The Beginning

So many other things come to mind with our theme for SCANZ of water and peace. I feel like we only touched the surface of these, but maybe you and I are creating something for finding peace between cultures, peace in difference and the same? And it is the water that is between us, that brings us together… but I’m thinking about how this journey can have an affect not only on ourselves but other people as well. Jo

Stacey: Inuit are very curious about Māori culture and politics. I’m not exactly sure where our interest stems from, there are indigenous populations all over the world, but I believe that we in principle hold a very high regard for the Māori people, and after being there I can understand why. We are a world a part, but we seem to be in sync with the reclamation of our culture and languages, and I think we can learn a lot from each other.

Language is very important to me. As a young Inuk who can not speak it, I am especially passionate about it. I grieve for it often. It was not something that was given to me like so many other Inuit in Canada, and so I must make more of an effort to make it a part of my life.

There are several Inuit regions in the Arctic. Canada is a very large country with four main Inuit regions. There are also the Inuit regions in Siberian Russia, Alaska and Kalalliit (Greenland). See the map (it’s one of my favourites, which I found at Inuit Circumpolar Council).

Inuit circumpolar regions
Inuit circumpolar regions

Inuktitut is still one of the strongest aboriginal language groups in Canada and is still used in many homes in our communities, but it has been on a steady decline over the years. Even young people who speak our language are more often saying that they think in English first before Inuktitut. As mentioned earlier, I myself am not fluent, my mother is Inuk and my father Qablunaaq and I’m from a community that is a minority dialect with only approximately 2000 fluent speakers of Inuinnaqtun, with only three communities calling it their mother language.

Jo & Stacey: sharing words in Māori and Inuktitut

person (most often used to describe ourselves now) – Inuk (plural: Inuit)

our language – Inuktitut (we have many dialects, and standardization is being talked about – if standardized, the language would be called Inuktut)

to think – isuma

Inuit tattoo/body designs – tunniit (body tattoos – in general) or kakkiniq (specifically facial tattoos)

water – wai / imiq (to drink)

river – awa / kuuk

mountain – maunga (I will find out!) 🙂

peace – rangimārie, rongomau, (I will find out!) 🙂

earth mother – Papatūānuku

goddess of the sea (she is known by many names – Nuliajuk, Sedna, Arnaqquassaaq, Sussuma Arnaa (mother of the deep).

sky father – Ranginui / sky – qilak

earth – whenua (which also means placenta) / nuna (land) or sila (environment, land, sky, water, weather, knowledge, to know, all encompassing)

sun – rā / siqiniq

Jo: Yes reclaiming. It is still a journey we are on here in Aotearoa and perhaps we are further along that pathway than many indigenous cultures but our language is still not in a good state even though there has been a huge renaissance and revival push.

Stacey: Our stories, our songs, our names, our art, our descriptive words kept our history alive. Helped us remember and honour. Because we are in a state of language loss, a lot of questions of identity and what it means to be an ‘Inuk’ come up today and it can be a very sensitive topic.

Is langauge tied to identity? Can one be Inuk without Inuktitut?

An Inuk person can feel ‘less Inuk’ if they can’t speak their language. But what if they are strong in culture? Language is so important, there are whole ideas and concepts that lie deep within a word. If we lose our language we will also lose these concepts and ways of thinking.

Jo: The art of tā moko (Māori tattoo) is definitely being revived. 10 – 12 years ago there were only a handful of tā moko artists, now you can almost go to every city and receive moko. There is a difference too between tattoo and moko. Moko as we know it has a whakapapa (genealogy) and the design work is created specific for that person.

Stacey: Our TUNNIIT (traditional tattoos) were one of the traditions that became forbidden by missionaries, they were associated with shamanism, paganism, and just everything negative to christianity. They are in fact closely connected to Nuliajuk (one of our most important deities and the one with the most rules and taboos that had to appeased). The women who were already tattooed had to live with what they believed was evil or shameful. So sad. They would never wish that upon their children and so tattooing just died out. Our last Elder with tunniit died in 2010 I believe.

It’s been only the last 10 years that women have started to reclaim this tradition. Indigenous women have so much strength! I am so happy that we are reviving this and making it ours again. I am so proud. I need more!

Traditional Inuit hand & wrist tattoos (photo credit: Alethea Arnaquq-Baril)
Traditional Inuit hand & wrist tattoos from Alaska, Canada & Greenland (photo credit: Alethea Arnaquq-Baril)

Interestingly, tattoos were traditionally mainly for women, but I know of a few Inuit men that are tattooing also now. This is a bit of a controversy, though small. I think this misunderstanding mainly stems from how we lost them for a long time and much knowledge about them is just finally being reclaimed. For example, a man who carries the name of an Elder woman or a great grandmother or an aunt who has passed away, might also want to have her tattoos. Our Men today want to celebrate and honour these women and our culture, just as we do. I think it’s beautiful and nothing we should be discriminating each other for as Inuit.

Tradition is beautiful but sometimes I think it can be restricting especially when used to put others within our own culture and people down. We have to allow room in our new lives to honour the past and our traditional culture, but we also must it give it room to breathe. This allows it to grow or adapt with us and therefore never truly disappearing.

Jo: What other practices would you like to see revived within your culture? And / or is it time for us to evolve our cultures by bringing them forward into a contemporary context or doing away with them all together?

I remember your words about the animals and your people not hunting like you used to because the animals are not there and the way things have worked traditionally are no longer working. Why is this?

Sometimes I feel conflicted between tradition and ‘modern’ life. So much balance is required. Life has changed and so we have to expect (and accept?) that many customs will change. We don’t rely only on the sea and land around us we once did. Now we can go to a grocery store and buy chicken. Does this change the relationship we have with the land? I think it does. Stacey

Jo: This idea of science and art has been something that I’m totally interested in.

I’ve always been curious about nature ever since a child and I believe that our ancestors were very much scientists of observation. They lived with nature and so the things that they lived are what scientists have learnt. We just documented them differently – through our songs, art and language. That is how our science lives and breathes.

And I remember you saying also that you have an oral tradition just like us – lets explore this!

And lets look at ways that we can bring the science of our language / cultures forward. It was something that I explored with our language last year. I took the word for tree as an example – tree = rākau

rā – sun, photosynthesis, light

aka – vine, roots

au – I, me

u – breast, chest, ki uta – to shore

akau – shore, coast, rocky shore

kau – to swim, alone

So our language already contains science, its all embedded right there, with the environment, the environment is very much our language. Is your language the same?

Inuk and science can almost – on the surface – be seen as contradictory. Today we are often at the opposite end of scientists. I think there has been some bad history there and so it’s something which requires some healing. INUIT QAUJIMAJATUQANGITtraditional knowledge or more accurately – what we have always known. Its such a sacred concept, but it has almost become a loose word. A word politicians, governments and scientists love to use. Stacey

Side note:

Qaujima – a root word “to know”

“Jo Tito qaujimaviu?” – Do you know Jo Tito?

“ii! Jo qaujimavunga!” – Yes! I know Jo!

We have our own constellations and understanding of the stars and galaxy, we lived in the night! We traveled by the stars more than we did by the sun. We also have a deep understanding of the snow and ice. We know migration paths and patterns for the animals we live with and so much more.

We think of all this simply as life and things we MUST know and should try to continue to pass on if we are to live on this land – but it is science. Even I myself am just making this connection. Of course it’s science! I just never really thought of it that way. I love the way you said it Jo, “this is how science lives and breathes”.

Jo: I think this collaboration will bring about a whole lot of new art, words, stories, songs, yes songs, we shall sing, sing, sing! …And yes that Inuk sniff – actually quite cool! I did that to my partner and it was totally wrong and Vicki goes that’s not it, they actually sniff you haha! I was trying to kiss and sniff at the same time which = lots of noise and not very pleasant lol

Jo: What is Quana?

Stacey: Quana, is Inuinnaqtun dialect for, thank you 🙂

Jo: Where did your love of painting stones come from? What has been some of the inspiration behind your work?

Stacey: My inspiration has come from a few places. My mum has always been a big rock collector. She would tell us as kids to pick her rocks instead of flowers. She still has many of her favourite rocks on shelves in her house that I or my sisters picked her as children. This love for stones and collecting rocks was definitely passed down to me from my mum.

When I think of rocks, I think of my mother. Of being on the land, living on the land. Every where I walk, no matter if I’m in the Arctic or in Toronto (but I never see stones there – only pavement!) to New Zealand, I notice and pick rocks. I have rocks from New Zealand here at home in Nunavut with me now!

I started painting on them mostly because I ran out of things to paint on! We don’t have art stores in Nunavut, and one day I ran out of canvas and had no good paper to paint on. But I needed to paint! So I painted my first stone. I loved it. I have so many stones in my house just from collecting them. They are everywhere. Random rocks in my house, on bookshelves, dressers, in my purse, on my steps etc. After that, I also began collecting plywood to paint on, again because I have no canvas. But I love it! I love going outside and finding things I can use from the land in making art. And it all started because I ran out of canvas and because I love going for walks.

My 7 year old daughter and I painted these stones I collected in New Zealand


Stace 🙂


Jo x

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *