Sanaaq is an intimate story of an Inuit family negotiating the changes brought into their community by the coming of the qallunaat, the white people, in the mid-nineteenth century. Composed in 48 episodes, it recounts the daily life of Sanaaq, a strong and outspoken young widow, her daughter Qumaq, and their small semi-nomadic community in northern Quebec. Here they live their lives hunting seal, repairing their kayak, and gathering mussels under blue sea ice before the tide comes in. These are ordinary extraordinary lives: marriages are made and unmade, children are born and named, violence appears in the form of a fearful husband or a hungry polar bear. Here the spirit world is alive and relations with non-humans are never taken lightly. And under it all, the growing intrusion of the qallunaat and the battle for souls between the Catholic and Anglican missionaries threatens to forever change the way of life of Sanaaq and her young family.
Mitiarjuk Attasie Nappaaluk (1931 – 2007) was an educator and author based in the northern Quebec territory of Nunavik. Dedicated to preserving Inuit culture, Nappaaluk authored over twenty books, including Sanaaq, the first novel written in Inuttitut syllabics. In 1999, Nappaaluk received the National Aboriginal Achievement Award in the Heritage and Spirituality category. In 2000, she was awarded an honorary doctorate from McGill University and in 2004 was appointed to the Order of Canada.
“Despite being a figure of great literary and cultural importance, Mitiarjuk and her work are almost entirely unknown in English-speaking Canada.... Sanaaq may be read as an ethnographic or historical document, but to do so would be to miss the skill and complexity of the storytelling. The novel is a creative and critical intervention into the process of representing Inuit experience.”— Keavy Martin, Studies in Canadian Literature
“This simply told tale captures the stark and sometimes brutal reality of life in the Far North.” — Monique Polak, Montreal Gazette
“Sanaaq begins abruptly and ends with a spiritual release, and everything in between carries the reader along the life journey of a small community tangling with the paradoxes, juxtapositions, and day-to-day realities of northern colonialism while also re-affirming the livelihoods and knowledge that people use to assert local ways of knowing upon colonial actors. This novel, now available in English, is important reading for anyone wishing to better understand the trajectories and ironies of mid-twentieth century state projects to furnish “welfare” to Canada’s northern peoples, and to understand how Inuit actors approached these new realities.”, Zoe Todd, University of Aberdeen, The Goose