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Part Qallunaaq
Chapter 1. Setting the Scene

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.

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