Sunday, 27 February 2011

inter-community trade in food staples in Nunavut

The other day I heard a debate in the Nunavut Legislative Assembly regarding inter-community exchange of food staples (also called, country foods) in the context of the "new" food mail program to kick in in April of this year and the response I heard was that meats and country foods (we would define them as "food staples" in the circumpolar world) would require Canadian Food Inspection Agency certification in order to be shipped and exchanged between Nunavut communities. But there are no CFIA food inspectors in Nunavut!

With the political unrest in much of the Arab world and how that's affecting world oil prices, and the effects of climate change we're already feeling in the Arctic regions (it's more that it's kind of difficult to go out hunting in dangerous, unpredictable weather than availability of prey animals at any given time), it got me thinking about how governments in other countries such as Greenland and Alaska deal with food inspection. I think in Nuuk, Greenland, there is a long-standing tradition of market for country foods...

In Canada, everything (well, except country foods) has to be shipped or flown in to the Arctic, and there is a long-standing practice here of ignoring the development of markets for locally produced and locally producable goods and all the while, our natural resources are exploited or slated for exploitation without us. "Development" in general as an issue of significance for Inuit (be it social, political or commercial) so far has left out the most important factor in the equation, the Inuit themselves.

We are being administered to death and extinction by "cradle to grave" welfare as a society. We are treated as an ersatz society with ersatz education in an ersatz economy.

We deserve better.

The Canadian governments (Nunavut and federal) should be making effective and real (ie, not fake) investment in Inuit and regional development first or at least in tandem with resource development and extraction. We are subsistance users of renewable resources, meaning that we do not and should continue trying not to take more than is necessary. If there is some "noble savage" in us, it is our long, long tradition of subsistance existence. It is not a bad thing but a necessary thing given our sensitive and fragile environment and its perpetual need for wise stewardship.

I would suggest to my readers that making locally-owned and -managed development of inter-community trade in food staples and other goods a government priority is the wise thing to do. Help us develop our local economies, give us a fighting chance at real education, invest in developing human capital locally because, as our leaders intimated recently, the Arctic is the next big thing. The world will be watching.


Saturday, 26 February 2011

some features of Inuktitut Linguistics

Inuktitut of the Eskimo-Aleut family, like many of the AmerIndian languages is a polysynthetic language. Polysynthetic means that its grammar is build up by fusing meaningful units (called morphemes) together to construct phrases.

The structure of a typical phrase goes like: noun+modifyer morpheme(s)+case ending.

Where I see mistakes often in Inuktitut writing is at the case ending side of the phrase for the:

"accusative" or direct object (-mik);

"ablative" which indicates "movement from" something (-mit); and

"locative" which indicates location, such as "in the house" (-mi).

Little wonder people make mistakes in writing (though in speech these mistakes tend to disappear); the only difference is in the final segments: k, t, and vowels. To me, this is another example of why teachers of Inuktitut should acquire some knowledge of the grammar of the Inuit Language.

It doesn't hurt at all to learn Inuktitut grammar (all one needs is time, patience and guidance to acquire a working overview), and, in fact, having some knowledge makes one appreciate the beauty of Inuktitut grammatical structures at a deeper level. So worthy is the time that linguistics departments in most universities dedicate at least some study time to the Eskimo-Aleut family.

Having read this short explanation, I now challenge you, the reader, to figure out and "translate" this phrase:

inung-mik aniju-mik illu-mit ullu-mi (takujunga)

for the non-Inuktitut speakers, the phrase translates as: "today (locative), I saw a person exiting (accusative) from a house (ablative).

The inflectional morphology of Inuktitut (ie, case endings) free up the order in which the phrases can occur such that:

ullumi (takujunga) anijumik inungmik illumit

today (I saw) exiting person from a house

still makes grammatical sense because the grammatical function of each "word" is specified and required by the grammar itself.

I think a morphemic analysis of the Inuktitut translation of the Old Testament (which is based on the Moravian translation into Labrador dialect) would show that it utilizes "word" ordering (and other highly sophisticated devices) to imbue the translation itself with dignity and august grace worthy of the sacred text. Those Moravians were masters of excellence in all things: music, art, language, etc.

I'm not much of a religious person myself, but I appreciate profound subtlety and craftsmanship that was put into such things as the Inuktitut version of the Old Testament at just the right time in our history (ie, before the banality of Canadian government took over our lives and tried to destroyed our language and culture).


Friday, 25 February 2011

lost in translation?

I read the other day on the BBC website a piece written by Oliver Miles, a former ambassador to Libya, called "How Gaddafi's words get lost in translation" where he wrote "Oratory is out of fashion with us - no longer do our statesmen hold the House of Commons in thrall for eight hours at a go" and it got me thinking how very unfortunate it is that we've fallen this far as a civilization.

As someone who believes in education and the power of thought behind the well-chosen and cultivated words and ideas I'm greatly concerned about this dismissive attitude that has crept in and mired us in "political correctness" (being polite, I dare not say "mediocrity") to such a degree that we believe unquestioningly when we are told that mathematical ideas are boring, that oratory and rhetoric are stale, that literature (whether oral tradition or text-based) is dead.

As a lover of the literary arts (which I include political discourse along with the traditional forms of literature), I find the ready acceptance of this sorry state of affairs unpalatable. I believe that the art of well-crafted oratory/rhetoric/turn of phrase is key to learning and engaging in critical thinking.

It is the beautiful that draws us in and keeps us there long enough to really contemplate why and how we respond and react so. This is the onset of critical thought, is it not? Beauty makes the intellectual challenge seem undaunting and makes thinking fun and productive. GH Hardy, the great English mathematician (yes, there were such people too) wrote and is often quoted:

"The mathematician's patterns, like the painter's or the poet's must be beautiful; the ideas, like the colors or the words must fit together in a harmonious way. Beauty is the first test: there is no permanent place in this world for ugly mathematics".

I subscribe to the general notion that there is no permanent place in human thought for ugly and shoddy ideas and concepts. Great art and story-telling from any and all cultures tend to last, and they last precisely because they're crafted and build-upon and built to be beautiful. Even the simple stories that begin with "Once upon a time..." hold and enthrall us for many generations.

Education is not possible without art for art is the beginning of productive speculation and dialogue on who we are, how we define ourselves and where we want to go as humans being.


Thursday, 24 February 2011

our "brothers in spirit"

The uprisings and political unrest in the Arab world of North Africa and the Middle East have taken a hold on me and my imagination similiar to but more so as what Gorbachev did for the Eastern Block.

Now, I'm not wedded to any one form of government (whether it be Western-style democracy or the Afganistan-style of Council of Elders) being as I think a synthesis of these two and other forms that respect public dialogue and political discourse is the way to go. Granted, I have "leftish humanist" (not leftist, mind) leanings and have been rather disappointed by the patheitic reaction of the "Western nations" to the uprisings in the Arab world but hope springs eternal.

Having said that, I think Western-style democracy is way over-hyped as THE form of government because with passivity and apathy setting in and calcifying in the West a dangerous vacuum has been created whereby multi-national corporations (those facists!) would dress themselves in user-friendly, capitalist robes and take over and privatize our necessary institutions (social policy, public services, etc.) and all the while blatantly parasiticize our public-funded infrastructures.

I hate fascism (which corporate America epitomizes) as I hate all forms of heavy-handed, supercilious forms of authority and bureacratic structures. The "great Satan" is not the people of the West but the completely anonymous and slippery corporations which the Nazis in Germany perfected.

Those poor Americans and westerners in general: we are utterly inured and domesticated as cows and chickens and do not see that we are on the outside looking in.

To our brothers and sisters in spirit in North Africa and the Middle East and the world over: let plain wisdom and human dignity prevail. Let not human greed and the infinite arrogance of arbitrary power mislead and fool us ever again.


Wednesday, 23 February 2011

how to use Inuit Qaujimaningit (IQ) principles

I'm somewhat dismayed by what I see as an the emptying of Inuit Qaujimaningit (IQ or Inuit Knowledge) principles.

In the heady days of the creation of Nunavut I worked at the Department of Sustainable Development in the newly minted Government of Nunavut, and that was where we first started thinking about applying Inuit societal values and philosophy of resource use (covering everything from economic development, training and renewable and nonrenewable resources) and environmental protection/regulation (at least, that was my assumption) under the broad rubric of Inuit Qaujimaningit. We came up with IQ Guiding Principles originally to house the establishment policy of the new DSD (see below).

In my naivete it never occurred to me that the Guiding Principles we struck at DSD would ever be taken out of context, thinking instead that each government department would reflect upon and adopt and adapt their own IQ principles in a more thoughtful manner as according to their unique and separate mandates - ie, that the principles we came up with would help other people think about and ask productive questions to imagine or envision a more just and promising future for our society (Inuit and non-Inuit alike).

There are believers out there as there are detractors. Many people say that IQ principles do not work. But not understanding what the principles are does not equate their invalidation. IQ is a way of interpreting and working within the context of something (be it human relations, the world or a way of being). IQ however and whatever its conceived, like any public discourse, is sustained and kept alive only by being actively involved in it.

Having said that, I now provide a context (which I view as a useful accomplishment to be proud of):

1.      Policy Statement

The Government of Nunavut establishes a department called the Department of Sustainable Development under the direction of a Minister.


The mandate of the Department of Sustainable Development is to promote, develop and maintain healthy, sustainable communities in Nunavut, through an integrated, holistic and systematic approach to development and growth, by jointly addressing economic, environmental and social issues, and assuring our future is founded on the culture and traditions of our people.

2.      Guiding Principles

The following set of guiding principles is modeled after the traditional Inuit community, of which the family is the smallest and most stable unit.

·        Inuit Qaujimanituqangit.  Development and growth must be built on a foundation of traditional Inuit values and culture.

·        Pijitsirniq.  We are here to serve, to support healthy, sustainable community development.
·        Government Leadership by Example.  The Department of Sustainable Development will share its knowledge of environmental management and promote the use of sustainable development principles.

·        Aajiiqatigiingniq.  Communication, consultation, and cross-fertilization of ideas are essential components of healthy, sustainable communities.
·        Equity.  Everyone must have an opportunity to play a productive role in the community, to share the benefits of development, and maintain a sustainable livelihood. The costs of development must not be an unfair burden to any individual or group in the community.
·        Participation, Consultation and Inclusiveness.  We will work together with our partners and the people of Nunavut to understand their needs, build consensus, and ensure their participation in the establishment of our objectives and actions.
·        Integrated Decision-Making.  Environmental, societal, and economic factors will be treated systematically during policy, program/project development, and decision-making.
·        Accountability and openness.  We will develop measurable objectives and publicly monitor and report on the outcome of our activities against these objectives, taking corrective action where necessary.

·        Pilimmaksaniq. Community ownership of process and results encourages capacity, adaptability, self-reliance, and empowerment.
·        Self-reliance.  We will use local resources, and strive to achieve development and growth by identifying our distinctive strengths, and by applying our own efforts and abilities.
·        Continuous Improvement.  Our commitment to sustainable development will be based on a commitment to new approaches and best practices, and the sharing of knowledge through open and direct communications. We will continue to update and adapt to reflect new knowledge, technology, information, and ideas, and to ensure what we produce will last, and meets the highest standards of durability, quality and economy.

·        Piliriqatigiingniq.  Every community is unique, with its own set of strengths, concerns, and vision for the realization of its full potential. Each community has something to contribute to the larger community of Nunavut.
·        Cooperation.  We will work in partnership with government and non-government agencies, Inuit Organizations, private organizations, and individual citizens, to support sustainable development in our communities.
·        Co-management.  We will co-manage our wildlife and habitat with Institutions of Public Government through a balanced effort of monitoring, good science, and Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit.
·        Building Relationships.  Our actions will be dedicated to strengthening the relationships of people with the land, and with each other.
·        Sharing.  No individual or community provides all its own needs. We will share what we have with others.

·        Silatimik Kamattiarniq.  Human beings do not, and cannot exist outside the biosphere. What we do to the environment is what we do to ourselves.
·        Coexistence.  People and the environment have a right to coexistence in a healthy, supportive, diverse and sustainable condition.
·        Ecosystem Integrity.  Development will not exceed the capacity of natural ecosystems to respond, adapt, and recover from human disturbance.

·        Pollution Prevention. We will use processes and practices that avoid or minimize the creation of pollutants or wastes and eliminate risks to human health and the environment.

·        Inuuqatigiittiarniq.  Respect for others, tolerance of diverse values and needs, forbearance, these, tempered with common sense and maturity, are components of a just and tolerant society.
·        Diversity.  The Department of Sustainable Development is committed to development that is an expression of community culture and traditions, and of its distinct ecology, and which is based on internal strengths, rather than ascribed universal standards.
·        Commitment to future generations.  We have a responsibility to all future generations to provide them a rich and healthy cultural, social, economic and environmental legacy. Our actions in the present will not limit the choices of those who follow us in the future.

thank you,


Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Hermann Hesse and Karl Emil Maximilian "Max" Weber

As a connoisseur of all things excellent in human thought and intelligence I cannot help but think that Hesse's "Magister Ludi" was inspired by Max Weber's sociological theories.

I know that there is no mention of the two great thinkers in the same breath let alone the same pages in any of the analyses I've come across but there are many parallels in thought of their writings to make me think thus. I would go so far as to say that the life of the character of Magister Ludi, Joseph Knecht, is the model of Max Weber in logical/practical consequence.

Hesse breaks down the reincarnated "lives" of Knecht into the three iterations: The Rainmaker; The Father Confessor; and, The Indian Life, which are uncannily in cognate with the three types of political leadership and authority that Weber wrote about: Charismatic (familial or religious); Traditional (patrimonialism and feudalism); and, Legal-rationalistic (bureaucratic and modern law and state).

Of the three Weber said that third was an "iron cage" in the "polar night of icy darkness" which I would suggest was a warning that Hesse took to heart in his writing of "Magister Ludi" who, in the novel, in the end rejects and repudiates the world of the Mind and empty, abstract idealism in favour of the world of the real where human struggles and achievements give at least the hope of "subjective meaning" to an individual's life.

"The favoured nobility (which Knecht belonged) has always basked in the sunlight; but from a certain stage of development on, its place in the sun, its privileged state, has always constituted a temptation and led to its corruption".

Weber was an antipositivist, which I take to mean that "the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts" - that human beings are not just physical but spiritual beings who will always reject and resist a merely rational-corporeal existence - for we are all want and need art, justice, and peace (and intellectual challenges) in our lives to actualize ourselves and be the best we can be.


what of that double-digit lead?

Being a news junkie, I've been hearing quite a bit about Harper's recent double-digit lead over the opposition parties. This shouldn't be too concerning for us "bleeding heart liberals" because when the numbers are broken down by region most of the build-up is in the west where rightwing politics prevail. I bet in the other regions of Canada the prospect of a majority conservative government is as attractive as having Iggy for a PM.

I also heard from the "at issue" panel on the CBC's National News that these numbers are becoming less and less reliable as telephone land lines with which the pollsters like Angus-Reid do their business become fewer and fewer to the point where the numbers harvested can become spread so thin as to become meaningless.

Makes sense, especially in light of the Oda affair and the growing sense of dismay of parlaimentarians over Harper's tendency to micro-manage information coming out of his government and cite cabinet confidence and prorogations often enough times to make reasonable and open debate in the House suspect. Then, there is that case of the missing Integrity Commissioner and the trial-balloons in Quebec over public-funding of sports arenas that fell like lead...

Any reasonable and thoughtful observer of Canadian politics would wonder about the recent poll figures.


Monday, 21 February 2011

family health model


below is something I wrote up for the social policy development discourse in Nunavut. I used to work as a policy analyst for Inuit Org.s and spent (still spend) a great deal of time thinking about an article in the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement called Article 32. The family health model is intended to reorient the intellectual attitude of policy people rather than to provide a theoretical framework.

A Family Health Model

  1. Family is the primary life-support system of its members.
  2. The family belongs to a larger network called the Community.
  3. The family is a vehicle for transmitting social values, language, knowledge and beliefs about what life is.
  4. The family is the fundamental economic unit.

1 Family is the primary life-support system of its members
The transition from traditional to contemporary Inuit society has to address the redefining of the roles in the family (the roles and responsibilities of parents). We, as Inuit and Nunavut society in general, need to re-examine and initiate discussion on what healthy families actually comprise of (single parent homes, two parent homes) in a way as to not get caught up in ideological and religious prejudices but to focus our efforts in supporting development of solid parenting capabilities and try and address the gaps in parenting skills. Home economics doesn’t seem to exist anymore so the concepts of home-cooked meals and budgeting are practically non-existent in most Inuit homes.

2 The family belongs to a larger network called the Community
The Community isn’t just about a specific location in geographical space in relation to somewhere else. It’s about society and individuals in general and how these different levels of Community view and value human rights and social justice. The social development discourse (in Canada) has been heavily skewed towards administering to individuals rather than supporting families and Community.

3 The family is a vehicle for transmitting social values, language, knowledge and beliefs about what life is
When children are left without mature guidance life becomes effectively worthless and violence to self and others becomes normalized. The school system was not set up or designed to address moral guidance or ethical behaviour being as it arrogates itself as “secular” but in this vacuum Inuit children are raising themselves. The high suicide rates for Inuit youth is an indication that their society is brutal, cruel and unsustainable (unconscionable). The Lord of the Flies comes to mind.

4 The family is the fundamental economic unit
IQ is built around this notion. The bedrock of society is not the individual but the family for it creates the individual and allows the individual to actualize his/her potential. Inuit employment becomes all that more important because family health and the generation of human capital are linked; this is what a sustainable economy really is.

demystifying "standardization" of the Inuit Language

Hi y'all,

welcome to my blog. I call it "qituttugaujara" which in Inuktitut means "my (soap)box". This is my first blog entry so I'm starting off with a letter to the editor I wrote recently that never got published - is it plagarism to do that?

During the Inuit Language Week and, specifically, the Inuit Language Symposium in Iqaluit (Feb 7 - 11, 2011) entitled Uqausiqaqatigiinniq: Inuit Language Standardization Symposium, the impression I got is that there is still quite a bit of confusion not only as to what "standardization" really means but how to go about "standardizing" Inuktitut.

The two Inuit writing systems that are used in Nunavut (syllabics and what is called roman orthography) are already standardized following solid linguistic principles of voicing (the differences between 'r' and 'q'; 'k' and 'g') and allowable consonant clusters between dialects ('miksaanut' for North Baffin and 'missaanut' for Cumberland Sound). In my view, where the problem arises is when questions of "uniqueness" and "history" of particular dialects are inadvertantly brought into play during the discussions.

I have yet to hear someone in an Inuit leadership role talk about the need for "standardization" of the Inuit Language in a coherent - dare I say, visionary - manner. But there are fields in public discourse, like politics, administration, science (to cover health, climate change, toxic waste and wildlife management) where standard definitions and terms are absolute key to not only mutual understanding and intelligibility but, most importantly, in order for Inuit values to be brought to bear at the international, national, societal and personal levels. These are important fields of public discourse not "indigenous" to Inuit Language per se so they really aren't intrusions to our sense of uniqueness and history of our dialects. In fact, defining and developing useful terminologies in these fields would enhance the Inuit Language (for the whole circumpolar world that is Inuit Nunaat) and open the world up for our descendents.

At the international level (and inter-regional level in Canada), how I envision "standardized" orthography is to develop and recognize a workable and formalized writing system that could be used by the bureaucracy and academic researchers of ICC and other international bodies to address the orthographical differences between, say, Greenlandic orthography and Canada. The double 'll' in Greenlandic is the voiceless lateral fricative (denoted as '&' in Canadian roman orthography) but in Canada the doubling of consonants like 'll' makes the cluster into a voiced stop (unfortunately cannot avoid linguistic terms in these discussions).

This need, again, has no real bearing on our unique and distinct dialectal variations but "standardizing" a common writing system for Inuit Language at the international level would not intrude but enhance our understanding of each other and enrichen our culture.

Standardization is needed where we need to agree upon common terms and definitions to use at the regional, territorial and national levels in a precise enough manner as not to create confusion and misunderstanding amongst Inuit in serious public discourse, such as politics, science, law and eventually Inuktitut litrature that other cultures and languages take for granted to preserve and advance and keep relevant their own languages.

In terms of recent attempts the problem I see with trying to develop Inuit language terminologies is that often there is little or no language specialist to provide technical advice and guidance to ensure grammatical quality and usefulness and avoid "literal translation".

Literal translations, like “in the coming weeks” for eg, are meaningless and do not translate for the simple fact that in English the phrase structure is adjectival but in Inuktitut the “qaijunit pinasuarusinit” consists of a verb and noun phrases. The point here is that we need Inuit language specialists precisely because these subtle technical pitfalls creep in so easily.

thank you,

Jay Arnakak