Culture of Inertia

A Culture of Inertia

(a piece I wrote for National Trust Canada).

By: Susan Aglukark, O.C.

A story that profoundly touched me was told to us (siblings) by our mother, a childhood memory and one which would have been very emotional and *culturally foreign.

My mothers and fathers childhoods were spent on the land much like the old Inuit. I imagine it was a bit of a confusing time because while they lived in tents and igluit, the others (RCMP, Roman Catholic Church, Government Agents, the Hudsons Bay Company) had “homes” of wooden structures, imagine a village of igloos interspersed with wooden homes, a near permanent and new presence, a new language, changing rules of survival, an either or situation. I call this period the “transition” years, these transition years were brief but a time of great emotional and cultural distress.

It was during this time of transition and distress in the 1950’s that several policies were developed, designed to begin the process of “managing the Inuit problem”. Part of this dialogue was about placing Inuit into permanent settlements, one solution and consequent policy was the education policy or the residential school policy (the assimilation policy).

This same policy was adopted/adapted and enforced to begin to educate Inuit children, many were forcibly taken from their families/camps and placed in residential schools.

As we hear through many similar stories, many Inuit children were simply “picked up” and taken from their respective camps by church and gov’t agents and delivered to churches and/or residential schools to “begin” their education. My mothers story is much the same, late one summer while with her grandmother Tahiuq, she is simply picked up (along with her brother, our Uncle Evano), taken from her Grandmother and camp at Tingmiaqtalik and brought to a mission house at the mouth of the Maguse River, (Padlei), along the Hudsons Bay Coast, (not far from what is now Arviat).

My mother recalls spending several days at this school but she did not want to be there and so one night she got away and walked for three nights and 4 days to get back to her Grandmother and to return to her camp.

I often wonder what it must have felt like for my mother and especially for her Grandmother Tahiuq to be forcibly separated from each other without really understanding when and if you will see each other again, permission was not really asked or granted.

The emotion I always come back to when I think of that period is best described by one inuktitut word, ilira ᐃᓕᕋ, the word ilira encompasses many feelings at once, inferiority, fear, inadequacy, all of these emotions come together, fuse so as to create a sense of profound emotional discombobulation, our grandmothers and grandfathers must have been so ilirasuktuq (ᐃᓕᕋᓱᒃᑐᖅ) so as to become profoundly uncertain and therefore helpless. We need to understand this period through the lense of the emotions that would have overcome this generation, to understand this period of distress may shed some light on it’s consequent culture created by this time, the methods of transition and communication, the culture of inertia.

The love between my mother and her grandmother was so strong that my mother knew once she returned to her Grandmother she would be safe, this love was given to her during her formative years and this generation was the last to live their formative years in traditional culture. I asked her during a chat recently if she had ever felt ilirasuk and she said she never has where as I have pursued my career almost always feeling ilirasuk.

Busy 2016!

I can’t believe 2016 passed and we are already into early March of 2017!!!

So much happened in 2016 I don’t even know where to start. Actually, I do. I’ll start with the first working trip we had, Nain, Labrador in late February of 2016.

After all these years I should be used to “the work” but I still find myself hesitant to share, share my story, share my “path”, share my method of recovery and healing until Nain.

I left home in 1991, 26 years later, I look back and see a healed enough life and I have a duty to share it, I am proud to share it, I have earned the right to share it and now I know we need to share! All of these years later our children and youth are still struggling, are still fighting for the basics! How can this be in this great country of ours!?!

I know only what I know, I make a pledge to share this every opportunity I get, lives can change, can be healed, we just need to take action now to see this begin to happen!




I know only what I know.

I just spend 12 incredible days aboard the Ocean Endeavour as part of a staff/crew for Adventure Canada. I left thinking only this, you know only what you know. Until this trip I thought that growing up Inuk was enough in terms of knowledge and traditional skills but after spending a few days with some of the lecturers and having great conversations, I realized I really don’t know enough.

I have since returning home from this great trip researching and collecting information to read, I come back to the same question, where do we get this information to learn about the incredible people that were our ancestors?

Our ancestors were guides for many explorer expeditions and with all due respect, explorers came and went, Inuit stayed, survived and thrived, this would have taken so much land and animal knowledge, human body knowledge, environmental knowledge, they may not have approached things from a scientific eye but they were still very much knowledgeable and highly functioning!!!

I have greater love and respect for my ancestors now after this trip and have a renewed determination and commitment to learn as much as I can about our past. Thank you Adventure Canada.

Inside Looking Out

Inside looking Out

By Dr. Susan Aglukark, O.C.


Emotional boundaries are crucial in helping us to enjoy healthy relationships and avoid unhealthy or dysfunctional relationships;

© John Stibbs 2001

In the article titled Emotional Boundaries (link above to the hiddenhurt website), John Stibbs talks about lack of a sense of identity and how “we tend to draw our identities, our sense of self worth from our partner or significant other as we did in the earliest stage of our biological growth in our family of origin, drawing our sense of worth from their perceptions of us”, for this article I want to talk about our sense of self worth in terms of self worth drawn from our earliest stage of our biological growth and what were their perceptions of us? And in this context I am talking about the first generation of “the new inuk parenting” being the family origin and the place from which perceptions were drawn”.

 One of the greatest challenges I faced in the early part of my career was I found I was always second guessing myself, always deferring to the “one’s who know more”, I realized during the course of writing the Arctic Rose album that it wasn’t that they knew more, I just did not “know it yet”, the greater challenge then became, what don’t I know and how do I come to know it? As I set myself on the path of understanding what it was I “did not know” I kept coming back to a void in my life, like a black hole that for a very long time confused me. It was like the answer evaded me no matter how hard I tried to get to it.

 I had to this point lived on the idea of “uuktumiaq”, an Inuktitut word meaning to “see what happens”, the danger with this kind of thinking is that we aren’t really committing, committing to the risk of commitment, to the failure of it, I went into the CBC/Dreams For You album recording to uuktumiaq, what followed was a new awakening and it was truly frightening. The process that took place in submitting the demo’s for the CBC album not only awakened the dream again but also showed me that their were people out there who really were out their simply to share their passions which set me on a path of a deeper wanting and wanting to trust and this meant small steps of committing to myself which meant I also had to learn to say no or yes, when I do commit, know what I am committing to and in the process of understanding what I was committing were very small feeling of self worth, self worth turning into sense of self, sense of self turning into who trusting myself about who I let into my life and who doesn’t belong, what belongs in my life and what doesn’t, slowly my boundaries were (re) forming and with them a sense of pride in my accomplishments and than a deeper need to do more, to trust my dream (life).

 I guess the question here is (for Inuit) are we the generation that begins to trust the “new Inuk” identity? To replace what should have been “healthy biological growth” from which we might than have been able to develop the “new Inuk identity”? Almost two whole generations of Inuit went without “perceptions of self” during the colonization with which to help create this biological growth, could this be the black hole? I for one commit to filling in that black hole, I commit to taking steps, the chances, the risks, making the mistakes because in this process, I have found myself on this incredible journey.

 I am no longer just “*uuktumiaqing” , I am full on participating.

 Recap: Don’t be afraid of “perceptions”, be in control of them, challenge them, change them.

Letting Go of Fear

Letting go of Fear

By: Dr. Susan Aglukark, O.C.


My first few months in Ottawa, I was in a constant state of hyper awareness, I loved my new found independence but I very quickly found that I had no clue the dangers of living in a city. I remember going for a walk late one night at a park and when I went to work the next day I mentioned that I had gone for this walk in the park and the next thing my boss is practically yelling at me telling me that that park in particular is a very dangerous place to be at night and alone, I had no idea!

I had a lot to learn about city life, bus routes, apartments, grocery stores, I remember spending hours at a grocery store just stunned at how much there was to pick from. Living in a city was like starting all over again but having only the emotional boundaries with which we grew up with I always felt like I had to dig a little deeper to figure out simple things like cheques writing, budgeting, scheduling etc. An example of an emotional boundary is the term: yai or yai ilaa! Which means but I’m scared (or afraid) in a situation like mine, if I used or thought the term yai ilaa I would be saying it’s too much to learn so I won’t bother, again, afraid because I literally didn’t know what to do, in this case, not ilirasuk, I just did not ever have to apply “common sense” to that situation (ie. taking a city bus) because it never existed in my previous world.

This was a new fear, having to always ask for simple things like how do I get on the bus? Do I pay? How much are the bus tickets? Where do I get them? Who do I talk to? Will he/she think I’m stupid for asking? Where do I get on the bus and where do I get off the bus? Can I ask someone on the bus? Will they think I’m stupid?

Groceries, why so many kinds of jam? What is the difference? Who do I ask? What will the think? How many different kinds of meat are there really???? And yikes!!!

And fruit, so much fruit!!!! Vegetables!!!!  How does one cook them? Now I have to think about what pots and pans to use for cooking these vegetables?

The biggest fear for me was always being concerned that everyone would think I am stupid but we are not stupid, we have only that with which we grew up with, home, community, environment, the conversations we have around the table, the books we read in our schools/libraries, and all of the above were often limited to small town Nunavut life and living, (I distinguish between small town Province and small town Nunavut because there is a big leap between even those two).

I chose to leave to start over, I had to choose again whether I wanted to look like a fool for my new life, I chose to look like a fool, I chose to ask questions, I chose to figure things out for the new life I was giving myself. I liked who I was becoming (long before I started singing or songwriting), I wanted to stay on that journey, I had to accept that for the first little while I would have a lot of learning to do, as I learned new things, fear did not so much control me as motivate and equip me. I learned to replace yai ilaa with atiimi (another Inuktitut word which kind of means bring it on).

That first year in Ottawa was quite possibly the biggest “learning” year for me, I learned so much about myself that when the opportunity to step into a recording studio came up, my first thought was: hmmm, sure, let’s see what that’s all about! And not, oh wow! Finally, a chance at my dream life!! I was still very much in the “stop being controlled by my fears” ! state of mind and not yet in the “engage my dreamer” statement of mind. This was a good thing because in hind sight, choosing to (begin to) learn to manage my fears was going to be a very critical tool for what would become the “rest of my life”.

Recap: If something is worth fighting for, it’s also worth looking like a fool for.


Nurturing the Dreamer

Nurturing the Dreamer.

I speak often about Nurturing the Dream and the dreamer. One of my fondest memories is walking along the waters edge in Arviat and getting lost in my thoughts and dreams, we are talking about 35 years ago so I guess the question becomes what source or inspiration would I have drawn from to “dream” with in small town Nunavut in a community of 1200 people with only the Tommy Hunter show for entertainment on television (which was a favourite show of mine at that time)?

Dreaming or goal setting is not so much the topic or issue for this article but rather the emotion engaged when dreaming or goal setting, hope! As long as we dream or wish or desire something hope is alive in our hearts and spirits and hope is one of several very powerful emotions that allows the human spirit to keep fighting for itself in spite of or despite our personal circumstances and history. The Tommy Hunter show, the walks along the waters edge, the time alone allowed for healthy emotions in general and hope specifically to stay engaged even if the world I created in my mind was a different world (meaning not my world at that time), the power of hope that that dream world stirred was stronger than the draw of hopelessness. I am an optimist, my spirit always searched out things to believe in, I saw the waters edge (oceans edge) as a sparkling beautiful thing that had at once so much power and so much beauty, the water that nurtured the whales and fish and seals, the water that was the seagulls playground, the water that could be so foggy and misty one minute you could barely see your hand in front of you but with a slight shift of temperature the mist would lift and all you see is the crystal clear ocean that when frozen became miles and miles of transportation routes that once it ended still provided a source of transportation if you happen to have a boat with your sled and ski doo to take you even further and beyond what your eyes could see, dreaming did not end at the waters edge in town, it could go on…one can be a dreamer if one believes in the power of hope. The time spent day dreaming was an escape, I don’t know from what, I had nothing to escape from really but I always felt the draw to go somewhere, to be somewhere else if even only in my mind.

The environment we grew up in was/is the only one we knew, we draw inspiration from it again begging the question, if we can draw inspiration and hope from our surroundings, what and where does this need to be inspired come from? Do we search out and find inspiration differently, do we all see one thing but each of us is inspired differently from that same thing?

What is the one common denominator? We want to believe in something, we want to continue to hope…because hope is so powerful, believing is so powerful, we will search it out! I left my home in the early 1990’s because I could feel that hope dying in me, the belief I had in life was becoming engulfed in anger and resentment, I left to give my spirit a break from the constant struggle for hope, I chose to feed and nurture hope even though for a time I was very lonely in Ottawa. I made the choice to start over (alone) even though I had no idea what it would entail, I just knew that I had to.

Recap: Sometimes we make decisions that feel selfish and even wrong but sometimes those decisions need to be made.

The Journey

The Journey

Dr. Susan Aglukark, O.C.

 Awakenings, what do I mean by awakenings? I had to ask myself this same question and the answer was in understanding what the emotion was but sometimes and maybe more often than not this is the root of our struggle, we have forgotten how to be true to our emotions. We are so busy coping that our true emotions are set aside and no longer factored into our daily lives until all that is left is grief, anger, resentment, disillusionment and these emotions do not feed the soul. I had to dig deep and remember when my emotions had hidden from me and go back and find them, learn to trust them again, learn to feel them again, allow them to guide me on the days that I needed guiding, but and this is one of the areas we Aboriginal women have set aside for far too long, we need to learn to feel again and to being to trust our feelings again.

 One such emotion or feeling (for me) was trust, our communities had for so long existed on a foundation of trust that when this was broken the retaking of it severed more than the bridge of honest communication but many other things, I could no longer entrust my thoughts and dreams with anyone, I could no longer voice my anger and fears and in keeping everything buried  inside of me this (lack of emotion) compounded into lack of engagement, if it annoy allow my eh art to soar through its dreams and desires than what am I really dreaming for?

 Many things were severed when trust was broken, we can recover enough to gain back control of our emotions, slowly but surely we can begin to believe again.

 My first step in recovering my belief in myself was acknowledging that I wanted to, I wanted to stay on a path I had found myself on in the early part of my  career, the more I learned about myself the more I wanted to learn about myself and my potential the less I was  intimidated by my future as a singer /songwriter and so on.

Life slowly became more about the journey and less about recovering, I still harbour some anger and resentment, the ugly images will always be with me but they no longer control me, life is now the thing it should have been, the journey.

Recap: Choosing to fight for your life/dream/hearts desire is a first step from recovering to the journey, each step taken will be a step towards a stronger self and a step closer to the life you dreamed of.

Heart Awakening

Heart Awakening

By: Dr. Susan Aglukark, O.C.

In 1991, I got a phone call from CBC Northern Services and Les McLaughlin, he described an annual project with Northern Artists and asked me would I be interested in submitting a demo for consideration for the upcoming recording? I had no clue what he meant by demo so I asked him and after he explained it to me I immediately accepted the invitation to submit. I of course did not have songs to submit but I did have some poems I had written in high school, most were written in Inuktitut and since I could play three cords on a guitar I developed very simple melodies for the poems and submitted 7 inuktitut “songs” and 1 english “song” to Les and all 8 were selected for the project, this was my first recording experience.

At the time of this recording I had been living in Ottawa about 4 months and was still very much a small town Nunavut minded person which is to say that I had very little “worldly” experience and no tools with which to draw from and had yet to settle into the city life but a couple of things were happening simultaneously, I was beginning to feel what might be considered the stirrings of a deep want or yearning, ie. I wanted to fly airplanes and so I had begun ground schooling for a pilots license and at around the same time CBC calls with this offer to be a part of this project suddenly I find myself with two very real and very attainable opportunities both of which meant giving in to a yearning but it also meant I had to fast track my unease with the city life, (yes, Ottawa was a big city at the time) but rather than “fast track” this hurdle, what ended up happening was that I had to set it aside and focus on this yearning and maybe this  is all part of the process of engaging a dream but from that time on and for many years to follow, I felt like I was hanging on but…what was I hanging on to when I hadn’t yet in my own mind latched onto anything, was this yearning the thing I had to latch on to? Where would it take me?

What I mean is this, in order to cope with how fast things were moving forward with that CBC project and than with the recording of the first album The Arctic Rose, I had to set aside these feelings of inadequacy, I had to choose to be enough in that moment so that I could cope with all that was going on around me. The people I worked with were wonderful people but like most, they had no idea that in my mind and heart was this constant fear that I was a fraud, that I wasn’t really the singer/songwriter they seem to think I was, that everyone around me was so much better and that I did not belong!  It is this constant underlying perpetuating sense of ilira that was prevalent in the early part of my career that held me back from truly engaging but also forcing me to really look at what was at risk.

I was working for the ITK (Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami) as Executive Assistant during the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and we travelled quite extensively across Canada at the same time as when the Arctic Rose Album had come out and so I found myself living between two careers and doing my night schooling to get my pilots license and so I couldn’t decide which one to nurture. I did not feel like I had what it took to be a singer/songwriter, I knew I had a lot of learning to do to become a better singer, I was really enjoying my job as executive assistant and could see myself taking necessary training to keep advancing that career  and I had the dream of flying air planes but my decision to follow through on the Arctic Rose project set me on  my personal recovery  journey and my heart was waking up and at the end of the day, isn’t this the true calling we all wait for!?!

Only, I did not know about awakenings, I did not have any words or stories passed down to me that I could use and apply into that part of my “transition”, there was no knowledge bridge, no words of wisdom to guide me through this “heart awakening” I had only the fear and how the heart responded to it. Often I would wake up on the weekend mornings and start my day by placing the fear in a compartment in the back of my brain, I would then hop in a cab or take a bus to where ever I had to go to meet up with that days co-writer and than go back home and get ready for the weeks regular work which was a relief because at least there I had a job description, daily expectations, people with specific tangible needs, writing an album with no image for what it’s future held, it was like standing on a piece of glass but beneath it was an abyss, black and cold, no idea what was there and how deep it went.

But underneath it all was this awakening and a choice, to heal or to remain afraid of my future. My decision to pursue the singing career wasn’t so much a choice to pursue the singing career as much as to see how much my heart and spirit could heal? What potential lay inside of me and can I really set aside the fear enough to regain some control of my life? Along with this choice was the knowledge that I would have to write my own bridging story, develop my own tools, build my own knowledge bridge and to begin to trust the awakening heart.

Like confronting my fears, I could not make this decision lightly, I made it in small steps, my first choice was to write the personal stories in the Arctic Rose songs, this the first step, from that point on was one decision at a time. One can not heal over night, how do we even know when we are done healing? I think we just have to make small choices, each one will determine the next choice until we reach a point where that road ends and than it’s time to start a new road and we are truly capable of reaching these places in our lives.

Recap: Sometimes part of our healing journey means writing our stories, developing our own tools with which we build our “knowledge bridge” on which we cross over to the awakening heart.


Understanding Ilirasungniq (Part II of the Fear of the Unknown)

By: Dr. Susan Aglukark O.C.

My need to understand this fear of the unknown brought me to an Inuktitut word; Ilira (root word) or to ilirasuk; to ilirasuk is to be made to feel an overwhelming sense of inferiority to the point of being afraid, I think of it as being emotionally discombobulated, an emotion evoked only by humans towards other humans, animals for example could not ilirasuk for they do not have the same capacity to be discombobulated in this way. To ilirasuk is to be emotionally controlled to the point of (and one of the outcomes being)  feeling inadequate, ajurama or I am not capable. This was my first personal question, what was this almost constant state of being discombobulated that overwhelmed me in specific situations and in the company of certain personality types?

My first year in Ottawa, certain situations and people made me feel this and for the first few months this feeling almost beat me down to the point of sending me back home. One of my duties with my first job as a communications coordinator in Ottawa was to give talks in high schools, I decided to include a poem I had written in high school in Yellowknife called Searching, Qiniqpunga and this brought me back to the times in high school where I was feeling home sick or lonely and I would take my note book and go out to the rocks heading to Rainbow valley and I would just write because writing allowed me to be somebody else and therefore not myself, a temporary relief from my constant feeling of discombobulation.

Have we (Inuit) always *ilirasuk’d? I believe we have. To Ilirasuk is to be afraid but not of a tangible thing, it is a fear brought on by a manipulation or a manifestation of the spiritual part of the psyche. Was it the (bad) shamans or spiritual leaders who understood early on that they could manipulate us with this fear by using the “spirit world” or were the leaders of our camps who also understood they could manipulate a camp with this kind of fear the place where we began to Ilirasuk? The point is that we have always *ilirasuk’d and the abuse, misuse (and maybe misunderstanding) of ilira on the part of the of decision makers at the time of colonization made many Inuit more malleable to the point of us becoming more institutionalized to the point where some of us (second generation New Inuit) still carry that kind of ilira around with us. I certainly felt that way when I first moved to Ottawa but every now and than I would feel the stirrings deep inside of the person I was when I was at the rocks in Yellowknife, I wanted to be that person and so I have set out to understand and to respect Ilira rather than it control me.

So, who was that person at the rocks in Yellowknife? Occasionally I ventured down the rocks and into Rainbow Valley to watch the water planes land and leave, I wanted to be a pilot (or maybe it was simply to fly away) but I was so entrenched in my fears or ilirasungniq that I never allowed myself to believe I could be a pilot but the person at the rocks slowly became stronger than the person who always *ilirasuk’d, the more I indulged in the dream the more I believed I could be a pilot. I started night schooling in Ottawa in late 1991 but than at around the same time things began to shift to something else totally different, a call from CBC Northern Services (Radio) and a man by the name of Les McLaughlin would change the path of my life and challenge my new found self.

*not a proper Inuktitut word.

Understanding Fear

So how did/do I begin this journey? I had no clue and I (thought/felt) that I had no one to ask so I decided to start by identifying what I was feeling, what was I feeling? I was feeling fear, I was feeling alone, I always felt overwhelmed. After noting these feelings, what was next? The next question was what do I do about these feelings? I decided to try to begin to understand them, I started with fear, understanding fear. I went out a day or two later and found a book called the The Gift of Fear, by Gavin De Becker. In beginning to understand this feeling that had for so long controlled me, I began to truly allow myself to feel the full significance of what had been done to me, I had been violated, my child innocence was taken with absolutely no consideration for it’s lifelong impact and memories, the psychological affect all it would have on me throughout my young adult years. I think what had most adversely affected was when I told the adults around me what had been done to me, nothing was done, it was swept under the rug, once again, a sense of betrayal, but even more profound was that I did not feel any real outrage in my heart, I did not feel (part of my PCST) that I had any right to feel outrage and so as I got older, I saw myself as something not worth the fight, me for myself but nor could I ask anyone to fight for me, I thought I would never have any meaningful relationships. Beginning to  understand all of this helped me begin to see why I was the way I was and this was a new insight to my other behaviours. I do not blame anyone (except my abuser of course) for how things were handled, I sort of understand why things weren’t handled and I will leave that at that.

Beginning  to understand and to see what had been done to me for what it was, that I had a right to outrage, to anger, to fight for myself, to move on was in itself incredibly empowering, I slowly began to regain as much of what I had lost as I could. I had an unhealthy, dysfunctional notion of fear, fear of life, of dreaming, of loving , of being loved, of intimacy, of being in control, of making certain decisions in my life, and I wanted to feel it all…so I decided to embrace fear, to face it, to take it on.

Another book I read is one called women who run with the wolves by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, a very intense and powerful read for women who want to feel it all, to live wholly and as completely as the world around us will allow us to (and maybe stretch those boundaries once in awhile) J

Between these two books, I found myself begin to feel a new life taking over, I began to see myself differently in the mirror, as a beautiful woman with her whole life before her, and for the first time in my life, I felt like this life was really, truly mine!

15 years later, I walk along side fear, I respect it, I trust it but it no longer controls me or my life. This was my first “tool”, understanding fear.

I don’t share photos of myself voluntarily, part of my abuse was being photographed, this did more damage than anything (in the long term) and so it was truly ironic how my life became about being photograph, about my image. Anyway, I am sharing a few pictures of myself with this article, picture 1 taken months before the abuse, picture 2 taken in high school when I was at my worst in terms of “girl/woman” confidence and another take about 6 years after my “healing” journey began (2005), I hope you will see the difference in who I was then and who I am (becoming) today, I hope you too can see in yourself the woman you want to be.

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