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History Native American


What’s Your Name? The Eskimo Disc System and a Daughter’s Search for her Grandmother

by (author) Norma Dunning

Douglas & McIntyre
Initial publish date
Oct 2022
Native American, Post-Confederation (1867-), Indigenous Studies
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    Publish Date
    Oct 2022
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From the winner of the 2021 Governor General's Award for literature, a revelatory look into an obscured piece of Canadian history: what was then called the Eskimo Identification Tag System

In 2001, Dr. Norma Dunning applied to the Nunavut Beneficiary program, requesting enrolment to legally solidify her existence as an Inuk woman. But in the process, she was faced with a question she could not answer, tied to a colonial institution retired decades ago: “What was your disc number?”

Still haunted by this question years later, Dunning took it upon herself to reach out to Inuit community members who experienced the Eskimo Identification Tag System first-hand, providing vital perspective and nuance to the scant records available on the subject. Written with incisive detail and passion, Dunning provides readers with a comprehensive look into a bureaucracy sustained by the Canadian government for over thirty years, neglected by history books but with lasting echoes revealed in Dunning’s intimate interviews with affected community members. Not one government has taken responsibility or apologized for the E-number system to date — a symbol of the blatant dehumanizing treatment of the smallest Indigenous population in Canada.

A necessary and timely offering, Kinauvit? provides a critical record and response to a significant piece of Canadian history, collecting years of research, interviews and personal stories from an important voice in Canadian literature.

About the author

Norma Dunning is an Inuit writer, scholar, professor and grandmother. She grew up beyond the tundra and lived mainly in smaller, northern communities across Canada. She will say that she grew up in the places that no one would ever think to drive to. She completed all three of her university degrees within 9.5 years. She won the Danuta Gleed Literary Award in 2018 for her short story collection "Annie Muktuk and Other Stories." In the same year, she won the Writers' Guild of Alberta's Howard O'Hagan Award for the short story "Elipsee", and was a shortlisted finalist for the City of Edmonton Book Award. She is the mother of three sons and grandmother to four children. Dunning writes in both poetry and prose, with poetry being her first go-to when it comes to creative work. Through the support of other Indigenous writers, Dunning came to realize that what she writes matters, although it remains difficult for her to share her work widely. She lives in Edmonton Alberta.

Norma Dunning's profile page


  • Runner-up, Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing
  • Short-listed, Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing | Writers’ Trust of Canada (
  • Short-listed, Robert Kroetsch City of Edmonton Book Prize

Editorial Reviews

“To read Kinauvit? is to enjoy an enthralling visit with a gifted storyteller. Norma Dunning brilliantly conveys the story of her quest to reconnect with her culture, language and people. Dunning recounts how oppressive colonial powers brutally disrupted and upended the lives of her family, community, and the Inuit in Canada in general—including the implantation of a degrading disc system of personal identification.”

Darrel J McLeod, author of <i>Mamaskatch: A Cree Coming of Age</i> and <i>Peyakow: Reclaiming Cree Dignity</i>

“‘Mom, what are we?’ a question asked by Inuit scholar and writer Norma Dunning, which remains like a floating specter over the course of this highly original and devastating book, vividly recalling the disembodying process of colonization. Much more than this, however, this highly personal, evocative and robustly researched amalgam of wrenching memories, historical records, and testimony, Kinauvit? What’s Your Name?, is a multi-dimensional life’s work that demonstrates the power and will of Indigenous peoples’ reclamation of self.”

Brendan Hokowhitu, Professor of Indigenous Research, The University of Queensland

“Norma Dunning’s compelling book painstakingly investigates and uncovers a shameful state secret hidden in the open banality of colonial violence—the Eskimo Identification Canada number-disc system used by the Government of Canada circa 1941 and 1971 in destroying Inuit traditions of naming, relocating Inuit communities, enforcing colonial domination and national sovereignty in Inuit territory. Kinauvit? What’s Your Name? also serves as an eloquent introduction to the historical specificity of the Canadian nation-state’s colonization of the Inuit during the Cold War, deepening our understanding of the Canadian nation-state’s imperial participation in a global system of multiple colonialisms just as new Cold Wars and their strategic resource extraction imperatives loom again. But Dunning’s book is not only a breakthrough of original scholarly research, it is also really an Inuit song undoing the colonizer’s model of the word through the Inuit voices it brings us, through its dramatic and engaging prose deftly weaving together the jagged edges of accumulated violence with which biography becomes history. It is a must read for Canadians if we are to come to terms with the founding injustices of our collective belonging. Through the gift Dunning offers us—tukitaaqtuq—we need to take this book to heart.”

Sourayan Mookerjea, Co-director, Feminist Energy Futures: Powershift and Environmental Social Justice University of Alberta

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