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Lion's Roar : Arctic Writing


Elisapee Ootoovok Speech

Invention of Quallanology

Have you ever been a Quallanut?

Training for Who?

Have you ever been a Quallanut?

Ed Picco Revealed as a Closet Qallunaaq!! Two weeks ago, an issue that has festered under Nunavut's skin for months finally burst out into the open: a minister in the Nunavut government was actually accused of "thinking in a Qallunaat way." The Minister in question? --Edward Picco. Accused of harbouring secret Qallunaat tendencies. Is this just the tip of the iceberg? "Who else among us 'thinks like a Qallunaaq'? Have you now or have you ever been a Qaalunaaq? Will you name any other Qallunaat in hiding in Nunavut?" Well let me state first off, for the record, that I am a Qallunaaq. I was born a Qallunaaq, raised a Qallunaaq, and--hold on a sec, just let me check.... Yup, still a Qallunaaq. Secondly, let me say that I do not think that there's any particular shame in being a Qallunaaq, but then again--once you study our history--there's no particular pride in it either. Thirdly, although philosophers debate over the origin of the word "Qallunaaq(t)"--and the word does have a racial aspect to it--it's not in the "sharp-edged or racist sense" according to Zebedee Nungak. As Mr. Nungak explains, "Qallunaaq" is a "universal term even among different dialect groups of Inuit". I have noticed, however, that the word "Qallunaaq" is applied to people regardless of skin colour. One of my friends in Iqaluit is a generous Chinese-Canadian businessman; he takes offense when Inuit refer to him as "Qallunaaq"---"Look at my face!" he says--but I think Inuit apply that label because of some of his beliefs and behaviour, not because of his skin colour. "Qallunaaq" isn't necessarily an insult; but it isn't necessarily a compliment either. Qallunaat seems to refer to people who think and act a certain way; we seem to get labelled this way as more of a behavioural classification rather than a biological, racial, or geographical classification. Qallunaat might be summed up by our four (somewhat wierd) central beliefs: 1) our belief that one species can own bits of the earth's surface;2) our belief that currency, paper money, can represent how much we value a certain person, thing, or activity; 3) our belief that renting or leasing human beings to each other is a noble thing to do (called "wage labour" --owning humans outright is taboo); 4) and our belief in large fictitious bodies called "corporations". Now, this is new: no other civilization on earth ever before has combined all these ideas at once--not Egyptian, Japanese, Inuit, or Mi'kmaq civilizations. We are the first to try this. A civilization born in Europe, but whose followers have Qallunized much of the globe. So what are we to call ourselves? Given that our peculiar form of civilization emerged between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries in Europe, we might call ourselves White, Western, European, or maybe Euro-Canadian, but this refers to the ancestry and birthplace of these beliefs, not the skin colour of its current followers nor its geographical limits. So maybe Qallunaaq is a better label to use than "White", or "European"? And maybe the outlook from Nunavut gives a better perspective on things than the view from Toronto. Not everyone in Nunavut has succumbed to the ideas of Qallunaat culture. Here in Nunavut, land is mostly unfenced and uncontained, more open than any other place in Canada. Here, in Nunavut, I've met hunters and elders who are valued and respected by their community even though they are not paid paper money to do a j-o-b. Here, in Nunavut, an elder like Elisapee Ootoovak can speak on behalf of all the other species that need and use the land and sea--not just humans. Here in Nunavut, over time, people lose some of their labels and become more Nunavummiut. But that doesn't mean that there aren't differences between people in Nunavut. Most people here belong to one of two groups: those that live here because this is HOME, and those that live here because it is a place to make money. If the money stopped flowing from Ottawa, those that stayed here anyway would be the ones who call this place home; as for those who would leave....? Well, let's just admit it, most of those who would leave would be Qaalunaat. Apply the Grandparent Test: who will be a grandparent in Nunavut; who are the people who want to see their grandchildren grow up in this land? They are Nunavummiut. All the rest (are we brave enough to say it?) are here primarily for the money and so are probably rightly called Qallunaat. Now, as for Mr. Picco, I barely know him. I know that he isn't an Inuk, but he speaks Inuktitut and he has an extended family in Nunavut. When he speaks, he talks fast and interrupts like a lot of Qallunaat do, but if I apply the Grandparent test, then Ed is one of the Nunavummiut. As for the rest of us, I think maybe we could form a Qallunaat support group or something. Maybe we could apply to the Department of Health and get some funding for it. Who's the minister of that department again? Oh ya, Ed Picco.

by Derek Rasmussen


This commentary is inspired by Zebedee Nungak's study of "Qallunology"--a term he invented to denote the study of Qallunaat. My thanks to Mr. Nunagak for correcting some of the errors in this column. The four wierd beliefs of Euro-Americans cited in this column were first articulated by Karl Polanyi 50 years ago in his book The Great Transformation.
Have you ever been a Qallunaq?
(Nov. 19, 1999--Iqaluit)