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May we suggest

Essays / April 1, 2019

The Vision

The unexpected yet clichéd revelation of leaving home, with all the usual small-town angst of needing to get out, was that I found my inherent Inukness the farther away I wandered
Jutai Toonoo, <em>Not me anymore</em>, 2010. Lithograph, 63.4 x 45.7 cm. Collection National Gallery of Canada. Courtesy Dorset Fine Arts. Jutai Toonoo, Not me anymore, 2010. Lithograph, 63.4 x 45.7 cm. Collection National Gallery of Canada. Courtesy Dorset Fine Arts.
Jutai Toonoo, <em>Not me anymore</em>, 2010. Lithograph, 63.4 x 45.7 cm. Collection National Gallery of Canada. Courtesy Dorset Fine Arts. Jutai Toonoo, Not me anymore, 2010. Lithograph, 63.4 x 45.7 cm. Collection National Gallery of Canada. Courtesy Dorset Fine Arts.

Wetting the skin against my tongue suddenly recalls the memory of a thousand generations. Softening it for the needle, without warning I am transported. In this moment I am acutely connected to my ancestors. We share the same tongue, the same taste. I remember what it means to take an animal, to use what has been given to me, to not waste. As I transform a small piece of untanned polar bear hide into earrings, I pull a thick strand of fur from my mouth and I feel them heavy upon me, a great cloud of witnesses. I can hear the shuffle of their feet, the infinite dance of those who have gone before. The swish, swish of their kamiit moving in unison above me. It is not a dream.

I have always been torn between worlds, existing in each as though I must always split myself in half. Sometimes the city can make you feel like a real scumbag. Moving through the streets, the rhythm is unnatural. Everything is jarring. Everything is exciting and bright and noisy. As convenient as everything is, the important things seem to be at arm’s length. The white noise of the machinery disorients me. I can no longer hear them.

There is a clamouring to hold on to what we can. Fighting for the scraps left behind by our battle-worn parents, who, on the front lines as children, held onto every last morsel of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit they could—no matter the punishment, no matter the cost.

In the city, I’d gauge my comfort level with people when I’d catch myself almost letting myself in, turning the handle, half-opening the door before recoiling in my faux pas, closing it back again and then knocking. We never knock. The unexpected yet clichéd revelation of leaving home, with all the usual small-town angst of needing to get out, was that I found my inherent Inukness the farther away from home I wandered. It was the longing for the land and community that brought me back.

The divide of the culture clash is so entrenched that the laceration of colonialism’s rabid bite runs marrow-deep in our bones. How do we heal from such deeply inflicted wounds? Our country: a gaslighting, abusive boyfriend who makes laughably feeble attempts at reconciliation. We all know healing is up to us. There is a clamouring to hold on to what we can. Fighting for the scraps left behind by our battle-worn parents, who, on the front lines as children, held onto every last morsel of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit they could—no matter the punishment, no matter the cost.

We brand ourselves with uluit ubiquitous, we tattoo our faces, we reclaim things once taboo. We gather around cardboard with bloodied hands, palms facing upward in humble unconscious praise, tools at work in the meat as we converse and laugh in raucous bursts or silently savour every last bite, the nearly neon condiments proclaiming the inescapable collision like tiny billboards in the background. A clash of worlds so deeply woven, we lovingly embrace China Lily as a traditional condiment.

We sing our ancient songs, tell and retell our sacred stories and resurrect rituals long forgotten. We work to reclaim our mother tongues. For some, to hear any word spoken in English is like the echo of a schoolmaster’s whip cracking open the trauma of our displacement with every forced foreign syllable. We react, we scold. For some, we speak our languages awkwardly, but unashamed. At least we try. It is another way of staking our claim in this befuddled space. Each of us desperately and wondrously trying to hold on to what was, while moving forward into a space unknown. We must gather. We must speak. We must eat. We must partake.

Inuit principles are universal: no waste, use all you have, share what you are able to, and sometimes more. When stripped down by the sheer unapologetic force of nature, ego is subdued. It was a system built around survival. Everyone had a role, a specific skill set that instilled deeply personal and communal pride and value. This connectedness is what is carried down through millennia. Moving away from the idea that the old ways are precious yet primitive. We open our vision, seeing how vital the old ways are to our modern survival. We gather together to gain strength, to showcase skills, to tell stories, to celebrate, to laugh, to eat together. These are the spaces they inhabit. Wherever we find ourselves, each of us has our point of contact, where we are able to lean back into the embrace of our traditions without hesitation or discomfort. The place where questions of identity and belonging completely dissipate. The place where we hear them.

This is an article from our Spring 2019 issue, themed on SPACETIME.

Tarralik Duffy

Tarralik Duffy is a multidisciplinary artist and writer who lives and works between Salliq (Coral Harbour), Nunavut, and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. From jewellery and apparel to graphic works, Duffy’s creative output shares distinctly Inuit experiences, which are often infused with humour and pop culture.