Saturday, March 07, 2009

In Answer To Your Queries

I received a few queries regarding last month's "Eskimo" dog tag post from a researcher from the University of Victoria. Rather than make what might be a lengthy comment, I've decided to post the questions here and answer them in hopes it will be found and also for anyone else who might be interested in this issue.

How common are these tags?

The tags in the original post were those of an Inuk colleague from Qikiqtarjuaq, a community on the south east coast of Baffin Island. Tags began with either an "E" or a "W" denoting "Eastern" or "Western Arctic" and were further broken down according to community. Tags starting with "E-6" were issued to Inuit living in the areas of Pangnirtung, Qikiqtarjuaq (Broughton Island), and Clyde River. Tags were used from 1941 to 1978. There use was gradually phased out beginning in 1968-69, when the federal government embarked on Project Surname (1968-1971), which was to replace numbers with surnames. These particular tags are the only ones I've actually seen myself. How they are perceived by Inuit themselves, I can only speculate of course.

Do many people still have them?

That is a great question that I'm not sure I can answer. Though these tags are generally frowned upon today as politically incorrect, I imagine some Inuit would still have them for their historical value.

Do they still hold cultural significance to those who own them? and (I don't know if this is culturally insensitive or not) but do you know where/if I could purchase one?

At the risk of projecting my thoughts and words onto others, I would imagine that these tags serve as a physical reminder of how far Inuit have come since the days of colonialism. Inuk singer, Lucie Idlout's 2005 CD is in fact titled "E5-770". (E-5 denoting Inuit from Pond Inlet). A little off-topic, here but in 2007, the National Film Board of Canada released the short docu-comedy, Qallunaat: Why White People Are Funny, which pokes fun at the whole Eskimo name tag scheme by having Inuit issue name tags to qallunaat (southerners).

As for your last question, I don't really know about being able to purchase them or not, unless you were somehow able to contact someone with a tag, but again I really don't know. You may want to contact either the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Ottawa or the Nunatta Sunakkutanngit Museum in Iqaluit.