Monday Morning Musings

Posted on November 30, 2020 under Monday Morning Musings with one comment

Jennifer Qupanuaq May #E8-2571


For most Canadians, having a Social Insurance Number (S.I.N.) is a birthright. If you want to work anywhere in the country, it is a requirement. Not only does it give Canadians access to a variety of social and medical programs, but it also gives us the privilege (!) of paying taxes. Many people grumble about paying taxes. I am not one of them. I realize that there is a cost to run government programs and taxation by and large funds these activities.

Not all Canadians have been treated the same. The story of our indigenous people is still being written and there are many chapters that tell a story which many Canadians find shameful. I have already written several articles about colonialism, forced relocations, residential schools and the killing of the sled dogs. Today I want to focus on “Eskimo Identification tags”, another example of questionable treatment of our founding people.

One could argue that the Federal Government had good intentions when they started to issue these tags in 1941. They began requiring Inuit to wear tags stamped with unique identification numbers. The Inuit word for the system was ujamiit. In English, the tags themselves, leather coin-sized disks, read “Eskimo Identification Canada”. The perceived need of the program arose from the inability of white people (Qallunaat), including Christian missionaries, government officials and the RCMP, to understand, pronounce and spell Inuit names.

The Canadian government issued the ID tags stamped with unique codes, starting with a region code and then an individual ID number, and instructed the recipients that they were to keep the disks on their person at all times. The numbers were also used in official government correspondence instead of names.

I certainly don’t pretend for a nanosecond to have the knowledge or expertise to explain how important names are to Inuit people. They carry many names reflecting family, ancestry and community.

Meet Jennifer Qupanuaq May, number E8-2571. She was born in 1982, one of the last Inuks to ever receive an E-number.

Jennifer is a 38 year- old Inuk woman, a single mother of three young children, originally from Kuujuuaq, now residing in Pointe- Claire, Quebec. She is an associate producer for a radio show and online marketing assistant for a film production company. She is a media arts student at John Abbott College. She is also involved in a mentoring program in the Inuit arts.

From all accounts, she is a remarkable woman. In 2017, she suffered a devastating injury which left her paralyzed. She was told that she might never walk again. With great faith and determination and a lot of rehabilitation, she was able to walk again. She suffers from chronic pain. Despite these tribulations she considers herself lucky and lives a life of gratitude.

She also has some strong feelings towards the “Eskimo Identification tag” program. “The Canadian government considered the Inuit as “primitive” people who they knew nothing about,” says Jennifer. “It’s getting better, but it’s still misunderstood. We tend to repress that but our social issues stem from this repression; people have PTSD from being sent to residential schools, the sixties scoop, having to wear these tags, and being just a number in their government’s eyes. It has caused our people to question their own existence when we realized these weird symbols, which we know as numbers, represented who we were.”

Initially, some Inuit regarded the Identification system as a positive. “We saw it as a new way of life, that something the government was “doing for us Inuit” at the time. Only after the passage of time, we started to recognize it as Government colonialism, just like killing of dogs, Residential Schools, Forceful Removal and Forceful relocations.” These comments were passed along to me by an Inuit friend who is now in his 70s.

Young Inuit children should feel grateful for people like Jennifer Qupanuaq who benefit by her mentorship. Life has not been easy for Jeniifer but her positive attitude can do nothing but help Inuit youth.

Education remains our best hope in understanding Indigenous people who have occupied these lands for over 4,000 years.

It’s just a number but numbers mean something.

Have a great week.


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