Breaking Ourselves Down to Build Ourselves Back Up

Posted by on Feb 4, 2013 in Opinion


Growing up in the south it has taken me a long time to realize while graduating through various educational institutions, I was never really learning the way I was “suppose to,” but rather I was still learning from an Inuit understanding of education.

One of the main techniques of Inuit learning I’m quite pleased to say, is mimicry. We mimic the souls around us, to learn their rhythms, their motions, as means to resonate with them and better understand them.

This is a non-assimilative way of learning, as we do not break new things apart into our existing understanding of the world and categorize them, but we recognize the sovereignty of the souls we are trying to learn about. In doing so, resonance through mimicry allows us to integrate their understanding of the world into ourselves. Needless to say, I have always approached my institutions of education by trying to mimic them—I just never realized that others weren’t doing the same.

Although critics are quick to say that Idle No More is waning, I disagree. I would say that as Peoples we have reached a trail, a path, which many of us have not yet traversed well enough: decolonization. We are slowing, in order to break ourselves down and build ourselves back up. With our attention more on this there is less time for activities similar to everything that’s happened in the first months since December.  And because the media won’t be interested in broadcasting stories of the internal changes of peoples, this process we are in will be viewed as a waning movement by some.

As we begin this process of decolonizing ourselves, our initial areas of focus have been reclaiming our languages, our rituals, our political structures, and the traditional uses of our lands. This is rightly so, for it is these things we need strength in first. How we as sovereign nations will structure ourselves within the Canadian state and International contexts will hopefully come later.

Inuksuk Art Installation Daniel Nikpayuk

Art Installation
Daniel Nikpayuk

I have also been trying to understand Idle No More and the use of technology and social media in the context of decolonization. And like in all things in life, I approach my understanding of ‘technology’ as an individual Inuk from an Inuit worldview. Two old sayings from my people keep coming back to me:

 “The great peril of our existence lies in the fact that our diet consists entirely of souls.”

 “The world is always changing, so long as we change together, we stay together.”

I reflect upon these sayings; I reflect upon all of my research on my own people; I reflect upon how my own parent Inuuk (Inuuk means two people) raised me, and my understanding is that the cosmos consists entirely of souls and relationships between souls; these relationships are always changing; these relationships themselves are souls.

Living among Southerners, I have observed that many of those who come from an agrarian cultural background tend to privilege the idea of “type” in their worldview. I suppose this makes sense, where on a farm or in a city one often stays on the same plot of land with the same animals and the same structures and the same “types” of things throughout long intervals of their lives. There is certain stability about it.

In the Arctic however there are many structures of water—in many shapes sizes and forms at many different temperatures—possessing the capacity to change rapidly to “types” you’ve never seen before, and by the time you’ve provided a name for that type it has by then changed again. Inuit do not privilege “types” of things, there’s not much point, rather we privilege Isuma, which is based on Iq (Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit), and Sila. We privilege relationships between things, we privilege “process.” For us, it is these, and these ways of thinking that do not change much over time and are worth giving new names to.

To emphasize this point in a slightly different way: an Inuk is thought to have three souls: Anirniq (breath), Tarniq (shadow), Atiq (name). An Inuk has three types of souls, and yet each of these souls is made up of souls, always changing. So it’s not to say we don’t use systems of typology, but rather we view them as conveniences more than truth.

The Story of the Shit Knife


If we were a people who privileged static typologies over dynamic processes we would never be able to perceive a piece of shit as a knife, they are two entirely different types of things. Fortunately for us, “everything is everything, unless it isn’t.”

Angakkuuniq in the Inuit worldview translates in English as “Shamanism” but it is far from a perfect translation. It is the best we have however.  For me, angakkuuniq is intimately related back to the community itself. For me, an angakkuq is a human manifestation of the boundary of the community—a community made up entirely of related ever-changing souls.

When I think of Idle No More and our use of social media and technology I find myself wondering about the ‘space’ itself where we all come together to interact, to shape messages, to give meaning within a community’s life cycles. This space is owned by the whole of the community, yet, at the same time, I feel it has an intimate connection to the angakkuit (shamans, woman and man). Why? Because the media space is not only where messages are made, but where potential messages are made, and the potential of the community is the boundary of the community. Of all the members of such an Inuit community, it is the angakkuit who best know such potential.

I look at the idea of a healthy community as something I’ve never known. I long for it simply because for me it is still only an idea, a distant dream. I ask: What is the context of a healthy community?

For all I’ve heard, from the elders and the women, it is the land. I think that maybe this is why, for as much as we try to get our elders into the classroom, they keep saying many things cannot be taught there. Is it because some things can only be taught in the context of the Land.

I have seen with my own eyes, that the women I surround myself with have a natural understanding of context, and of the context needed for a healthy community. A natural understanding I do not myself, as a male, possess, and am in awe. I think to myself then, I have much to learn from the women about being healthy. This among many other things I would humbly say is a woman’s power.

I ask myself: How do I recognize the signs of a healthy community? And for this I look to the men, the men who understand that signs and motions and processes cannot exist in the absence of context. These men have an intimate knowledge of motions that represent healthy community, of processes that represent healthy family.

With this realization, I look back at social media and the Idle No More movement, and I now begin to see it all as communities of souls. How best to respect the sovereignty of these souls? How best to ask for their help in contributing to my community?

How can a computer and something as elusive as the internet contain a community of souls? To that I answer, those who are unable to see it as such, are those same people who cannot recognize a piece of shit as a knife.

Daniel Nikpayuk

Follow Daniel on Twitter: @Daniel_Nikpayuk

Daniel Nikpayuk is a beneficiary of the Inuvialuit Settlement Region. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics from the University of Alberta. He is a life-long learner and is interested in all things culture-and-worldview. He is dedicated the the renewal of his language and culture through new uses of technological infrastructure.


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  3. myna lee johnstone
    February 5, 2013

    good that IdleNoMore began in winter and around solstice because we have time to sit in dark and watch /listen to stories,via townhalls,blogs and videos on internet like this one you give here

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  5. AE Crowfoot
    February 13, 2013

    Intellect is not one’s ability to collect and spew information, but to connect and find meaning in it. This is where you are and I agree with all you have written and thank you for articulating it so well.