Thursday, February 2, 2023

"He Thinks For Us:" He's happy on the outside because he is a Whiteman.

 I was watching a movie on HBO, One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk. It is a retelling of an incident which took place in 1961 at Kapuivik, Baffin Island.  In the scene there is a Whiteman going to Inuit people and telling to move to a settlement. The Whiteman had gone to a hunting camp, out of the ice, where a group of Inuit were. The Whiteman is a representative of the government and he doesn't speak the language. He uses a translator to get his message across to a group of Inuit men out on the ice. The dialog is compelling and it is also full of frustration. The Whiteman of the government is adamant in his aim that the Inuit must move to a settlement. He continues to target this Elder with the rules, the law of Canada. It is a gripping film. It makes it where you want to intervene, take part in the dialog. The film is the work of Zacharias Kunuk, a genius. "Zacharias Kunuk, OC, ON is a filmaker, sculptor and visual artist who lives in Igulik (Igloolik), NU. Kunuk has redefined filmmaking in Canada and has been at the forefront of innovative use of broadcast technology in the North. He is perhaps best known for his debut feature film Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner) from 2001, the first Canadian feature film produced entirely in Inuktitut." 

There is so much to be gathered from the conservation between the government agent and the Inuit Elder. The vast difference in their view of community, life and the world.  

The Elder Noah Piugattuk (1900 - 1996), faces off with Mr. Whyte (the actual name of the government man). "Inuit called him Isumataq, meaning Boss, although the exact translation would be he-thinks-for-us." Zaharis Kunuk. 

The humor in the conversation comes from the Inuit men among themselves. They do not ridicule the Whiteman but rather speak about the situation and the absurdity, the unfathomable of the what is being asked, told to them. The Whiteman, Mr. Whyte is determined to have his way and disregards all of what the Elder Noah is saying. The Elder Noah on the other hand is patient but his patience is wearing thin. Noah tells the Whiteman a story of when he helped a Whiteman. Noah had taken a Whiteman to another Inuit community. Noah says this Whiteman can speak a little of the Inuit language Inuktitut, unlike Mr. Whyte who speaks only English. Along the way Noah and the Whiteman encounter a Polar Bear. The Whiteman grabs his camera and sets out to take pictures of the Bear. Noah tells the man, he needs to go closer to get a good picture. The Whiteman goes closer and the Bear reacts by coming towards him, the Whiteman runs back towards Noah and gives the camera to Noah. The Whiteman tells him to go take the picture. In this moment Noah understood what the Whiteman thought: his life was worth more than Noah's. After a lengthy trip, they got to the community of other Inuit. This is when the Whiteman starts his preaching. The Whiteman was an Anglican Priest. After the sermons, Noah had the task of taking the Priest back to their community. It was a month long trip by dog-team sled, an arduous trip. Noah expected to be given a good gift for his time and work. The Priest gave him a Bible. Noah said, "I knew he didn't love me." Much of the movie is rich with conversations radiating Indigenous wit, and Inuit cultural nuance. It is not common knowledge that the Canadian government made the Inuit wear metal identification tags, as part of the mandatory Eskimo Identification tags. Mr. Whyte says he has to check the ID tags. 

If you have the opportunity, watch the movie, don't have expectations of seeing Vin Diesel driving over a cliff and flexing his muscles. This movie has more than greased up bodies and loin cloth. If you are not a dull knife, this movie will have you thinking. 

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