Thursday Tidbits

Posted on November 19, 2020 under Thursday Tidbits with one comment

A variety of animal bones used to play traditional Inuit games

 

Sad to admit, I am not a huge history buff nor one who spends idle time hanging around museums. My misspent youth involved lots of sports and other than trips to Ireland and Scotland, my family tree knowledge can be found on one leaf of said tree. I have never been accused of being cultured or refined but I’m ok with that. I am a big fan of lifelong learning and am curious enough to want to continue my education even in the late innings of the game.

A few days ago, I took my class to the Pingualuit Museum. It is also called the Interpretive Center. It is a first-class museum and one that is attempting to preserve Inuit culture and language. Truth be told, we didn’t get to see many of the exhibits but that’s OK because we got something more precious – time with the director of the museum, Mary along with staff members, Lydia and Maali. Pasha, who runs the Family House, came over as well to spend the time with us.

I was very interested to learn about the rituals surrounding the birth of a child. When a baby is born a member of the family or community is invited to attend to cut the umbilical cord. This person is called a sanajik. The sanajik is there to bring wishes that the newborn grows up to be a strong woman or man. Such is the reverence of the sanajik, that when the child grows up, it is customary that they give a gift to this person. It could be the first kill of an animal or fish or it could be their first craft. It is a sign of respect.

The Inuit carry several names with them throughout life, mainly of their ancestors. For the longest time, the Inuit didn’t have last names but when the government of Quebec finally realized that indigenous people were living in their northern region, this changed. Not only were they given last names, but they were also given a dog tag with a serial number because they couldn’t or wouldn’t take the time to learn their Inuit names. This was one of the many humiliations bestowed upon these proud people.

Pasha demonstrated an Alaskan drum dance. As Mary slowly played a drum, Pasha and my students made beautiful movements with their arms, legs and body set to traditional music. It was mesmerizing.

We were then treated to some traditional Inuit games. We all played Nullutauti which involved a walrus tusk suspended from the ceiling with a hole in it. We all stood around with wooden spears and tried to put the tip of our spear into the hole. It’s much harder than it looks!

When an animal is killed, very little is wasted. We were shown a variety of toys made from the bones of whales and animals. One seal bone, called an arsaquq, was often used as a forecaster of sorts. The Inuit were constantly preoccupied with food. Many died of starvation. The arsaquq was tossed in the air. If it landed right side up, it meant that the hunt would be successful that day.

We had great fun playing napiraruti. Seal flipper bones of all shapes and sizes are put in a bag. A string with a noose is placed in the bag. The bag is closed and shaken. When the drawstring is loosened, the participant slowly pulls the string out of the bag and the winner is the one who has managed to snag the most bones in the noose. Each bone signifies something. When I played one of the  two bones that I pulled out of the bag denoted an old man. How apropos! The bones can also be assembled to make things, very similar to a Lego set.

What struck me most was how engaged my students were for the entire ninety minutes. It is hardly surprising. They are learning about their ancestors. This is who they are. I can totally understand why they find school boring. They are people of the land. Mary was quick to point out that while preserving the culture was of utmost importance, she felt that it was imperative that the Inuit children learn to read and write in either French or English.

I felt very privileged and honored to share this time with these wonderful women.

This is one museum that I plan to visit many more times.

You can teach an old dog new tricks… and some new games too!

Have a great weekend.

 

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Monday Morning Musings

Posted on November 16, 2020 under Monday Morning Musings with 2 comments

Get lost, Covid-19

 

Warning. If you are offended by salty language, you may want to take a pass on this post. This will absolutely ensure that every one of you will read this to the very last word!

This is an open letter to Covid-19.

Dear Covid-19.

Like an unwelcome party crasher who arrives with garlic breath, drinks too much and hogs the conversation, you made your appearance ten months ago. It doesn’t matter much where you came from but at this point in time the entire world wants you to go to hell.

There are some well known politicians who have been dubbed disruptors but no one in our lifetimes has done so much harm to so many people in so many countries around the world. When people speak of Covid fatigue, just hearing your name (like that of a retiring politician) makes us weary.

Let’s see. The list of people you have pissed off is too long to post here but let me offer a few.

You have ruined celebrations of life and death. Births, weddings, special events, anniversaries, cherished holidays have all fallen victim to your unyielding cruelty. The sight of seniors peering through the windows of nursing homes wondering why their families have abandoned them is soul crushing. And when these same people eventually succumb to your fury, we haven’t been able to give them a dignified farewell.

You have put incredible strain on everybody but maybe none more so than health care workers who are exhausted, overwhelmed and distraught as you make your second pass around the globe.

Back in February, you started off as a minor irritant, a curiosity of sorts. Most of us enthusiastically got on board and embraced protocols to limit your spread and flatten the curve but you are one tricky bastard. You knew you would wear us down over time. You seemed to take a hiatus in the summer, a time that you knew we would lower our defenses, giving us a smugness and false sense of security that we had whipped your ass.

Now you are back with a vengeance. You have single handedly managed to do what no superpower has been able to do: bring the United States to its knees. Fifty thousand cases a day south of the border have leapt to 150,000. Hospitalizations and deaths are soaring. Canada and many other countries are on perilous trajectories. You have caused untold problems with the global economy as tens of thousands of businesses large and small have failed and closed up shop.

You continue to keep us socially distanced from families and friends. The mental health toll is incalculable.

It’s pretty sad when Santa, the Easter Bunny and the tooth fairy all have a bounty on your hide.

Most of us have embraced the idea of wearing a mask. For some of us this is a mixed blessing. It keeps us safe and also hides the wrinkles on our faces. Those of us with sensitive skin sure appreciate the need to use hand sanitizer which causes or skin to split and bleed. Among your many charms you are sadistic.

Covid-19. You are the ultimate bed sore. You are the boil on our arse. You are a canker on our tongue, an abscessed tooth and a migraine headache all rolled into one. Let’s throw in arthritis for good measure – constant, unrelenting pain.

I am here to tell you that, we the people, are bent and beaten up but not broken. The good news is that help is on the way and no, it’s not Joe Biden. A vaccine is on the way. It won’t eliminate you, you testy son of a bitch, but it will relegate you to the shadows.

In the meantime, I think I can speak for most people and want to tell you to take a hike. I was thinking of using much stronger language, but you don’t seem to be listening to anyone. The F Bomb was on my lips. We are tired of hearing your name.

With warmth and affection.

Len

 

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Thursday Tidbits

Posted on November 12, 2020 under Thursday Tidbits with no comments yet

Zebedee Nungak and Charlie Arngak  speaking about the JBNQA in Kangiqsujuaq

 

Yesterday, most Canadians celebrated Remembrance Day, a day to reflect on the sacrifices that so many men and women made to maintain our freedom from tyranny.

Yesterday was also the 45th anniversary of the signing of the James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA). It is a day that the Inuit and Cree reflect on the sacrifices and difficult choices made by their predecessors when they signed on to this historic agreement. It can be argued that indigenous people in Canada and other parts of the world have suffered from tyranny of their own.

I don’t want my faithful readers to abandon me for having the temerity to compare these two events. I just feel that is important for non-indigenous people to have some understanding and empathy for the people from the north.

I recently read a book by an Inuit author, Zebedee Nungak. He was one of the authors and signatories of the JBNQA.The book is titled: “Wrestling With Colonialism on Steroids – Quebec Inuit Fight For Their Homeland. A few days after finishing the book, I heard that Zebedee was coming to Kangiqsujuaq to deliver a lecture. Much of what I am about to write has been gleaned from his book and his talk.

For centuries, indigenous people’s lands were passed around by colonizers and politicians as if they were monopoly cards or pieces of a chess set. From all accounts, the Inuit and Cree were never consulted when their land became Rupert’s Land by royal decree and then became part of the N.W.T. before finally being passed into the hands of Quebec in 1912.

Even after gaining control of Northern Quebec, provincial politicians completely ignored the northern region of the province for decades until the birth of the James Bay Hydroelectric project.

Back in 1971, effective communication systems were not available to the Cree and the Inuit in Northern Quebec. Rumblings were being heard over short wave radio that blasting was going on in the region. Rivers were being dammed and diverted. The news spread about an ambitious hydroelectric project going on in their own back yard, on ancestral land. Nobody asked them for permission to do this.

At the time, there was no real political infrastructure in place in the eleven communities. There were no formal organizations in and among communities and there had never been any discussions with politicians or developers.

In 1972, at a meeting in Kuujjuaq, the Northern Quebec Inuit Association was formed (NQIA). Initially the organization was trying to figure out exactly what was going on. As mentioned, neither the developers or government had made any attempt to contact the Inuit or the Cree people. Zebedee mentions that when they saw a map of Canada, it was a “solid red wall of colonialism.”

The indigenous people felt powerless. They had no expertise in negotiating. They felt powerless going up against power and wealth. When they finally mobilized and met with people from the south, they were treated with disrespect. The developers and politicians didn’t care about the rights, culture, language or environmental concerns of the Inuit and Cree.

At the time, most northern communities suffered from poverty and did not enjoy the same services afforded other citizens of Quebec.

The politicians and developers played hardball. It was hardly a level playing field as these groups were armed with a phalanx of lawyers and other professionals.

“We never slept for two year during the negotiations’” says Zebedee.

The goal of the Inuit was self- determination and self- government. They were told in no uncertain terms that there were only three levels of government (Federal, Provincial and Municipal) and that there wouldn’t be a fourth.

It was made clear by the proponents of the project that a few items were non-negotiable, those being extinguishment and surrender. The Indigenous people were forced to give up most of their historical rights and lands in exchange for better services in the northern communities. This caused a schism amongst the Inuit themselves as many disagreed with the Inuit negotiators. In many ways the Inuit leadership were between a rock and a hard place.

For a brief shining moment (one week) a judge halted construction on the site, recognizing Indigenous rights, but his decision was hastily overturned.

The historic agreement, one of its first kind anywhere in the world, was signed on November 11, 1975.

During this time, in a move that can only be considered hubris, the Quebec government decided that Indigenous communities needed new French names. Over time, these communities have reverted back to their original names.

Disagreements and hard feelings exist to this day in Inuit communities. Some people have never forgiven their negotiators for giving away so much.

People of the north have suffered so much trauma at the hands of colonizers over the centuries. These are well documented, but many people don’t know that there still exists internal trauma as a result of the signing of the JBNQA. A meeting was held in 2014 to discuss a healing process. To date, nothing has come out of these meetings to heal long standing wounds.

In a recent letter to Prime Minister Trudeau, the Honorable Charlie Watt O.Q. and president of Makivik a, urged the P.M. to take action. “We Inuit and other Indigenous Canadians continue to feel the weight of colonialism. It remains ingrained in the administration of provinces and the confederation. Promises made fade from view within the government machinery. The non-Indigenous population doesn’t notice, but we do, and we look for the political will to make your intentions a reality. Mr. Prime Minister, the time is right for Canada to make a clean break with its colonial past.” (October 19,2020)

The Inuit want self- determination. They want to preserve their heritage. They want to protect their culture, their language, their identity.

It’s not a big ask when one considers that they were here first.

Have a great weekend.

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