Monday, 12 September 2011

Let me clarify some points in my last blog entry...

In my last blog entry questioning whether the admonition for uncritical regard for authority is an IQ principle, I said something to the effect that most Inuit hunters kept their techniques secrets accessible only to family and those who could figure them out. I wasn't referring to the "old wives tale" about elder suicide and self-sacrifice and the like (ie, backwardness and stupidity). Whether this was true or not is really none of my concern here. Moving forward...

I know that the moral and ethical discourse in IQ was quite extensive and sophisticated and was less based upon the taboo system than personal examination of values and ethics (and pragmatic considerations). IQ, being as ancient as those labelled as "ancient wisdom", was based upon ethical/moral questions asked in the Hebrew and Christian bible and other wisdom texts: "Am I my brother's keeper?"; "What are my obligations to political vs religious authority?"; "What is my personal and ethical responsibility?"; etc. Only that IQ didn't write things down.

Many of the Inuit legends explore and concern themselves with questions of ever-changing, fickle "winds of fortune", of hubris, kindness, fairness, etc. - especially in light of personal behaviour/values in light of treatment of those less fortunate than oneself. Like the other wisdom texts of the world, IQ left these questions unanswered and up to personal reflection and self-examination; those that which call upon us to rise to the ocassion and circumstance. It has been suggested that the underlying message and appeal to epiphany was often presented as "worms" or maggots put into the ear of the protagonist/listener (as in some of the long versions of the Kiviuq legend), moral/ethical questions that eat their way into the conscience of the flawed hero, if you will. Personal moral/ethical epiphanies and values cannot be imposed but acquired organically when one is ready to receive.

Now, regarding my references to Fanonian social upheaval and displacement in the colonializing process: I'm not playing the blame game. I do not blame anyone or anything for the human condition in which we find ourselves in moments of thoughtfulness and/or mental anguish. But try and imagine an alien invasion and the state and consequences of being conquered by someone or something more powerful and technologically advanced than oneself and own. Someone or something that appeared completely mysterious and arbitrary and unpredictable to you.

One would find oneself and one's society and value systems in a state of collapse, supplanted by something one couldn't make sense of. And one would understand what Kenn Harper talked about in his column in Nunatsiaq News (May 27, 2011 edition of Nunatsiaq News entitled, The Minds of White Men), where he wrote when Knud Rasmussen asked questions of Inuit impressions of the white man.

One of Rasmussen's informants, Kuvdluitsoq, responded:

"Qablunait nutaqqatut isumaqaritauvaktut: It is generally believed that white men have quite the same minds as small children - therefore one should always give way to them. They are easily angered, and when they cannot get their will they are moody and, like children, have the strangest ideas and fancies."

The social upheaval - which happens at a geologic rate and almost imperceptibly and anonymously - resulted in much second-guessing of one's own value systems to the point where anything and everything touched and influenced by non-Inuit - ie, qallunaat - (including one's children and impetuous, angry, socially destructive youth) was treated with great care and deference lest one offend the gods of small things. Where one may reasonably expect resistence there is only silence and acquiescence and passive agression at great cost to one's sense of integrity, self respect, family and social structures.

Imagine further the education and up-bringing of one's children being hijacked under unspecified and suggested threats from the conquerer. The children have not only been taken away from one's influence but left to... what. In the secular, universalistic, individualistic context, moral/ethical guidance is seen as an evil, at the least backward and undesirable. The children who were sent to residential schools (and even up to today with the education system's reluctance to recognise it's own impacts on society) grew up in an environment much like the one the children in Golding's The Lord of the Flies find themselves.

The cruelty, violence and self-destructive behaviour comes from somewhere. We cannot expect Inuit themselves to climb out from the hell-hole of social destruction and razed foundations by themselves. What role does and/or should the system where Inuit children spend most of their time play? So far I've only seen suicide by Inuit treated as a mental health issue; where are the public and social institutions in the discourse? The recent rash of suicide by NHL hockey players seems to have largely come about from debilitating angst over life after hockey: is that something similar for Inuit youth who commit suicide?

The voice of Inuit (especially Inuit youth) must align itself with institutions that impact our society the same way the self-same institutions need to align themselves with the Inuit voice. Suicide, abuse and violence are personal "choices" (Hobson's choices really) only up to a certain point; these choices are also to a certain point determined externally, by a society which Inuit themselves have not had the opportunity to own and influence. Picking oneself by the boot-straps can only happen through liberal education and conscious awareness and recognition of the lessons offered by a trial by fire. Without this education and acquisition of awareness only resentment, anger and degeneration will result.



  1. Jay, I enjoyed reading your post. I have interesting conversations about this with my mother (I am an anthropologist, she is a linguist), and this gave me a new perspective.

    I also am trying to track down a reference to stories that Kuvdluitsoq told Rasmussen. Do you happen to know where that was published? Many thanks!

    1. Hi Natalia,

      I've been searching for the same Rasmussen journals. I don't think there are any in print. But you may want to check if this link helps:

      thanks for your comments. Always enjoy getting feedback.