Canku Ota


(Many Paths)


An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


January 13, 2001 - Issue 27



What is Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit?


Using Inuit family and kinship relationships to apply


Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit.


by Jaypetee Arnakak Special to the Nunatsiaq News


 artwork by Dorothy Francis

IQALUIT — Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit. To me these words have almost the same ring as "Next year in Jerusalem" does to Zionists: like Judaism, the IQ concept is a binding force for a people; unlike Judaism, though, IQ was never written down.

What is IQ? I’ve been asking myself that question since I started working for the Department of Sustainable Development in late 1998.

The question itself is like asking how many grains of sand there are on Baffin Island. We can never hope to count each and every single grain of sand, but we can describe what a grain of sand generally looks like, and that was how we approached the issue at Sustainable Development.

To many people, the "traditional knowledge" aspect of IQ is often the only side that is seen, but that describes only one half of it. IQ, (as we envisioned it at DSD) is really about "healthy, sustainable communities" regaining their rights to a say in the governance of their lives using principles and values they regard as integral to who and what they are.

Taking cue from the lessons learned from the GNWT Traditional Knowledge Policy, the Inuit Senior Assignment Trainees (myself, Peter Ittinuar and Joe Tigullaraq) deliberately tried to keep IQ from becoming an official policy, knowing that separating IQ from the contemporary realities renders something that is profound, enriching and alive into something that meaningless, sterile, and awkwardly exclusionary.

A living technology

In fact, IQ is a living technology. It is a means of rationalizing thought and action, a means of organizing tasks and resources, a means of organizing family and society into coherent wholes.

When you strip away the more ineffable aspects of culture: spirituality, cosmology, language, etc., you begin to see a structure that is common to all human societies, indeed, essential to all human societies: the family.

At this level of abstraction, I believe that the traditional Inuit family-kinship model with the right elements in it is a workable management model.

The roles and relationships of its constituent parts can provide us with invaluable insights into organizational development. We can try and find out how and why it works.

What are the roles and responsibilities of the leader or parent to community and family? How is information — knowledge and skills — communicated? In other words, what does it look like as a structure and as a process?

I’ve been working on developing some analogues (the traditional family model and the kinship model) to help the Nunavut Social Development Council with the research and analysis components of its mandate — which covers the full spectrum of social, economic and cultural policy issues.

Absorbing all the information and processing it into usable form is daunting — to say the least — therefore, having a well-defined conceptual framework is the first step.

Based on the traditional family model that we came up with at the Department of Sustainable Development’s community economic development division, the IQ working group further defined the guiding principles for policy and program development. The DSD IQ framework consists of six guiding principles:

1. Pijitsirniq (or the concept of serving) This principle lays out the roles and relationships between the organization and the people it serves;

2. Aajiiqatigiingniq (or the concept of consensus decision-making) Tied in with this concept is the need to develop a standardized consultation process for the Government of Nunavut and the Inuit oganizations;

3. Pilimmaksarniq (or the concept of skills and knowledge acquisition) This concept was added to ensure a meaningful capacity-building adjunct to all government community-empowerment exercises. More research into teaching and learning practices needs to be done, obviously;

4. Piliriqatigiingniq (or the concept of collaborative relationships or working together for a common purpose) The initial research that Joelie Sanguya, an Inuit consultant from Clyde River, conducted with Inuit elders for Sustainable Development suggested strongly that the communities wanted to be full and meaningful partners in all community and social development activities;

5. Avatimik Kamattiarniq (or the concept of environmental stewardship) This planet is all we’ve got. Since we are the only creatures capable of massive, irreparable damage to the environment, this makes our stewardship all that much more serious;

6. Qanuqtuurunnarniq (or the concept of being resourceful to solve problems) There is no single defining factor of being Inuit, but this comes close. Inuit culture is qanuqtuurniq.

IQ as an epistemology (theory of knowledge) can be outlined thus:

• It is a set of teachings on practical truisms about society, human nature and experience passed on orally (traditionally) from one generation to the next;

• It is the knowledge of country that covers weather patterns, seasonal cycles, ecology, wildlife, use of resources, and the inter-relationships of these elements;

• It is holistic, dynamic and cumulative in its approach to knowledge, teaching and learning — that one learns best by observing, doing and experience.

The traditional kinship structure is the means whereby goods and services are transacted and exchanged.

But the structure is also the means of transmitting ideas, values, knowledge and skills from one generation to the next. In other words, individual, family and society are linked by the kinship structure.

Let us now examine the driving principles of Tuqturarngniq:

Social and Familial Obligations

• Integration — In a harsh and unforgiving arctic environment, integration into tuqturausiit (this Inuktitut term tirigusungniq is often mistranslated as ‘taboo’, or something that is prohibited by custom. But a closer, more precise analogy is the concept of kosherness in Judaism, or prescriptions for right living) was essential for individual, family and social survival. Although the process and layout of belonging to a group were quite complex and dynamic, the underlying assumption and expectation was harmony and integration. In fact, the concept of integrity/integration is present at all levels of awareness — from the individual to the social configuration. Thus, the abstract ideas (moral/ethical obligations) are linked to actions (social/practical obligations).

• Transmission of knowledge and skills — Knowledge and skill acquisition, from childhood on, was geared toward making the recipient of the education not only self-reliant and self-sufficient, but also that the recipient was able to contribute to the common good.

• Respect for station, office and place in society — Tirigusuusiit, or the prescriptions for right living were the means by which integration was enforced. At the family and social level, tuqturarniq and tirigusungniq are inseparable.

Practical Obligations

• Taking and using only what is needed — as a self-organizing system, the traditional kinship structure was founded on the concept of just, reasonable and equitable use of resources.

• Social safety net — the traditional kinship structures not only laid out how power was exercised but the structures also acted as an equalizing force in the communities by virtue of them being formal distribution systems therein. Unlike our contemporary western concepts of political and economic activity and intent, the traditional kinship system was in place to ensure the dignity and integration of all its members. This being the case, assistance of any kind is regarded as interdependence, rather than dependence. Dependence, as we know, is unsustainable over the long run.

• Resource use — in a land where resources are always limited and/or scarce, every ounce of utility in these resources was obtained largely by one’s own means and much valued. However, cooperative and communal regard and use of resources also ensured that basic needs and interests of all members were met.

Ethical Obligations

• Respect — all human beings demand and deserve respect and dignity. This is the mark and foundation of civilized behaviour. No formal structures would otherwise be possible.

• Charity — this form of charity is different from our western concepts of charity in that interdependence, as opposed to dependence, is emphasized.

• Trust — mutual reciprocity requires trust to function properly. The concept of trust extends to kinship structures and facilitates the flow and cycle of its vital forms.

• Discipline and restraint — one of the unavoidable evils of society is the need for control and discipline of deviations from the accepted norms. In Inuit culture, prevention in its conformative measures and mechanisms was highly emphasized. Even the negative forces of gossip helped to ensure propriety that is necessary for social cohesion, especially in a close-knit configuration.

These two models are by no means exhaustive. But they do outline, or hint at an idealized Inuit psychology.

Taking time off from work to go berry picking, or to partake in other "traditional" activities like hunting are all fine and well. But the emphasis in IQ development should be to study and incorporate the operating principles behind what makes an Inuk an Inuk.

Jaypetee Arnakak works for the Nunavut Social Development Council.

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