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Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk

Culture, Heritage and Spirituality (1999)

Without a firm grounding in your past, you can have no future. Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk has spent a lifetime ensuring the Inuit of the rugged lands of Northern Quebec do in fact have just that – a firm grounding in their traditions, language and culture as they prepare for a new century’s dawn. Living between two worlds – she spent half of her life living in igloos, the other in modern houses – her people have struggled, yet still survived. Now moving forward, they owe a great deal to this quiet woman, now in her 70s, who has faithfully recorded a glorious past. Ms. Nappaaluk wrote the first novel in the Inuttitut language; translated the Roman Catholic Book of Prayer into her traditional language; compiled an Inuttitut encyclopedia of Inuit traditional knowledge, legends and natural history; and is known as an artful storyteller who tells legends that are sent across the endless Northern distances by CBC Radio. All this from a person who never attended school. In fact, there were no schools in her home community of Kangiqusujuaq until Ms. Nappaaluk was in her early 30s. “You will be sorry if you forget your traditional ways,” she says to Canada’s Aboriginal peoples. “You will not be sorry if you keep your language. You will be sad if you forget those ways. Make sure you remember your traditional ways.” In Aboriginal communities across Canada, First Nations people are doing just that – thanks to the pioneers of the past who kept looking forward. People like Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk. She was the 1999 National Aboriginal Achievement Award recipient in the Heritage and Spirituality category.