Eskimo Pie: A Poetics of Inuit Identity
By Norma Dunning
Eskimo Pie: A Poetics of Inuit Identity examines Dunning's lived history as an Inuk who was born, raised and continues to live south of sixty. Her writing takes into account the many assimilative practices that Inuit continue to face and the expectations of mainstream as to what ... Read more
Eskimo Pie: A Poetics of Inuit Identity examines Dunning's lived history as an Inuk who was born, raised and continues to live south of sixty. Her writing takes into account the many assimilative practices that Inuit continue to face and the expectations of mainstream as to what an Inuk person can and should be. Her words examine what it is like to feel the constant rejection of her work from non-Inuit people and how we must all in some way find the spirit to carry through with what we hold to be true demonstrating the importance of standing tall and close to our words as Indigenous Canadians. We are the guardians of our work regardless of the cost to ourselves as artists and as Inuit people, we matter.
Norma Dunning is an Inuit writer, scholar, professor and grandmother. She grew up beyond the tundra and lived mainly in smaller, northern communities across Canada. She will say that she grew up in the places that no one would ever think to drive to. She won the Danuta Gleed Literary Award in 2018 for her short story collection Annie Muktuk and Other Stories. In the same year she was a finalist for the City of Edmonton Book Award. Dunning writes in both poetry and prose, with poetry being her first go-to when it comes to creative work. Through the support of other Indigenous writers, Dunning came to realize that what she writes matters, although it remains difficult for her to share her work widely.
An Old Inuit Woman
An old Inuit woman ambles out onto the cool, morning Tundra
little girls on either side, holding hands as one.
She is the Elder,
they are the learners.
She takes them to the crest of the small hill
where the girls bend to gather twigs.
It is a simple task.
What they bring back will start the fires
boiling the caribou.
What they bring back will feed the embers
on the damp spring nights while others sleep.
The girls run about the hill making tiny piles of sticks
bringing them back to the old woman
whose wrinkled brown hands feel the length
and snap the small willows to an even size.
She feels for how dry they are and wraps them
one by one into a piece of caribou hide.
The little one scamper on either side of the hill
at the end of their task, the Elder slaps the ground hard.
Two heads turn towards the sound of the shudder.
The girls rush to gather the old woman
helping her stand,
one on each side.
The old woman keeps the bundle of willows
tying it around her crooked back.
She takes a hand from each little girl
And they guide the Elder back to camp.
The old woman is blind
and the girls are deaf.
Together they complete a worthy task.
It is how they maintain their importance to the group.
It is how they keep themselves alive.
Mamaqtuq (good tasting or smelling)
Roll out of my hides
to smell the winds.
Looking every way
for the shadows to
show. Women gather
twigs and moss, kill
the smaller keepers of
Crawling, sliding along
smelling the winds.
An Eskimo Proclamation
We came here to make you better
Teaching you church and how to knit sweaters
Changed your names and made them right
You dirty little animals full of fight
Taught you how to wash your hands
Took you off your hostile lands
Brought you into our enlightened age
Gave you names on a census page
You're happier than you've ever been
A better side of life you have finally seen
Our mission is soon complete
You will no longer eat raw meat
You'll soldier on in our god's name
You lowly people we have tamed
You will thank us for this soon one day
And on your land, we will forever stay
- Indigenous Voices Award 2021, Short-listed
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