A society in Arviat, Nunavut, is trying to reinvigorate Inuit laws and practices in the community.
Joe Karetak of the Aqqiumavik Society says the society will be consistent with the Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit’s principles (IQ principles) — an Inuit ethical framework and detailed plan for having a good life and way of thinking. It includes values from building strong moral character to showing compassion and serving others.
“The difficulty we have with saying ‘Inuit laws,’ is that even myself, I don’t know what they are. I know some, but not enough to try and manage it or even pass it on properly,” said Karetak. “We’re all hurting in that area, with Inuit laws.”
Inuit culture was hugely impacted since colonization from the South, said Karetak, so that’s why his community began creating subcommittees of elders who will gather Inuit laws specifically for the people of Arviat.
“We’re not trying to fix things overnight. We’re trying to do things, take a long view, and be consistent with the IQ principles, be consistent with the values of beliefs and the Inuit law,” said Karetak.
Once the society and subcommittees gather all its research and data, Karetak says implementing it won’t take long.
“We’re only accountable to the people of Arviat. So if they approve, so we go ahead and start applying it,” he said.
Karetak said the community will have radio shows to help implement these Arviat-specific Inuit laws, and elders will help make sure the community is hitting its targets.
“What are the priorities? What is needed the most? We try to go after what we’re capable of establishing at the moment, and just keep rebuilding that foundation,” said Karetak.
Healing for elders, youth generations
Karetak said this will provide healing for both elders and the young generation, as the community’s new Inuit laws will give an avenue for elders to pass on “what they wish they should have passed on” to youth through activities.
“Activities [are] the most useful way to pass on Inuit culture and knowledge. Because it really was a non-written system. Everything was passed on through application. That’s how the elders suggested us to pursue things,” he said.
“The youth get their sense of identity, and elders get the sense of being useful again. It’s a win-win situation.”
Activities can include hunting, gathering, studying the land and environment, and boating.
And Karetak says he hopes his community’s work to regain and rebuild Inuit law and practices will inspire other Nunavut communities.
“We feel that once we have something structured there, somebody else, some other community can go through the same steps and get their own laws for their area,” he said, noting that each of them will have to work through its multi-dialect issues.
Approach it with ‘Aajiiqatigiiniq’
Karetak said the elders are now able to talk about the impact of colonization and huge cultural loss from contact with people from the South.
This was not always the case, so bringing back the method “Aajiiqatigiiniq” — an Inuit practice which means continually working to have a balance and to harmonize the mind, body and soul — is how the society will approach the issues and find solutions.
“You have to look at the culture holistically. Inuit are hunter-gatherers. We are reviewing how this role played in Inuit lives.”
Aajiiqatigiiniq is designed to work best when people work together, not consensus building the way it’s known in mainstream society, he said.
“Each generation is so different then the previous generations with tremendous generational gaps, Aajiiqatigiiniq can help fill those gaps.”