What We're Reading #RISEbookclub
Life Among the Qallunaat
By Mini Aodla Freeman
Published by University of Manitoba Press
Life Among the Qallunaat is the story of Mini Aodla Freeman’s experiences growing up in the Inuit communities of James Bay and her journey in the 1950s from her home to the strange land and stranger customs of the Qallunaat, those living south of the Arctic. Her extraordinary story, sometimes humorous and sometimes heartbreaking, illustrates an Inuit woman’s movement between worlds and ways of understanding. It also provides a clear-eyed record of the changes that swept through Inuit communities in the 1940s and 1950s.
Week 7. Questions to consider.
This week, we are reading pages 218-275 (“Housework is a Lonely Affair” to “How Do I Like the Weather?”). As you read, you may want to consider the following questions and discuss them in the comments section here.
On page 220, Mini writes “Yet they will never really accept the Inuit fully.” Mini’s wrote the original manuscript for this book during the 1970s. Do you think in 2018, her statement continues to be a reality for Inuit?
Mini discusses Inuit concepts of childhood on pages 229 and 230. She explains that the daring attitude of young people was perceived as natural and that “teenagers were never marked down as ‘juveniles’ until qallunaat came.” (229) Re-read this short section to learn why age is not a defining concept for Inuit.
Mini’s last chapter is entitled “How Do I Like the Weather?” Recall her earlier words about the weather. Why do you think she ends the book this way?
Week 6. Questions to consider.
This week, we are reading pages 172-217 (“The Sick Gave Me Strength” to “He Was Just Meant to be a Memory.” ). As you read, you may want to consider the following questions and discuss them in the comments section here.
On page 180 Mini is affected by “creeps” when she handles a deceased body in the hospital, despite having kissed dead bodies before as her tradition had compelled her. Why do you think Mini feels “creeps” in this setting, and how might her experience with death in the hospital compare to her own traditions?
It is interesting that Mini writes “the sick gave me mental strength” on page 182, and her next chapter is called “What I Needed Was Physical Strength.” Why do you think Mini makes this distinction between mental and physical health?
On page 206 we find out that Grandmother does not want Mini to marry the man that Mini’s father has picked for her. Mini suspects that her father only chose this man “for the sake of peace and survival amongst our group.” Grandmother calls this man lazy and doesn’t allow Mini to perform traditional mating and courting rituals for him. How is Mini affected by the decisions being made for her, and how does she take control of decisions in her life?
In Moose Factory, Mini takes a job looking after two small children and she soon falls in love with them (213). Do you think Mini’s experiences have shaped her into a successful caregiver, or does she have a natural propensity to care for others?
Week 5. Questions to consider.
This week, we are reading pages 137-171 (“Common to Natives, but Not to Doctors” to “Novelty Creates Smell”). As you read, you may want to consider the following questions and discuss them in the comments section here.
When Mini returns to school, she finds that her cousin — the instigator — can no longer bully her, because the cousin is held in check by the new students from Point Blue, QC. She comments: “I could not help but feel sorry for her. It’s painful to watch someone who has been so aggressive be demeaned.” Does Mini’s reaction resonate with you?
Mini finds puberty bewildering and receives only limited information from her grandmother. In particular, her grandmother tells her that her “novelty” will come every month “unless she is touched by a man”. The ambiguity of this advice causes significant confusion for Mini and the employees at the residential school. Why do you think Mini includes this episode in her narrative?
At two points in this section, Mini wants to know what her family members have been up to: (i) when her father makes the decision to leave his employment with the Freres store and (ii) when her brother arrives home late. In both cases, she does not ask her family members directly what happened. She explains: “If a person is questioned or forced to explain themselves, they will only lie.” Do you agree with this statement? How does this statement accord with our current policing and court practices?