Sunday, 7 August 2011

safe place to make camp

inuksuit tales

i. urban inuksuit

worries about change

worries about shifts

in our world base

species adrift, flora &

fauna, all of us shifting

boundaries, gone

wandering, showing up

in unexpected places

four seasons do just what

they feel like, instead of

what they have always

been observed to do

inuksuit surging

far further south

than they have ever been

seen before, in urban areas

all along the 49th parallel

gazing offshore 


urban inuksuit reports

from the west coast: she

is sighing over salt water

at english bay, birthing

many tiny images & fist

sized inuksuit (also observed)


urban inuksuit report

from the great lakes: he

is befriending bicycles

she is stepping offshore

crossing the great waters

on an inward journey

ii. inuksuk 1924

this one is me, recognize

the way i hold my body

just so

with the dog expressing

an interest, i reach out

i touch

when the wind comes up

& i am hatched

i am still cognizant

of the snow

of the sky

of the hint

of the dog

beside me

iii. inuksuit

well spaced
well balanced
well matched

gazing together
at the focal point
& a wide horizon

cross-hatching occurs
& all become
hints of themselves

mere suggestions
brighten sunlight while
silence strengthens shadow

dreaminess takes the whole
& us, too

iv. safe place to make camp

a very small image

& if we try to make

it bigger

than it is

it becomes

less beautiful

very small is very good

as you can see


of scope

& a wonder

filled view

the name

for this one

is true




a softer, fuller


(c) Joanne Arnott

The ethics of imagery: 

A few years ago, i was an active participant in some of Toronto poet John Barlow's playspaces for poets, hosted on yahoogroups, and i made a number of friends. I used to call these my virtual or imaginary friends, as except for John I'd never met them in "real life," the mundane, non-virtual world. Over the course of years, I have managed to meet at least half of my favourites, and so what began as a disembodied poets association became real world, visceral connections. One November day, through cascades of rain, I travelled by public transit to Vancouver, to meet two of my top favourite associates/playmates, Jamie Reid of North Vancouver, and Alastair Campbell, then of Iqaluit. These two-- along with Carol Reid, who I met later-- became family to me.

For a variety of reasons, one of which was the Olympics held in Vancouver, the subject of inuksuit (or 'inukshuks') became a touchpoint in a variety of open-ended, very interesting conversations, and soon enough began to appear in my poetry. Using art to process life, I ran searches on images of "real" inuksuit, eg. the traditional creations made by Inuit people in what is now Canada's eastern arctic, and created self-expressive art through the choosing and transforming of archival photographs. (At the time, I wasn't aware of how fluid the internet is, and so didn't immediately note down the sources of the photographs. Later I relocated them, made notes, and lost them again in a hardware failure. The main lesson of the internet continues to be, life is flux.) Later still, I wrote poetry based on the images.

In "real" life, I have never seen a "real" inuksuk, though I did visit Baffin Island briefly (August 2008). I have seen (as I observe in the poem) many inuksuit in the south, in Vancouver, Toronto, on Salt Spring island, on the prairies. Like the teepee and the "totem" pole, like the dream catcher and feathered head dress, these things have slipped from one culture into different cultural contexts, and the relationships between the source and the receiving cultures are complex-- if a modern inuksuk is made by Inuit builders in a large, southern, urban setting, are they "real"? Are they "real" because I can see them? If I don't know the full history of the maker of a specific marker made of stone, what is the correct response-- well, the real response, of course, reflecting all of the complexity of cultural oppression, the large taking and suppressing, robbing and idealizing, as represented by all the individual moments of life.  

The transmission of the Christian bible, it's translations into indigenous languages, the imposition of the values of Bible interpreters that are socially empowered to destroy other cultural expressions and integrity-- and the transmission of Buddhist teachings, and presumably all others-- creates a great deal of tension between the "modern, western" (or colonial, capitalistic) culture, and those it is sharing, exchanging gifts, with.


The number of layers of translation or transformation between the original creations of stone markers on specific landscapes, and my self-expressive words and images, are several.  One of the reasons for anxiety is how a feedback loop is created, so that the translations and transformations of cultural imagery then dilute and at times replace the origin tradition, impulse, meaning.  My clumsy efforts to discuss the ethics of these things will one day bring about better insight, I'm sure, just as I'm sure that one day, my family will be at peace, self-confident, safe in the world that gave birth to us.


Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change

About the film

Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change had its world premiere October 23, 2010, at the imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival in Toronto. The complete film also streamed online simultaneously watched by more than 1500 viewers around the world. Following the film, a Q&A with filmmakers Zacharias Kunuk and Dr. Ian Mauro included live call-in by Skype from viewers from Pond Inlet, New York, Sydney, Australia and other locations.
Nunavut-based director Zacharias Kunuk (Atanarjuat The Fast Runner) and researcher and filmmaker Dr. Ian Mauro (Seeds of Change) have teamed up with Inuit communities to document their knowledge and experience regarding climate change. This new documentary, the world’s first Inuktitut language film on the topic, takes the viewer “on the land” with elders and hunters to explore the social and ecological impacts of a warming Arctic. This unforgettable film helps us to appreciate Inuit culture and expertise regarding environmental change and indigenous ways of adapting to it.

Exploring centuries of Inuit knowledge, allowing the viewer to learn about climate change first-hand from Arctic residents themselves, the film portrays Inuit as experts regarding their land and wildlife and makes it clear that climate change is a human rights issue affecting this ingenious Indigenous culture. Hear stories about Arctic melting and how Inuit believe that human and animal intelligence are key to adaptability and survival in a warming world.

Community-based screenings of the film are now being organized across Canada. Stay tuned for more information, new blog posts and videos added to this channel regularly.

Please feel free to contact us should you like to organize a screening in your area. Email us: isuma [at]

Watch the film online: Isuma TV


sandra said...

I like the poems, but I especially like the commentary. Thanks, Jo. The poem with the dog hits home.

Joanne Arnott said...

Thanks, Sandra, good to hear

I've added a link to Poets Against War-- glad to read the new poem + update from Ehab