Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Harsh Environment?

This morning, I was watching TV, and while drinking coffee, I watched the channel that Isuma has in the community. It is a very good channel with mostly Inuktitut as the language and made mostly by Inuit. And I am not sure what the show was about, but there was a statement made by some Inuk, stating that the Arctic is a "harsh environment."

It is accurate to say that most people consider the Arctic to be a harsh environment, but i have to doubt that the original people first said the words "harsh" and "extreme" and "hard." I want to point out, how we take advantage of and how it deteriorates our sense of home and how words can affect how we view who we are and where we come from.

In a introduction by Soffia Gudmundsdottir, Executive Secretary, Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment, Environmental Programme, she states: "Historically, the harsh environment, difficulty of access to resources, and scattered nature of the population patterns has restricted rapid development and communication in the circumpolar Arctic region."

Even Arctic College, on a publication aptly titled, which made me smile, "Guidelines for Working with Inuit Elders", it states: "How to survive in a harsh environment, the study of the land and sea as well as the movements of animals, effects of the environment and the whole system of seasonal activities have to be taught. It should be a high priority now since very few of our knowledgeable elders remain."

And last but not least, from, it states this: "The arctic is one of the harshest environments you can find on the earth. Still, the Inuit and their ancestors have lived here for thousands of years. They built homes and developed perfectly adapted technologies from the limited resources available to feed and clothe themselves."

What these statements reflect is the fact that most people consider the Arctic to be harsh, or is an often used word describing the region.

And while I was watching TV this morning, I was reminded of Malcolm X and what he thought and said, why African Americans have a low self-esteem and what brought that.

He says: "Having complete control over Africa, the colonial powers of Europe had projected the image of Africa negatively... Jungle savages, cannibals, nothing civilized... We didn't want anybody telling us anything about Africa, much less calling us Africans. In hating Africa and in hating the Africans, we ended up hating ourselves...

"We hated our heads, we hated the shape of our nose... we hated the colour of our skin, hated the blood of Africa that was on our veins.

"We didn't have confidence in another black man... We didn't think a black man could do anything except play some horns, but in serious things, where our food, clothing, shelter, and education were concerned, we turned to the man. We never thought in terms of bringing these things into existence for ourselves, because we felt helpless. What made us feel helpless was our hatred for ourselves...

"It made us feel inferior; it made us feel inadequate; made us feel helpless. And when we fell victims to this feeling of inadequacy or inferiority or helplessness, we turned to somebody else to show us the way."

I'm not saying Inuit have a low-self-esteem, but if we do, can it be attributed to how we view not only ourselves but also our homes and our land? Is it due to people and ourselves telling us that we live a harsh life, which in turn, further harshens our lives?

If Malcolm X is true, then what Inuit are going through and been saying has to change our image and attitudes towards out land and lives.

The reason this is so strong of a concern for me is that i get uneasy when we label our environment as harsh. Yes, its colder than most parts, and yes we have a hard time travelling on it, but i would have to contest that it is hard, harsh, and extreme. It is the most beautiful piece of land on Earth, weather we have -50 weather, or that we don't see the sun, in some cases, for three months.

What Malcolm X has to say might be true in out case for our land and how we label ourselves as inhabitants of this land. Do you really want to be housed in a harsh living room? Do you want the people you love to label their land as extreme?

I cannot say if this is true, but in my experience, i have never heard of an older Inuk say that their environment is harsh. they might say it is tough, but harsh in itself, i suspect not. If you listen to an elder pray before a meal, listen to them, and if you understand Inuktitut, listen to the way they frame gratitude, theirs is always a context of animals and land and how they provide.

If we want, as people, to rise up from feeling that we are not doing our own thing in the land we live in, we have to change the way we treat words. Words, as they say, should not be taken lightly. If we are going to have to choose between governments and land claims, i think choosing and saying the right words about ourselves and how we label the land has to change not with the "outside" world, but with Inuit ourselves as well.

I want to know what you think?


Qalasiq said...

Calling our environment "harsh" makes it sound like Inuit never EVER had time to stare into the sunset and see how the land glows against the water, it makes it sound like Inuit never had time to learn the beautiful melodies of throatsinging, it makes it sound like Inuit never took the time to grab their child cheeks and kunik them on the nose.. apparently, Inuit were always struggling to survive and they were always up again severe weather conditions.

Now, I am not saying that Inuit weren't worried about those things, it was a normal occurance. I just wish people out there would understand that Inuit were people too.

They had a sense of humor.

They loved each other.

They Shared with each other.

They played games.

They celebrated!

and that not every second of everyday was a battle to survive against mother nature.

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