The scene is London, England: April 1996. While attending a conference
there, a colleague of mine insists that we go to a restaurant that
serves Scottish food. I’m told that something called “haggis” is a
grr-reat favourrite, so I order a plate of it. As I start eating, it
becomes absolutely clear to me that I’m connecting with something that
my whole being has achingly anticipated ever since I was born. Something
ver-ry Scottish is being stirred, and satiated, within me!
The cause of all this is the 25% of my genes
that are Scottish. My late mother was the daughter of an Inuk woman and
a Scottish father – William Mackenzie Peter – who worked for the French
trading company, Revillon Frères, at Povungnetuk Bay in 1927. My mother
had deeply yearned to know where her father came from, what he looked
like, if he’d had other children, and where he might be buried. She
insisted that my first-born son be named William Mackenzie, after the
ataatak (father) she was destined never to know.
The progeny of Qallunaat (white people) have
existed for generations amongst Inuit. The earliest forbears were
whalers, traders, policemen, and numerous others. Very few ever left a
name, photograph, or some other tangible reference by which their Inuit
descendents could know their Qallunaaq ancestor.
Now, in a London restaurant, for one sweet,
delicious moment of a warp in time, I’m overtaken by a touch of my own
heritage. I feel grr-atefully prr-oud to be SCOE-tish! All this is
happening within the span of three bites of sheep’s innards laced with
oatmeal. Words still fail to capture the essence of what to me was
weird, but gratifying. My co-diners probably notice nothing
extraordinary. In a snap, I’m my normal and complete Eskimo self, no
worse for this zap from the Twilight Zone.
An estimated 40 to 45% of Inuit in Canada
are of mixed ancestry. For them, searching for their Qallunaat forbears
origins is no simple matter, and involves traveling to far-flung places
where archival records might be examined. Detective work is mostly
hit-and-miss. Archives, so promising on first approach, very often turn
up heart-wrenchingly dry.
Many on such searches would be satisfied
merely to take the guesswork out of at least the name of their subject
of searching. The longing to know is profoundly deep, and is connected
to the very human question: Who am I? This extends into: Who was
he? Where did he come from? What did he look like? Did he have other
family? These questions had haunted my mother all her life.