From Annie Muktuk and Other Stories. Published by the University of Alberta Press.

I never get to see the rest of that day. It happened. I remember it still as I sit here in this place. This place filled with rules. The white people call it a school. My father said we had to come here. All three of us. Why? That’s the part I never understand, why he sent us away from him. This place is different. We sleep off the ground. We have all been given strange names. Names that make no sense. Names that make me feel different. I don’t know who I am anymore.

They speak French and English here. I don’t know what French is. I only nod when I am asked something. Puhuliak is now called Suzanne. Hikwa is Margarite. I am Therese. Once we were, Puhuliak, Hikwa and Angavidiak. Now we are these other girls.

The women here wear long robes made of light cloth. Qallunaaqtaq. They make us wear the same thing, only our robes are short. They put cold, hard coverings on our feet and tell us they are “shoes.” We drink water from under the ground, filled in a brown wooden circle. We sit at a table, in chairs that hurt my back. The food is white like these people. It’s like filling your mouth with clouds. Swallowing quickly means I can leave the table sooner.

What is hardest is that I can’t talk to my sisters unless I speak in French or English. If the long robes hear me speak to them the way I always did, they beat me with a strip of hide. Papa did that to the dogs when they were bad. Hitting them with tigaut, the hardest part of any whip. Sometimes they will reach into our mouths and pull hard on our tongues. It is their way of telling us not to talk our language.

That hurts. Everything here hurts. We have to live our days the way they want us to. We don’t go outside. I watch the world from inside at my school desk and remember what it was like to live with my mothers and father. I remember the smell of air that was a part of my every breath. I remember eating when I was hungry not when a clock told me to. I remember playing the string game with my sisters whenever I wanted to. No one ever told me that a round, black dial was my avasirngulik. My elder would not act like that thing.

That’s a new word for me, “time.” In this place everyone is on time. At home the sky told us what to do and when. I nod and try to do what they say. Sometimes they smile but most times they frown. I talk with my eyes. They talk with their lips.

I am not allowed to sleep by my sisters. We have to stay off the ground on separate wooden frames. None of this makes sense in my head. I look forward to each night to dream of what I miss. Dreaming of what I knew best, of what was only mine. I smell the caribou and feel its soft skin around my shoulders. I see my mothers smiling at me at night. I long for them. Their crinkling eyes. Their fingertips tenderly tickling on my shoulders. I even long for him. My father. The man who sent us to this place.

Suzanne whispers to me often that if we are good we will leave. We will go home. Every day she tells me these same words, “Be good. Nod your head. We will go home. Upaluajaqpuq, obey well.” Every day it doesn’t happen but I do what Suzanne says. She’s the oldest. She knows best. Margarite is different. She doesn’t nod her head. She sticks out her tongue when the long robes aren’t watching. She makes her eyes wide and points her finger pretending to be like them. She folds her hands together and looks to the ground while she walks behind them. Wiggling her behind in wide, long circles.

I am the one who gets caught. I am the one who gets the strip of hard hide across my hands when I laugh at what my sister is doing. I get put into a bare room. It’s cold and dark and smells like rotten willows. I have to stay there for a long time some days. I can hear the food people when I am there. I can hear the banging of pots and pans. I tap my fingers to their beat and whisper a throat song, “Aii, Aii, Aii, yah, yah, yah…” It brings me to home for a short time. Margarite has been put into this dark room too, she likes it though. She says she sees home. She talks like Igjugarjuk, the angakkug who sees visions. When we can sneak our time together she tells me she saw what our mothers and father were doing. She tells me their conversations and how they miss us too.

One day Margarite and I hide under some stairs at the back of the school and she tells me everything she sees. She makes me remember what we were and tells me what we will be. She says that soon we will fly home. She says that we are like the sisters of Kadlu, the three of us. We will get home. Our parents really didn’t lock us out like Kadlu’s parents did. Margarite is like Tootega for me. She is wisest and I believe she can walk on the water. I am in the middle of the sisters. I have to listen to both of them. I try my best to be what the robes want us to be too. It’s hard. Very hard.

There are many robes here. Some are men and some are women. We never see the hair of the women. I would like to know what is underneath their coverings. They each wear long beads with a cross on their necks. Their leader wears the biggest cross. Some of them have round see-through circles in front of their eyes. Their eyes make me think of Issitoq, the flying giant eye who has the right to punish me. I fear those man robes more than the others. They are the ones who will punish me most. The men in robes all have beards. They talk in quiet, deep voices and ask about us three. It is as if we are too different from the rest. We are never supposed to be together. We are never supposed to sit together for meals or sleep near each other. The robes say this is for the best. This is the way we will learn to be something that will make us better than what we started out being. They tell us about this God and how he is watching over us. They tell us if we don’t behave we will be covered in fire. Their stories make me tremble. Suzanne tells me that we have to respect their stories. We have to listen to what they tell us. She is oldest and wisest. I try to obey her.

Margarite laughs at their stories. She thinks they are funny and tells me that they are only trying to make us do what the clock wants. She tells me that the clock is really their God. She makes funny sounds, mixing tick-tock noises with the songs our mothers taught us. It makes me giggle and Margarite even makes this clock song when we are in the classroom.

Then the robes pull her hair tightly and she kicks and laughs as they lift her from her desk with one fist full of the hair from the top of her head. Margarite calls them names we would never speak out loud at home. Holding her up above the floor they spin her around. Her hair twists and twists but she never screams. Her red face sings our throat songs from home while they curse her for breaking their white taboo. They tell her that she is going to go to the place of fire. They take her from the classroom and put her into the room stinking of dead willows. I get jealous. She is going home again for today. I have to stay in this room and learn to write with a wooden twig. I have to learn about numbers and small words. I want to go home with Margarite. She will fly away from the stinky room. She will see and hear what I can’t. I wish I was with her just for today.

Suzanne is the opposite. She sits straight. She learns how to move the twig across the yellow empty paper. The robes like her best. They tell her that she is going to go far in this place. But where is there to go? There are three floors. There is nowhere else to go to. Suzanne doesn’t understand. She says if we do as we are told we will get to go home. I keep my head down, my eyes to the floor and I remember the day of Margarite and I hearing the geese fly to us. It makes me feel good. I never look at the robes unless they pull my chin up towards them. I don’t want to see them with their clear round glass shaped eyes. I don’t want to know about them.

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Norma Dunning is an Inuit writer, scholar and researcher. She lives in Edmonton.



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