Saturday, 5 November 2011

IQ from the perspective of Timikkut, Tarnikkut Anersaakkullu

My aippakuluk (ma femme) recently bought me a book called, Inherit my heaven: kalaallit gender relations, by Karla Jessen Williamson an Inuit (Kalaaleq) scholar par excellence. The "timikkut, tarnikkut anersaakkullu" part of this entry's title is taken from her book. This book is a must-read for anyone who's interested in Inuit Knowledge and circumpolar issues, and one I highly recommend.

I first met Karla when she worked at Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami in Ottawa. And I've always enjoyed our rather rare exchanges and conversations. I'm somewhat of a recluse but when she asked me to call her I did. I'm glad to have called her because she made me and Danielle aware of her book, which D bought for me the last one on the Arctic Ventures book section.

Much of what she says in the introductory section about the recently history of Greenland is familiar and applicable also to the Canadian Arctic, from the relocation to centralized "settlements" right down to the ubiquitous qallunaat bureaucrats who yet hold all the important positions of legislative and regulatory power (ie, power that matters).

Her experience of the resettlement policies, for example, differ only in place:

"I was born in a small settlement called Appamiut, north of Maniitsoq, in 1954. In Danish these places are called udsted - 'out-place' - in Canada such a settlement might be decribed as an 'outpost camp'. During the 1950s and 1960s Greenland underwent enormous economic, cultural, and social changes. As colonial status was officially curtailed, Danes and the local Greenlandic politicians agreed to a concentration policy (koncentrations-politik[...]). The plan entailed the closure of essential services (schools, churches, trading and transportation services) in those 'outpost camp villages'. Many of the families were forced to contemplate moving. Enticed by promises of new, modern houses and better economic chances, my parents decided to move to Maniitsoq, and the rest of my paternal family joined us later.

The move may have been convenient for economic and administrative purposes, but socially and culturally such moves had terrible effects; socio-cultural disintegration in various forms created a number of abusive behaviours."

These effects still resonate throughout our respective societies as every generation of bureaucrats come up to the Arctic to inflict themselves upon us "poor Inuit" running the whole gamut of good intentions of the missionary zeal persuasion, dangerous indifference, and unvoiced assumptions/prejudices informed by preceding ones.

The only way to address this long-standing problem, I believe most strongly, is to try and engage the gentiles with reason and dialogue, to build up some semblance of inter-cultural understanding (if not empathy). Though my hot-headedness in Nunavut policy discourse would seem to suggest otherwise, this is rather more indicative of my personal frustrations with the intransigent autism of all forms of bureaucrats. My blog icon is not there by accident at any rate (taken from a Pink Floyd album, the division bell).

But having seen the cold-trukey decolonialization of some African countries and the internecine ideological strife in some Latin American countries, I highly doubt that anyone really wants a repeat of those types of ugliness here as well. And this is the major reason why I've tried to educate myself and those who'd listen of our humanity and everything that this humanity entails.

Anyhoo, going back to the Jessen Williamson model of Timikkut, Tarnikkut Anersaakkullu that I find so insighful and familiar as an Inuk, I'd like to say that I think this is one of the important books to have been written on Inuit by our own, not only because it's a sociological study/analysis of the first order, but also because it offers profound insights as to why there has been this disconnect between Western rationalism and indigenous knowledges.

Breaking down the Timikkut, Tarnikkut Anersaakkullu: timikkut means 'through or by way of the physical body' (or the empirical); tarnikkut means 'through or by way of the spiritual' (or the umwelten); and, anersaakkut means 'through or by way of life essence' (or the psychological/physiological). These are all aspects of being in which Inuit knowledge is encapsulated, and where wisdom or phronesis intersects with knowledge or sophia a la pre-the age of scientistic materialism.

Jessen Williamson writes a very cogent and beautiful passage about her enlightenment process in realizing her Western-trained mind impinging upon her understanding and actual hearing one of her informants' discourse, which came out as jibberish to her at first.

The phrase, Timikkut, Tarnikkut Anersaakkullu is part of an ancient Inuit maxim to encourage understanding and reconciliation in being confronted with something perplexing (sort of like a rough-and-ready Hegelian dialectic for Inuit children - so as to not act rashly and out of fear and prejudice): Timikkut, tarnikkut anersaakkullu silattorsarit, which means: "try and attain wisdom/understanding through your body, soul and life essence".

Much of the Western scientific/economic discourse has an incompleteness about it (and I don't mean Godelian 'incompleteness') in that it has arrested itself in the Timikkut aspect of being, having been frightfully horrified by existential/phenomenological philosophy in extremis without really thinking about the consequences of its crippling fright.

This is where Western scientific/policy discourse and such a thing as Inuit Qaujimaningit must initiate mutually respectful dialogue and where each can productively inform and learn from the other in a Hegelian dialectic and pragmaticist exploration, to try and transcend all these self-imposed obstacles to understanding (of what it is to be human).


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