Nunani: Inukshuk for sale (Part two)
I was disturbed by the opinion expressed by my southern consultant friend.
“Let me get this straight,” I said. “You’re saying I shouldn’t charge for naming a company in Inuktitut, because ‘knowledge should be free.’ But you’re also saying you yourself would charge if you named it in English.”
“Well, that’s right,” was the response. “But Inuit have a tradition of giving, and you don’t want to… sully that by charging.”
“But it’s my time,” I said.
“I don’t mind doing it,” I continued. “I just want some kind of compensation. Translation services for Inuktitut cost.”
“Yeah,” said my friend, “but what do you charge, 25, 30 cents a word? Hardly worth billing someone for one word. Might as well be free.”
“But this isn’t translation,” I insisted. “Naming a company takes days. Corporate names are always a kind of word-play with multiple meanings. They always want short, trendy words, but the stuff they’re trying to convey in a name makes for long Inuktitut words. It’s hard to cook up something like that.”
“Then don’t do it,” my friend said again. “Besides, you don’t want them to trample on the, uh, beauty of Inuit culture by involving money and business. That kind of money’s just too dirty for you.”
“But you,” I reminded, “said that you would charge if you named something in English. That doesn’t sully your culture? That money isn’t too ‘dirty’?”
“Oh, man, look at the time,” was the response. “Well, Rachel, it was really great talking to you, but I have a meeting to get to. We should do lunch, right, maybe next week?”
This conversation made me somewhat ill, and only served to convince me that feel-good sentiments such as “knowledge should be free” are absurd. Human beings survive by knowledge that is anything but free, often having to earn it by working or suffering greatly. There is no better way to learn about bears than by surviving a bear attack, for example, often with some scars as a reminder.
But is this free knowledge? One may learn a great deal at university, but only at the exorbitant cost of tuition. (Hardly free knowledge.) And even a child does not really learn for free from a parent, since the child pays the price of yielding to parental will in return.
The truth: If knowledge is power, then it is also currency. Knowledge is mankind’s first and most treasured currency.
Why, then, are some people so shocked when they hear of Inuit wanting compensation for their counsel?
The earliest explorers made careers (i.e., money) by exporting Inuit culture, and the global demand for it quickly spawned a market. In the past, Inuit have depended upon non-Inuit businesses to connect them with the South. But the Inuit embracing of industrial culture has meant that, today, they are well-connected to global media, now able to market their own culture as they see fit. In other words, they are gradually cutting out the middle-man.
With this in mind, this “knowledge-should-be-free” resistance to Inuit charging suddenly comes to more closely resemble what it is: the old school of northern marketeers trying to limit their new competition. Ironically, this new competition is that which used to be the product itself: Inuit culture.
I just didn’t like the idea of people making money from Inuit without paying anything back, so I decided that the corporate types were cut off. From now on, in answering e-mails, I would only give free words or information about Inuit culture to students (but I still wouldn’t write their papers for them). Oh, the business people were pretty peevish about it, and being cut off didn’t stop them from trying several times over. I started to get sneaky e-mails, like:
“Hi my name is Kitty and I’m a litle kidd in grade 3 and teecher says we need to name our hamster. I think it woud be so neet if you name him, so can you pick us a short word that means ‘market success’ or ‘cutting edge’?”
I guess these people thought that some deliberately misspelled words would convince me that it really was a kid writing in. Too bad they forgot to check their e-mail addresses. They were identical to those of companies that I had already refused two days before.