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Part Qallunaaq
Chapter 28. Completeness of Identity


I’m fortunate to have been solidly indoctrinated in Inuit-ness in the first twelve years of my life. Living in igloos and tents for the first nine of those years defined my core identity. We spoke only Inuktitut, ate Inuit food, and lived and breathed dog teams and qayait. We knew nothing else. My only ambition as a boy was to grow up to be a competent hunter. These were the absolute tail ends of traditional life, as Inuit had known them since time immemorial.

This helped equip me later on to articulate how Inuit ought to be regarded by others. In my earlier years, I’m proud to have helped lead Inuit in Nunavik and Canada to assert our rights to our lands, and to seek the constitutional recognition of our right to self-determination. By then, I had acquired fluency in the English language, which is another story in its own right. I had embarked on a second lifetime totally different from that of the first – Inuit – lifetime.

My mother was half Scottish and half Inuk, which made her an oddity among full-blooded Inuit. But, like other half-breeds of her generation, she was dyed-in-the-wool Inuk in all her ways, possessing the skills and knowledge handed down from previous generations of Inuit. She, in turn, handed down to us an outlook of life centered around positive survival instinct, which has sustained us during the periods of Great Transitions we have lived through.

My mother’s first child, my older brother Joanasie, was born in the summer of 1948. He had white skin, Caucasian features, and red hair set in tight curls. The birth of a Qallunaalaaraq (a White baby) was quite a sensation among Inuit in the vicinity. Many people traveled to my parents’ camp that fall and winter to take a first-hand look at the curiosity my brother was. Other than this one vivid outburst of Caucasian genes, we have all lived normal ordinary Inuit lives.

We are products of our upbringing in the Arctic environment. Finding the source of our part Scottish-ness has not changed the fact that we’re still as Eskimo as ever. A long-dormant part of our identity has been awakened, but we’re not any more Qallunaaq than we were before. Then again, being part Qallunaaq in this day and age is no longer the object of intense curiosity it was in our mother’s generation.

Instead of regarding that part of our identity as a liability, we can celebrate it. We have finally found our complete selves!


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