Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk: Journey From Sanaaq To Cultural Legacy
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Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk: Journey From Sanaaq To Cultural Legacy

In the vast expanse of Kangiqsujuaq, Nunavik, a remarkable Inuit woman, Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk Attasie Nappaaluk, left an indelible mark on the cultural landscape of Canada.

Born in 1931 and passing away on April 30, 2007, Nappaaluk’s life story unfolds as a tapestry of resilience, creativity, and a deep commitment to preserving Inuit heritage.

Early Years: Who is Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk?

who is mitiarjuk nappaaluk

Born in 1931 in Kangiqsujuaq, Nunavik, Mitiarjuk Attasie Nappaaluk entered the world as the elder of two daughters.

In a community where traditional gender roles held sway, her unique position fueled a childhood of learning both women’s traditional tasks and skills typically reserved for men, such as the art of hunting caribou and seals.

Nappaaluk’s resilience shone through during times of adversity, as she undertook solo hunting trips to support her family when her father faced illness.

As a young woman, Nappaaluk’s prowess as a hunter earned her widespread admiration and respect in her community. At the age of 16, she found herself the subject of several courtship offers from local men.

Eventually, she chose Naalak Nappaaluk as her life partner, embarking on a marital journey that defied some customary norms.

In defiance of the Inuit tradition where the wife typically moves to live with the husband’s family, Naalak made a distinctive choice.

He agreed to join Mitiarjuk’s parents’ household, assuming the role of the family’s primary provider.

This unconventional decision set the stage for a strong and enduring partnership, as the couple welcomed seven children into their lives.

This early exposure to Inuit traditions laid the foundation for her lifelong commitment to preserving and celebrating her cultural heritage.

The Power of Words: Language, Literature, and Sanaaq

At the age of 20, Nappaaluk’s life took a transformative turn with the arrival of missionaries in her community.

This encounter became a cultural exchange, with Nappaaluk teaching the missionaries Inuktitut, and in return, learning how to write in Inuktitut syllabics.

This unique collaboration exemplified the harmonious coexistence of different worlds, a theme that resonated throughout her life.

Nappaaluk’s Literary Legacy: Sanaaq

mitiarjuk nappaaluk sanaaq

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In the early 1950s, Catholic missionaries sought Nappaaluk’s help to improve their Inuktitut.

In exchange, they introduced her to the Inuktitut syllabic system for writing.

Initially, she agreed to assist with educational content but soon delved into crafting her own story, evolving into the novel “Sanaaq.”

Spanning over 20 years, she juggled writing with parental and educational duties, facing interruptions for tuberculosis treatment during two southern trips.

Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk’s literary prowess culminated in the creation of “Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk Sanaaq,” a groundbreaking novel written over two decades, from the 1950s and finally published in 1984.

This Inuktitut masterpiece provided a window into the daily life of an Inuk woman, Sanaaq, her family, and her community, spanning the transformative period from the 1920s to the 1950s.

With anthropologist Bernard Saladin D’Anglure’s support, the novel navigated completion, and in 1984, “Sanaaq” saw its Inuktitut syllabics publication, swiftly becoming a cultural cornerstone in Inuit communities across the Canadian Arctic.

The French translation, hitting bestseller status in Montreal in 2002, and the English edition in 2014, cemented its broader acclaim.

Despite Markoosie Patsauq’s “Harpoon of the Hunter” preceding it in 1970, Nappaaluk’s “Sanaaq” holds the distinction of being Canada’s earliest novel in Inuktitut syllabics, its genesis dating back to the 1950s.

Educational Trailblazer: Bridging Traditional Wisdom and Modern Learning

Despite never experiencing formal education herself, Nappaaluk became an educational trailblazer.

Working with the Kativik School Commission from 1965 to 1996, she played a pivotal role in developing the Inuktitut language curriculum and providing cultural awareness training for teachers.

This commitment earned her an honorary Doctorate of Law from McGill University in 2000, a testament to her dedication to preserving and transmitting Inuit knowledge.

Recognition and Honors: Awards Reflecting a Lifetime of Dedication

In 1999, Nappaaluk received the National Aboriginal Achievement Award, now known as the Indspire Award, in the category of culture, heritage, and spirituality.

This prestigious recognition celebrated her significant contributions to Inuit culture, solidifying her status as a cultural icon.

Order of Canada: Preserving Inuit Language and Culture

In 2004, Nappaaluk was named a member of the Order of Canada, an honor bestowed upon her for her tireless efforts in preserving the Inuit language and culture.

Beyond her own recognition, this award symbolized the acknowledgment of the importance of Inuit heritage on the national stage.

Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk receiving the Order of Canada

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Expressing Spirituality Through Art: Nappaaluk’s Soapstone Carvings

In addition to her literary and educational endeavors, Nappaaluk expressed her spirituality through the Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk art of soapstone carving.

Creating intricate figures that represented Inuit traditional imaginings, her works included depictions of the “Monster” and Inuit bodies intertwined.

Notably, her carving titled “Virgin Mary” portrayed Mary as an Inuk, a unique fusion of Inuit tradition and Christian iconography.

Legacy Beyond Words: The Sanaaq Centre and Beyond

Even after her passing in 2007, Nappaaluk’s legacy continues to expand. Posthumously, she was honored with a cultural centre in downtown Montreal, scheduled to open in 2023, aptly named the Sanaaq Centre.

This cultural hub will serve as a testament to her enduring impact on Inuit culture and her ability to bridge traditional and modern expressions of identity.

Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk google

Navigating Traditions in a Modern World

Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk’s life story is a testament to the power of preserving cultural heritage in the face of change.

From her early years in Kangiqsujuaq to the creation of the seminal novel “Sanaaq,” she navigated the delicate balance between tradition and modernity.

Her educational contributions, literary achievements, and artistic expressions have left an indelible mark on Inuit culture, earning her the admiration of generations past, present, and future.


In the words of her daughter Arnaujaq Nappaaluk Qumaaluk said, “It was not only for herself, but all Inuit people.”

Mitiarjuk Nappaaluk’s legacy extends far beyond awards and honors – it is a profound love for her people, an enduring commitment to preserving Inuit heritage, and a guiding light for Inuit communities navigating the complexities of the modern world.

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