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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Reader's Diary #1637- John Bennett and Susan Rowley (editors): Uqalurait

Uqalurait: An Oral History of Nunavut, does an admirable job of collecting and communicating the history of Nunavut through the voices of elders, the keepers of a collective memory, detailing life either before contact with Europeans or day-to-day life where and when white Canadians were largely irrelevant.

Of course, transcribed oral stories and recollections cannot completely capture  hearing these voices in person. We miss the gestures and inflections, for instance, that can add so much. It is one-way, whereas sometimes (not always) when a person is speaking we would be able to ask questions for clarification, or even to help steer the direction.

Nonetheless, it felt pretty darn close to being there and I found myself missing hearing stories from my grandparents. Because they were in my thoughts, perhaps, I also found myself comparing and contrasting these memories with the lives lived by my ancestors (white Newfoundlanders). I also spent a lot of time considering how the Uqalurait memories would be interpreted and accepted by younger Inuit living in Nunavut today. They would have so much more context to work with than I.

I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the culture and though there were many collective generalities, I also appreciated when individual personalities shone through. It really stood out to me, as an important reminder, when some of the voices disagreed (for instance, about which traditions and practices they are sad to have lost). Elizabeth Nutaraaluk's modern feminist comment "We women were treated as aaliit [outcasts] even though we were ordinary people just like anyone else" was particularly awesome. Less poignant, but still endearing, was the way Adam Qavviaktoq always declared that he was done talking. "I'll stop here for now."

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