New book looks at Nunavik traditions on education, pregnancy, childbirth
“Numerous practices stemming from traditional education continue to shape the development of Inuit children"
When a baby was born in Nunavik, on the Hudson or Ungava Bay coasts, the traditional “godmothers” (known as an arnaliaq for girls and an arnaqutik for boys) or midwives (sanajiit) would cut a baby’s umbilical cord, dress the newborn and give the child his or her first instructions in life.
“They always strongly wanted to make them very good at what they do. ‘You will be good at sewing,’ ‘you will be good at hunting,’ you will be a good person.’ They’d say that to the babies,” says Lizzie Irniq.
And when it came to choosing a namesake or sauniq for a newborn child, dreams would often reveal the proper choice or “a baby would stop constantly crying after one of its parents said that many their baby wants to be named after a specific deceased person,” says Alacie Koneak.
These are among of the interesting anecdotes in Traditions relating to Education, Pregnancy and Childbirth in Nunavik, recently published by Publications Nunavik, the publishing arm ofNunavik’s Avataq Cultural Insitute.
In this trilingual book, four Nunavik elders — Alicie Koneak, Lizzie Irniq and Maata Tuniq of Kangiqsujuaq and Alacie Kuannanack Tukalak of Puvirnituq — reflect on some of the knowledge and practices involved in Inuit education.
Their unedited interviews with Laval university researcher Fabien Pernet cover a wide range of topics, such as pregnancy, labour and childbirth, early childhood and the care provided to children during their first years of life.
These topics also touch on Inuit educational strategies, the critical moments in education, and the relationships with namesakes and godparents who helped a child to learn the knowledge and skills for self sufficiency.
The book also includes a glossary of Inuttitut terms as well as an introduction by Pernet, who, as doctoral student in anthropology, conducted the interviews with the help of interpreters.
“Numerous practices stemming from traditional education continue to shape the development of Inuit children, and elders never forget to remind everyone about them as they continue to observe these practices themselves or watch as the young parents in their respective communities,” says Pernet.
These practices show how Inuit placed a “high value on the autonomy of the child” and encouraged skill acquisition, with children sharing their first sewing or first hunt with their arnaliak or arnaqutik.
And parents, not officials, worked with other members the community to solve problems, while parents sometimes waited for a good moment to discipline a child.
“Today they don’t even wait for the next day to correct their child,” says Alacie Koneak. “That’s not the correct way to discipline the children.”
Publications Nunavik, funded by Makivvik Corp. and Quebec’s department responsible for culture, communications and the status of women, has produced other books by and about Inuit and the North.
The books include oral histories from Inuit elders, information on traditional kinship ties and land-use, Inuit child-rearing practices and medicinal plants of the North as well as back-issues of the popular Inuit cultural magazine Tumivut and posters.
Most of the books are in a trilingual (Inuttitut-English-French) format.
Among the books produced by Publications Nunavik, you can find:
• Learning to Count; and,
Traditions relating to Education, Pregnancy and Childbirth in Nunavik
Edited by Fabien Pernet
Inuktitut, French, English
Paperback, 6 in. X 9 in. X 1 in., 375 pages