Looking Back
The Early Years
The Road to Nunavut
What Price Nunavut?
The Next Generation
Inuit and The Land As One
Living with Change
Our Language, Our Selves
Inuit Art: The New Reality
Hunters and High Finance
The Subsistence Economy
A Public Government
The First MLAs
The World Looks North
What's In A Name?

Map of Nunavut

Inuktitut - Nunavut 99

 

"I hope Nunavut, and the Inuit, in some way formally recognize the work of their negotiators . . . these people made tremendous personal sacrifices over the years to participate in negotiations."
— Barry Dewar, a senior federal negotiator on the land claim


WHAT'S
IN A
NAME?

Names, as well
as events, mark
the road to Nunavut


By Ann Meekitjuk Hanson

he technical translation of nunavut is simply "our land." The emotional, spiritual, deeper meaning of nunavut or nunavun is "our homeland." The unspoken meaning stresses "home." To some Inuit, with deeper knowledge of the language, when nunavut is spoken, the silent understanding means "we share in this together, unconditionally," and there is an intense gratitude.

We have gone through a lot in a short time. Among those who have left their mark on us are whalers, Christian ministers, traders, police, teachers, scientists, and southern politicians. Some of these people had good intentions, and our ancestors welcomed them because tradition and belief ruled them with good manners, kindness, and curiosity. Inuit today inherited both the good and bad effects of these influences.

I grew up knowing myself as an Inuk — simply translated, a human, breathing being. Later, I learned I was called an Eskimo . I never identified the word Eskimo as an insult. In fact, when I was travelling outside of Nunavut I would voluntarily and proudly offer the information, "I am an Eskimo." Today, I am back to Inuk.

Traditionally, it was up to elders to name babies after relatives or favorite people, and many given names had long been used — names like Aniqmiuq, Annogakuluuk, Annogaq, Arnaquq, Kimalu, Aitii, Maatu, Quvianatukuluk, Makivik, Yutai, Aiuula, Suu, Yugayugausiq, Arnaguatsaaq, Angusimaajuq, Qiilabaq, Nuiijaut, Ikilluaq, and thousands more. When the missionaries came, some could not pronounce these ancient names properly. They gave our people names from the Bible — Joanasie, from John, Jamiesie (James), Olutie (Ruth), Miali (Mary), Salamonie (Solomon), Noah, Jonah, Ipeelie (Abel), Ilisapie (Elizabeth), and so on. Among ourselves, we always used our ancient names. So when I was baptized, I became Annie, but to my parents and elders, I was Lutaaq, Pilitaq, Palluq, or Inusiq.

To the Canadian government, however, I was Annie E7-121! In the early 1940s, Inuit had to be counted and identified for government records so that our parents or guardians could receive family allowance. E stood for east and W stood for west. We were given a small disc looped on a sturdy string, brown with black lettering. I only learned about last names when I went to school in Toronto in the early 1960s. My foster parents let me use their family name, so in Toronto I went by Annie Cotterill — E7-121 was not a very attractive name for a young girl! And when I came back home, I certainly did not want to be Miss E7-121 as a secretary in a government office, so I took my father's first name, Meekitjuk, as a surname.

I was not alone in disliking the number system. By the late 1960s, Simonie Michael, our first elected Inuk member of the Northwest Territories legislative assembly, stated that he no longer wanted to be known by his E7- number. Thus, Project Surname was created. Abe Okpik, a respected Inuk from the western Arctic, headed the project. Between 1968 and 1970, Abe visited every Inuit home and asked the families to choose a name. The head of the family picked a surname — often a relative's given name — and we were no longer known by numbers.

Place names, just like our own traditional names, are indigenous and meaningful. Kimmirut, or "heel," for the shape of a rock outcropping there, the community I am from, has always been Kimmirut. Until just a short time ago, however, it usually appeared as Lake Harbour on maps. Initiatives like the South Baffin Place Names Project are slowly returning Nunavut's communities to their names of old: Frobisher Bay officially became Iqaluit ("school of fish") in 1987, and in November 1998, Broughton Island became Qikiqtarjuaq ("big island").

But most importantly, there is the word nunavut. Now the same word, meaning our homeland, is being capitalized as Nunavut, to become a place name, a new inuksuk (directional beacon) for the world to see, and for us to share and to pass on to our children. What joy!


Ann Meekitjuk Hanson is a freelance writer living in Iqaluit.

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