On May 30, 2016, I discovered Nunavik for the very first time.
Here I am. After all the fuss and the preparations, I made it to the community of Inukjuak, on the coast of the Hudson’s Bay. The small Bombardier turbo-prop made a series of stops along the way complemented by stunning views of wandering ice sheets on the deep blue waters.
– Extract from blog (May 31, 2016)
Two years later, as I write from Kuujjuaq [the Great River], my gaze is drawn to the outdoors. My mind wanders through the stillness and along the gentle curves of the tundra. Truth be told, I did not expect to live in the North, where delicate snowflakes and wandering ice sheets fill the landscape with a silent beauty. Even as June approaches and cherry blossoms have long faded in other parts of the world, Nunavik awakes slowly from the long winter.
What brought me back here?
You must simply do your best to settle in and relax as you can, and make this short life of ours, if only briefly, an easier place in which to make your home. […] A poem, a painting, can draw the sting of troubles from a troubled world and lay in its place a blessed realm before our grateful eyes.
– Natsume Sôseki, The Three-Cornered World
When the opportunity presented itself to take up a position in Kuujjuaq, I naively thought that getting away from the concrete jungle could help me find peace. I thought that, in a remote community, the pace would slow down and that I’d be able to touch the essence of life in a more authentic, simple way. Don’t get me wrong, I love cities. The unique amalgam of colours, scents and noises. The chaotic embrace of a bustling street market. The sweet taste of anonymity. I was looking for something different, a place where I would be more vulnerable.
Since moving up here in October 2017, I doubt I’ve been successful at finding peace here more than elsewhere. While I certainly do have more time and silence to give to my own thoughts, to my own reflections, it sometimes feels like a masquerade of emptiness. Just being is more challenging than I had imagined. Nevertheless, as Milan Kundera writes, “I’ve become intimate with time in a way I’d never been before”. I’m learning to entertain myself in more creative ways, testing the elasticity of time.
Other than tackling existential questions, I’ve also been working as the Socio-Economic Development Officer for Makivik Corporation. Makivik is an ethnic organization which acts as a political, economic, legal, and cultural representative for the Inuit of Northern Québec. In effect, I manage a fur tannery (yep), an upcoming greenhouse project in Inukjuak, the design and implementation of a youth entrepreneurial strategy in the region, as well as a few other initiatives.
I often reflect on the meaning of the words “Socio-economic development”. According to French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, “cultural capital is [always] considered a subordinated or dominated form of capital relative to economic structures”. Is there a way to establish a fragile balance between social and economic spheres? In my eyes, the same fundamental question applies to the polarization between tradition and modernity, between individual and collective. We live in a unique period – I believe we do despite every generation’s tendency for self-exceptionalism – where changes are occurring at a frantic pace. Some of us are rooted in the romantic illusions of the past while others leap on the scorching spaceship of “progress”. Some of us join the fast-moving bandwagon while others are left behind in the crumbling remains of lost languages and folkloric dances. Too often, we are limited by the duality of our thoughts, as if modernity is not built on yesterday’s traditions and rituals.
One night, at a music show in Montréal, the words of a magnetic Sudanese singer from New York City (Alsarah & the Nubatones) stuck with me. In between two songs, as the rhythm of the oud continued, she stopped singing. “Traditions are our roots”, she spoke softly but her voice was firm. “Traditions are how we project ourselves in the future of our past”, she continued. “Traditions are not rigid. They are fluid, constantly in movement.”
Yesterday This Day’s Madness did prepare
To-Morrow’s Silence, Triumph or Despair
Drink! for you know not whence you came, nor whence
Drink! for you know not why you go, nor where
– Omar Khayyam, Rubaiyat
As I write these lines, I smile and think that Nunavik is now the place I call home. For how long? Who knows. I leave you with some pictures from the past few months here.
Until next time, Atsunai