Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Inuit Nunaat amma Isumaat from Fraggle Rock perspective

Do you remember Jim Henson's Fraggle Rock? The "muppet" TV show centered around Gobo Fraggle and his uncle, "Traveling" Matt, who is exploring "outer space" - or, the human world. I used to love the show. It was, as this Wikipedia entry says:

"While the program was accessible to audiences of all ages, it used the fantasy creatures as an allegory to deal with serious issues such as prejudice, spirituality, personal identity, environment, and social conflict."

I'd say in the best tradition of "Western" theatre, the best of liberal arts pedagogy. There was an innocent quality of "Traveling" Matt and his observations on the human world (the world of the "silly creatures") which served the purpose of irony and the "wise fool" - ie, insight of the accidental kind.

This "Traveling" Matt is somewhat a familiar character in Inuit Nunaat amma Isumaat (Inuit world and mind) but without the sense of irony nor even a willingness to admit ignorance in the often wrong-headed observations and prejudiced contempt for the strangers in strange land. I'm not talking about the smallness we human beings are so naturally capable of, but that something about us that is ignorantly at-odds with reality and stays there, it seems, permanently. Even Knud Rasmussen, the great Inuit explorer, was not immune to this "Traveling Matt syndrome" (in talking about the spirituality of Inuit men who spend most of their time in endless, featureless ice):

"This it is which always gives their accounts that delightful originality which is the peculiar property of those whose theories are based on experience of life itself. Their naturalness makes them philosophers and poets unawares, and their simple... orthodoxy gives their presentment of a subject the childlike charm which makes even the mystic element seem credible." (quoted from Kenn Harper's column, Taissumani, in Nunatsiaq News, 2011-11-03)

This "childlike charm" of Inuit is a leitmotif - along with "drunk indian" - in the history written in books where the subject is largely silenced and made ignorant of how it's presented. For instance, whether the Eskimo dog slaughter issue of our recent times happened (or not happened) the way official documents are/were written is made more real than the need for serious reflection on human short-comings that come into play in the exercise of pride and prejudice. The Inuit side is "pure crap" to quote a long-time "northerner"; or as one RCMP officer said: "not fair to have on his record".

This unbreakable resistence to self-examination is what keeps us from seeing ourselves and the silent other for what we both really are: humans being. Whether "childlike" or "drunk", the other is and was never asked what they thought and why they thought so. History, which they say, is written by the "conqueror", though no war ever happened in the Arctic and the "conquerors" tended to perish in the Arctic environment without the help of Inuit themselves. Flags and ceremonies were made much of to ritualize the "conquest" and to document it in far-off courts. Had the Inuit, the original occupants of the Arctic, known of this, it would seem not only silly but utterly insane.

Going by the recent Qikiqtani Truth & Reconciliation Commission on the dog slaughter issue, and the Nunavut experiment in general, this insanity of pride and prejudice still afflicts the Christian West, and it seems not even ready to fill in the shoes of civility and enlightenment it so professes most loudly. It seems content and intent on playing the "Traveling Matt" role while the subjects of its study see it for what it really is: idiotic, powerful and a dangerous threat to the survival of our planet (Traveling Matt's "outer space").

I saw recently in the Discovery Channel an examination of what would likely happen if an alien race invaded Earth. There was a long and detailed segment looking at "guerilla warfare" tactics to spurn and resist the "aliens" using our recent history in the West's military excursions into the Muslim world. The presentation had no hint of irony in its unconscious projection of guilt, shame and displacement (a Wikipedia entry says of "displacement": "Displacement operates in the mind unconsciously and involves emotions, ideas, or wishes being transferred from their original object to a more acceptable substitute. It is most often used to allay anxiety; and can to the displacement of aggressive impulses or to the displacement of sexual impulses.").

If I sound unduly harsh, it is only because I admire and love much of what the West can and should be, and because I want to be treated as a human being, not a caricature of other peoples' making.


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