johnny. This publication primarily serves Nunavut and Nunavik. It is not a national paper serving ‘general Canadians’ as you imply. Of course it can be read anywhere, but it’s main audience is northerners, and most northerners are Inuit. The idea that the Disc System is “little known” perfectly demonstrates the superficial understanding of regional history held by too many of the journalists who serve this region.

        That said, I agree with you. It is always easy to find something to complain about, if that is what you are after.

        • Posted by oh ima on

          Who’s Johnny? the book is for general Canadians to read, I hope to see you in Iqaluit someday so you can confront me, Iqulik!

  2. Posted by Taxpayer on

    If contemporary observers continue to focus on many decades and generations past realities, (that are the analogues of the SINs, Health Care Cards, Debit Cards, DLs, email addresses, log-in passwords and other deeply impersonal and imposed forms of identification we commonly have today), our youth – both Inuit and Non-Inuit – will gain zero sense of the enormous progress in Reconciliation that we have already achieved.

    After 30 years of hard negotiation, in 1993 the Nunavut Agreement was signed in Kugluktuk. One of the apparently “little known” aspect of this agreement – Article 35 – is that we Inuit gained the right to self identify. Ottawa cannot tell Inuit who Inuit are, only we can.

    As a monumental continuing injustice, hundreds of thousands of First Nations and Metis still cannot do that, and are stuck applying to Ottawa for “Indian/Metis” Status cards, something that is routinely denied to many by bureaucrats. What an achievement for Canada and Inuit! Someone reading about the “Eskimo Identification Tag System” from the 40’s would have no clue, perhaps only in an epilogue.

    Ironically, years later, NTI came up with beneficiary cards that many of us carry around to, among other things, access Inuit Org benefits, and prove hunting rights.

    Hopefully, an Inuk only being known as a number and a card to an Inuit Org worker today will not cause any future trauma. Maybe in 60 years time, people will be writing books about how bad NTI and the RIAs were to use cards on us, while we happily walk around with computer chips embedded in us?

    If someone wrote a book about this more recent Inuit history, I wonder if it would get any award for “contributing to the topic of Indigeneity in Canada”?

  3. Posted by Oh Ima on

    Who’s this Johnny you keep referring too?


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