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Reader takes umbrage with anthropologist


I am aghast at the anthropologist’s, Edmund Searle, study of “urban” Inuit. (“Article: urban Inuit identity riddled with stereotypes,” Nunatsiaq Online, Nov. 30, 2010)

I have not heard Inuit say “innummariit,” “qallunaamiut” or “qallunaamarit’ when describing another Inuk nor can I believe ‘traditional” Inuit would hold rigid views of urban Inuit. Rigidness is not our Inuit trait and quite incompatible with our Inukness. The only conclusion I draw is the Inuk subject did not appreciate the true nature of anthropology.

I am originally from a traditional North Baffin family. I have been living in Iqaluit for 10 years.

First of all, hunting from a non-Inuit perspective is always seen foremost as the physical or tangible identity of Inuit culture.

We have an intangible sense of culture other than hunting. Our culture includes: eating and sharing country food; kinships and values within families and of elders and babies; custom adoption practices; social interaction within a collective identity; property values and sharing and various other means of spiritual connections. Hunting is a large component of our culture, but it is not the definitive feature.

Our tangible lifestyle is vastly different from when Franz Boaz studied Uqqurmiut in the 1880s or in Doug Wilkinson’s days when he filmed Inuit from Igloolik in the 1950s.

But our inner Inukness has lived on in all of us. I can relate to an Inuk from Iqaluit or Bathurst Inlet or Arviat from a book written 100 years ago of an Inuk subject. The sense of Inuit connection is instant, regardless of geography or time.

Since I have come to live in Iqaluit, every Inuk has made me feel welcome and part of their collective group. An Inuk lady from Iqaluit gives me candy while watching of all things, the Nattilik series at Unikkarvik Centre during free movie night.

She doesn’t ask me for my name, nor do I ask for hers and she doesn’t expect me to say “thank you” verbally. Irkidjuk, an elder from Iqaluit and a hunter in his time, tells me where Nunngarut is while sitting at the Sylvia Grinnell Park — he explains to me that it is shaped like a kajjik (hairline) across the mountains and should if I ever get lost across Frobisher Bay, I should remember the “kajjik.”

He is happy to tell me his experiences because of the importance of knowledge-sharing to be passed through generations. Or I immediately understand when an Iqalungmiut kid says to another, “Let’s not be stingy with the sled, if we become stingy, the sled might break.” Or I understand when an Iqalungmiut says “elder’s first in priority” in a long grocery line-up.

I regularly gave rides to any Inuk I saw walking from Apex to Iqaluit, without fear of possible harm – the sense of “Inuuqatigit” is so universal and paramount within our identity, the appreciation quelled any safety concerns.

Nor does an Iqalungmiut lady think I’m odd if, as a stranger to her, I pick her up at a yard sale and drive her to more yard sales once I see she’s paying unnecessarily for taxis. If I did this down south, my ulterior motive would be questioned.

The second misconception in the Searle observation about Iqaluit is there is less hunting than the smaller communities. It couldn’t be farther from the truth. In the last 10 years, my family has gone to Illaulirtuuq, American Islands, Mitirtalik, Qikturiaqtalik, Nunngarut Lake, Iqaluit Lake, Upside-Down Cabin, walrus hunting beyond Turngait, clam digging and numerous camping places — all with the help of several true Iqalungmiut.

These people taught us: tide preparedness; the best places for ring seals or clams; to avoid currents under the ice; preparing for trips to cabins on Pang trail; finding eider eggs; how to go to Nunngarut or Kimmirut pass; where to find caribou or fish. I once observed more than 22 boats across the bay when beluga passed by.

The unfortunate reality is that Inuit have undergone so many changes within the past 60 years, we have lost a large part of our tangible hunting culture and this phenomenon is not attributable to any one Inuit group or community.

There are just as many non-hunters in the smaller communities as there are in the urban centres of Nunavut. There are other insurmountable variable factors other than “choosing a professional” lifestyle over a “hunting lifestyle.” Conversely, the two also complement each other in any community, including Iqaluit.

Third, I can’t conceive the stereotyping to be exclusively reinforced by Nunavut politicians by preference over urbanites or “real” Inuit – that’s a bit too simplistic and against our adaptability nature.

I don’t know why the topic of “urban” Inuit versus “traditional” Inuit was chosen as an anthropological subject. It doesn’t seem to really be of any help to any “real” Inuk.

Sandra Omik

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