Friday, January 15, 2010

Year of the Inuit

This is my year!

If you are an Inuk, and living in Canada, this is your year. According to Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.

January 14, 2009 was the start of the year of the Inuit, which ITK has initiated, to raise awareness of Inuit issues to Canadians. On November 24, 2009, ITK president Mary Simon, announced the intention, before the start of the Olympic games in Vancouver. She stated, "While we are pleased that the Inuksuk, an Inuit symbol, is being used at the upcoming Olympics, we also have to ensure that our country sees us in more than just symbolic terms. The North wants in.”

We want in. Inuit want in. Or is it ITK that wants in?

I believe this is great idea, and how many times in our lifetimes as Inuit, can we ever have a whole year dedicated to our issues and ambitions?

So this is where i start telling my night for the event. I just had to explain a little about the event and what it was for. But this is my story as much as it is Inuit organization's stories.

I consider myself rather lucky, but i think ITK is rather lucky as well for me to attend the event. I first heard about the event and laughed about it and made fun of myself by saying that we going to have bannock making classes, no taxes for a year, proper implementations of Inuit land claims and that we are holding Inuktitut dances every month for twelve months. I had fun with the idea.

Then an idea came around when me and a buddy were eating, and we talked about creating a blog, for me to start writing on a weekly basis. We thought it was a great idea and i thought about it for week and decided that a great way to start this blog would be to write about the year of the Inuit event, where Inuit politicians are to be found, and it would be a great story. so I contacted the director if communications of ITK and asked him for the events and if it's possible to attend the event without me having to pay $200. i told him i am starting this blog. the next day i received an email from him saying that I'll be going as a freelance journalist, for free! How excited i was! did you get that? for free!!!

maybe i was wrong. maybe its not such a great story. who knows, you decide.

I walked over with Murray Angus to the event, which was held at the National Art Gallery. Just before the night started, people were encouraged to go see the Cape Dorset 50 year anniversary of their art production. I didn't go see the arts. I've seen enough Inuit art through my 27 year of living on this blue planet. So Murray and I were one of the first to enter the room where the celebrations were to happen. But just before we entered the room, we saw the president of Nunavut Tunngavik, and the first remark he made to us was: "you don't even look happy" we laughed with him. And i wondered if he really was that happy too?

the room we entered looked like the Star Trek Enterprise space ship, with strange blue lights all over, flat screen TV's showing images of Inuit in the Arctic, and an ice carved with the numbers 2010, slowly dripping and melting in the room. The servers were going around the room with trays of "exotic" Inuit foods, such as: caribou meatballs with LingonBerry sauce, (is that even a food Inuit have heard of LingonBerry?), smoked char on baguette croutades with dried blueberry butter, (what are croutades, another form of bannock?) dried caribou jerky which the server pronounced in Inuktitut, nikku, dried arctic char which she called pitsi, also correctly, Baffin shrimp bisque, pan seared scallops, served with porcini mushroom relish and celeriac salad, birch syrup glazed arctic char with confit potatoes and braised greens, agnolotti pasta with muskox tomato sauce and get this: natsik shepherds pie with sweet corn and mashed potatoes topped with herbed goat cheese butter. Because the potato, tomato and herbed goat cheese are such Inuit delicacies. for dessert we had akpik berries and minnie blueberry cakes and cranberry tarts. thats how it was, the food. and throughout the night, inuit musicians were played through the speakers, from throat singing to Charlie Adams.

Then the night started. Mary Simon went up to the podium and started the process. you know the usual political speeches, thanking people and whatnot and she announced the money raised will be put towards the Arctic Children and Youth Foundation and also who will be performing.

first to perform were the Ottawa Inuit children's centre preschool choir, which i thought was the best performance, as they sang in Inuktitut, while all the others didn't even do anything in Inuktitut. what a night for the start of the year of the inuit. a bunch of dignitaries were there, ranging from regional presidents to Peter Mansbridge and the wife of the prime minister, whose name i can't remember. Peter Mansbridge received the award for excellence in arctic journalism. and i did get to shake his hand. he didn't even look at me, just shook my hand, as there was a more important white dude talking to him. Taqralik Partridge performed as well accompanied by a violinist. Susan Aglukark sang a song, but i didn't bother listening and went for a smoke, with a white wine on my right hand and a cigarette on my left.

that was one of the best things about this event, the free wine. an eskimo is likely to be happy when anything is free. and the wine was free. i saw inuit holding beer and wine in there hands, mingling with the nations capital's politicians and people who are interested in inuit issues, mostly white haired retired individuals who need any excuse to mingle with the prorogued politicians. we talked and talked.

many people i know and have worked with were at the event, with the usual questions of: what do you think of the event? do you like the food? what do you do now? where are you working? what was your favourite performance? and so on...

so i drank more white wine... five glasses later, i was starting to feel my blood heating up, intoxication creeping in to my blood stream, no double vision yet, but i got the feeling there were people who were feeling like i do. people were laughing now, mingling, asking questions, giving out business cards and so on...

at the end of the event, Mary Simon announced that Inuit organizations were contributing $100,000 towards the Haiti Relief, with First Air flying a couple planes down to Haiti. I commend them for it. By this time, people were leaving and announcing where they were going after the show. Many of us went for a drink. At one point, i was sitting with the minister of health, premier of nunavut, president of NTI, and many Inuit who work in Inuit organizations. We drank beer. We got intoxicated, but we were not the typical Eskimos of the north, we were the southern Inuit who try to act like Inuit, who without realizing are much more different than the people we represent.

If i were the president of this organization, i would have done things so differently. I would let the audience (who were mostly white) know the realities of life in the north. It wouldn't be a formal event and it'd be held at a local inuit residence, with the same housing conditions of the north. I'd have obituaries of suicides from inuit communities throughout the walls, bannock would be served with jam and peanut butter, raw and cooked seal meat, all done the way Inuit would have done it, on the floor or just plain boiled. Farley Mowat would be in one room reading one of his books. Instead of Peter Mansbridge, I would have picked an Inuit former journalist. Forget poetry and throat singing, get one of those Nunavik rappers and a rock band from Igloolik and computers throughout the room with the connection speed of Inuit communities internet. I'd get the children who sang to read out articles and policies that the federal government hasn't implemented yet from our land claims and just like a inuit community christmas games, we'd stay up until 4 in the morning, dancing and playing games. Now that's how most Inuit start there year!


Eric said...

dont forget bingo, pull tabs and a free punch bowl of tang, honey buckets and canned milk. But Farley Mowat? Yuck!!
Forget weekly, this is the YEAR of the Inuit, therefore you need to have a DAILY blog.

Terry said...

well done...i almost felt like i was there :)

Robin said...

Good summary Tommy. I'm sure all of the Inuks back home were so excited about the Lingonberry sauce.

More accurately, this is the year of some Inuit.

Kuniks and Kakivaks said...

i didn't take any pictures of the event. but someone at Macleans did.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of Inuit housing conditions, I saw the inside of this one guy who posts videos on youtube, and his house doesn't have carpeting, only tiles. I kind of felt bad for him (and his family).

(p.s. His videos are really good). Look up alooqo.

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