Sanaaq and my thoughts on the TRC

ImageI just recently read Sanaaq. If I were to transliterate this into Baybayin, that is, my first language’s way of writing syllabics, this is what it would look like. Sanaaq is an Inuit novel by Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk. From the flyleaf, “Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk (1931-2007) was an educator and author based in the northern Quebec territory of Nunavik. Dedicated to preserving Inuit culture, Nappaluk authored over twenty books, including Sanaaq, the first novel written in Inuttitut syllabics…” The novel was transliterated from Inuktikut to French by Bernard Saladin d’Anglure and translated from French by Peter Frost.

I am grateful to have been able to get a copy to read from the Toronto Public Library. The book, published by University of Manitoba Press, contain interesting information, including a foreword and a glossary. The  “Historical and Cultural Context” in the foreword cites  many historical references covered by the novel as in the arrival of the fist whites by boat and establishment of the traders, visit of the Anglican and Catholic missionaries, first evacuation by air to a hospital in the South, first visit by a Northern Affairs agent, payment of family allowances and old age pensions. Events that happened before she was born, as in the establishment of Révillon Frères at Kangirsujuaq in 1910 followed by the Hudson’s Bay Company post four years later, as what she heard from her elders, condensed into a shorter time frame.

I was greatly interested by the following recipe for bannock and thought about issues of food security, the introduction of new foods, how the incorporation of new foods to their diets affected their lifestyle and also affected the very food that they now own.

“Arnatuinnaq was getting ready to make bannock. ‘Flour!’ she called out. ‘And also baking powder’ After adding baking powder, she scooped out a hole in the middle of the flour and spat oil into it, The cold, however, had congealed the oil, making it painful to sink her teeth into. Even her mouth felt the freezing pain. ‘Aatataa!‘ she shrieked, ‘My mouth has been burned by the cold!’

After spitting the oil, she went for salt water on the foreshore… Arnatuinnaq was hard at work making dough. She used an ulu to cut a piece of blubber from the aki. She crushed it with her teeth and spat the oil out… When Arnatuinnaq had finished spitting oil, she poured a little salt water into the flour and kneaded her dough… she kneaded the dough and made it consistent. She then adjusted the flame of the oil lamp with a tarquti cut from a dwarf willow branch. She started to bake the bannock for their moving out meal. She turned it over and flattened it several times.” (pp. 49-50).

There are many other wonderful passages and incidents about life, death, violence, love, sex, marriage, community life, mental health, in the novel but was struck with the simplicity of the following exchange as to how one chooses which church to follow:

“With the coming of summer, the ajuqirtuiji and his assistants arrived and attended to the Inuit. He questioned Qalingu and Sanaaq.

‘But this baby, who is her father?’

‘Her father is a Qallunaaq!’ answered Qalingu.

‘Her baptism has no value,’ said the minister ‘for she is the fruit of sin. Her mother and you are truly lacking in common sense!’

‘You are right,’ replied Qalingu. ‘If we’re not acceptable to you, it doesn’t matter. We can’t always act perfectly. We must be humble, but this little baby will be baptized by the Catholic missionary!’

‘How is that possible when neither you nor the baby’s mother are Catholics? I’m the one who will baptize her!’

‘No! I love this baby too much. You’ve just said that she’s not worthy of baptism, so we want her baptized by the Catholic missionary, whom we’ll now follow. You may have worthy disciples, who’ll always do good. But we aren’t worthy of you, so we’ll be confessing at the Catholic mission.'” (page 192)

As The Truth and Reconciliation Commission wraps up its final national event in Edmonton later today, we are struck not only by the stories but also of the Quallunaat’s way of looking at the clock and hurrying up the last few persons who were still about to tell their stories.

Time to forgive and move forward. On to the next agenda. The work is to bring others “on board.” Time is running. Hurry up. In the meantime, we sit in awe of discontinued funding for healing centres.

If a gathering were to be truly restorative, it must not only serve to address its stated purpose, that is to hear the stories, but this must also be an occasion for each person to decide to become engaged as an owner because the future is not a problem to be solved.

In the exchange, to the extent that every person came to tell their story by choice, were they heard? Were people happy to eat Sanaaq’s bannock? Were those denied agency in the past able to articulate possibilities for the future? In our future together? How were people able to give dissent? What gifts have we received from each other?

In this, I render Sanaaq in the syllabics that was attacked in the 15th century when the Quallunaat were not yet literate and their women were not yet persons, and in the vocabulary I was prevented to speak in a school I attended as a child.

About macconlon

Artist, activist, community organizer now working as a Community Minister for the Davenport Perth Community Ministry of the Shining Waters Region of the United Church of Canada.
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