Order of Nunavut honours late Arviat educator Mark Kalluak
"I’m so proud of all the things he accomplished”
Known to many as a guardian of Inuit language and culture, Mark Kalluak, among the first three recipients of the Order of Nunavut, spent his life promoting traditional knowledge.
The Arviat educator, interpreter, editor and storyteller passed away this past May, one month shy of his 69th birthday.
During his life, Kalluak, a stickler for proper Inuktitut usage, often would correct people as they spoke.
Kalluak corrected his children’s Inuktitut so often that many of them still find themselves doing the same thing today.
“It was important to him that we spoke the language well,” Kalluak’s daughter, Jessie Kaludjak, who works with the Government of Nunavut’s education department in Arviat, told Nunatsiaq News.
“And now me and my siblings have taken that from him and we correct people all the time. Some people might be offended but it’s only to pass the tradition on.”
Language may have become important to Kalluak because he knew what he had to lose.
Kalluak grew up along the Maguse River, but, when he was only six, Kalluak was sent to a Winnipeg area sanatorium for tuberculosis treatment.
There, Kalluak learned to read and write English.
And, when he finished his treatment a few years later, Kalluak returned north where he attended the Sir Joseph Bernier residential school in Chesterfield Inlet.
Kalluak settled in Arviat, where he put his English skills to work as a translator.
His accomplishments included a translation of the New Testament from English into Inuktitut.
In the 1960s and 70s, Kalluak also helped to edit the “Keewatin Echo,” one of the first English-Inuktitut newspapers in the region.
Kalluak, who was one of the longest-serving mayors of Arviat, was named to the Order of Canada in 1990.
Throughout his adult life, Kalluak gathered the stories that his mother had told him as a boy, compiling these into a book published in 2008 called “Unipkaaqtuat Arvianit: Traditional Stories from Arviat.”
Kalluak became a talented storyteller himself, his daughter said.
“I think he got the knack of storytelling from his mother,” Kaludjak said. “He got his idea of morals and ethics from those stories.”
For Kalluak, those legends were his education and he made sure other Inuit had the chance to learn them, too.
Kalluak worked for years as the cultural heritage co-ordinator with the Department of Education.
Although past the age of retirement, Kalluak was still working at the department until his death in May. He was on his way to work when he collapsed and died, Kaludjak said, likely of a stroke or a heart attack.
At his funeral, Arviat friend and colleague Shirley Tagalik spoke about Kalluak’s dedication to the promotion of Inuit knowledge.
She told the story of an education department meeting they both attended years ago, when an official from Iqaluit asked Kalluak how Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (traditional Inuit knowledge) was relevant in the region’s education system.
As he so often did, Kalluak used a story to explain.
Kalluak told the story of finding a nest of abandoned baby birds as a young boy, which he took into his tent to care for.
But as attentive as he was, the baby birds began to die, so he asked his mother what to do.
Kalluak’s mother told him that the birds had been taken into a dark, cool tent when they should have been left in their own environment, where they thrive.
“Inuit do not make good pets,” Kalluak told the official.
But despite all his professional accomplishments, Kaludjak said her father was always at his best at home, where he raised eight children with his wife, Mary, who died in 2006.
Today, Kalluak’s descendants include more than 30 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Kaludjak is sure her father would be humble about his latest honour.
“Whenever someone praised him, he credited God for that ability, and I’m sure he would say that now,” she said. “But I’m so proud of all the things he accomplished.”
Kaludjak will visit Iqaluit this October to receive her father’s Order of Nunavut on his behalf.