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.