It's Nunavut Day! Normally, I post a list of gorgeous Nunagram photos, but this year, I thought I'd show another side of my Northern experience. Anyone who knows me (or kind of knows me through the blog) is probably aware that living in Iqaluit has very much impacted my life. I know a lot about layering. I can drive a snowmobile and an ATV. I know what boiled whale tastes like.
It goes without saying (but I will say it anyway) that moving to Nunavut has changed me as a person, but not necessarily in the rote, functional, cold-weather ways you'd imagine. That's why, this Nunavut Day, I decided to write about all the deeper, more intrinsic ways Nunavut and Nunavummiut have affected me, for the better and likely forever.
Courage in My Colour
"I love your skin colour! Can I adopt your baby?"
The above statement is paraphrased, but it's essentially what I heard when travelling to other communities in Nunavut soon after I arrived. The latter part is almost entirely facetious, but the comment on my brownness? Absolutely genuine, making Nunavut the first and only place I have ever been, in the entire world, where people celebrate and admire my dark skin.
I was born in Bangladesh, which is part of the quite diverse and complicated region we know as South Asia. As a whole, South Asians have an unhealthy obsession with white or light skin - a messed up offshoot from colonization and the caste system. Women and men use skin-lightening creams, stay out of the sun, and lament any deepening of melanin like it's a disease.
Add to this Western society's general deference to white people, white skin, and white culture, and you have a very clear message: lighter is better. Unless you're white, I guess, in which case, you should tan. Except white people turn golden and I am always just brown.
As I've grown older, I've worked against this cultural racism, for my own confidence, for my own justice. I am dark and I don't mind. I like my tan lines. But I know that for the most part, the world does not consider my colour ideal.
Now imagine my surprise and joy when after a long skidoo trip, a co-worker would comment, "Oh hey, nice goggle tan! Did you go out on the land?" A deeper shade is seen as a badge of exploration; the unevenness of skin colour is a sign of the elements. And it doesn't seem to matter that I am browner by nature - Nunavut has reminded me to be proud of the skin I am in, whatever its tone.
Appropriate Cultural Appropriation
This is related to the first point in a way, but delving a little deeper. Inuit are fiercely proud and protective of their culture, heritage, and ethnicity. They fight to preserve their language, they live for the land, and they know and sing their songs clearly, loudly.
As an immigrant who never quite found her diaspora in Canada, this connection and responsibility to one's traditional culture has been inspiring. Nunavut is quite possibly the only place in North America where the dominant culture is not Western-European. For a racialized person, that's amazing.
Obviously, I have learned to appreciate and advocate for Inuit culture; it would be hard not to, if you live up here and pay attention. However, the more interesting side effect has been a surge in my own desire to understand my culture and heritage. I speak my language (Bangla), but now I want to know our traditional songs and stories. I know the histories of the lands I come from, but I want to see how the struggles of my ancestors has influenced my place in the world. And I am learning all that and more, through my family, through the internet, through the network of Bangladeshi women I am creating day by day.
Oh, What's in a Degree?
Almost four years ago, I moved to Iqaluit and started working for the Government of Nunavut. Suffice it to say that after a year and half, it became clear that I am not a bureaucrat.
Thus, in March of 2014, I said goodbye to the nine-to-five and went headfirst into the world of part-time, freelance, entrepreneurial work. I had a (very) temporary catering company. I started an amorphous, undefined, evolving job with the good people at Atiigo Media. I wrote articles and sold photos. Sometimes I was a tour guide. And I blogged like I had never blogged before. And as 2014 became 2015, things really started changing.
Without rambling too much, I now have a perfectly undefined career that involves film and television production, writing, performing arts advocacy, and various entrepreneurial skills. I interviewed our current Prime Minister and acted in a movie that premiered at Cannes. And I still blog, though not as much as I blogged before.
And what does this have to do with Nunavut? I've thought about this a lot, and what I think is this: Iqaluit and Iqalummiut gave me the space to experiment and find out what I am good at; not what I studied, not what I trained in, but what I have a flair for and interest in.
This could have happened somewhere else. But the reason it happened in Iqaluit, the reason it is maybe easier in Iqaluit, is because in my experience, people don't hold you to systematized standards or expectations - especially in the creative space. The Qanurli? crew didn't mind that I'd never worked in television before, let alone as a Production Manager (spoiler alert: not an entry-level position) when they hired me. Qaggiavuut had no qualms with my lack of experience with championing the performing arts when they invited me to be a Project Manager. None of the (Southern and Northern) film or TV crews I've worked with has ever asked for my CV.
Instead, Iqaluit is a place that has embraced outside-the-box thinking, likely because no box could contain her nuances. It's all about the DIY, problem-solving, trial-and-error methods here. And it goes without saying, Finding True North has been a great networking tool for me, and quite possibly stands as a type of CV and sample of work.
So, it doesn't matter if you studied neuroscience and not fine arts, or if you have never seen a callsheet in your life. People up here have been willing to see potential over credentials, and a body of work over a body of evidence. And this fact has essentially changed the course of my career, and my life.
Idle Know More
Alright, enough about me (though this is a personal, reflective piece all about, well, me). As my final paean to Nunavut, I thank her and her people for graciously educating me and other non-Inuit settlers on the realities of the Indigenous experience in Canada. I can without hesitation say that my time in Nunavut has propelled my knowledge of Indigenous issues and achievements in ways that I did not expect.
I am utterly, humbly grateful to the wonderful souls who take the time to talk to and teach me. It's not their responsibility to educate us outsiders, but when they do the act does not go unappreciated. I know that because I live in Nunavut, I am more accurately, holistically aware of the challenges, solutions, and demands of Inuit specifically, and Indigenous peoples generally. And for that, I am a better settler, a better Canadian, and frankly, a better human.