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Eskimo Pie: A Poetics of Inuit Identity

An Old Inuit WomanAn old Inuit woman ambles out onto the cool, morning Tundralittle girls on either side, holding hands as one.She is the Elder, they are the learners.She takes them to the crest of the small hillwhere the girls bend to gather twigs.It is a simple task.What they bring back will start the firesboiling the caribou.What they bring back will feed the emberson the damp spring nights while others sleep.The girls run about the hill making tiny piles of sticksbringing them back to the old woman whose wrinkled brown hands feel the lengthand snap the small willows to an even size.She feels for how dry they are and wraps them one by one into a piece of caribou hide.The little one scamper on either side of the hillat the end of their task, the Elder slaps the ground hard.Two heads turn towards the sound of the shudder.The girls rush to gather the old womanhelping her stand, one on each side.The old woman keeps the bundle of willows tying it around her crooked back.She takes a hand from each little girl And they guide the Elder back to camp.The old woman is blind and the girls are deaf.Together they complete a worthy task.It is how they maintain their importance to the group.It is how they keep themselves alive.Mamaqtuq (good tasting or smelling)Roll out of my hidesto smell the winds.Looking every wayfor the shadows toshow. Women gathertwigs and moss, killkuutsiuti, the smaller keepers ofsmall life.Ilnautuq. Crawling, sliding alongTaalu, smelling the winds.An Eskimo ProclamationWe came here to make you betterTeaching you church and how to knit sweatersChanged your names and made them rightYou dirty little animals full of fightTaught you how to wash your handsTook you off your hostile landsBrought you into our enlightened ageGave you names on a census pageYou're happier than you've ever beenA better side of life you have finally seenOur mission is soon completeYou will no longer eat raw meatYou'll soldier on in our god's nameYou lowly people we have tamedYou will thank us for this soon one dayAnd on your land, we will forever stay

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Under the moonlight
The softness that night gives us


the earth rising to meet


in snow - or the glow of trilliums, where there is enough sound in a breath


in here I speak


gently step
and story weave


sending out a thread of me


like a foot's condensation drying on a summer floor


hoping the memory of me survives


in the eyes of others


I'll speak of blood


and wounds and beauty in terrible things


the way the wind pulls a thousand leaves down an empty street


and when they settle - we look up


to trace the direction of the wind






On your birthday I remember the cake she made


that we didn't expect;
our faces masks of fear.


(we never liked the unexpected)


we sat staring at the cake and her smile, twitching.


her dark moments began to show a lot those days,


you assured me with a wink


something other than me
would break.






when a child learns
amid the fear of something




the fragility of their parent,


something shatters inside them,


the dual crush


of fear and empathy.

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