#57 – Starve the Soul, Feed the Ego Part Two: Abe Okpik

I would like to start this post by noting that the Ookpik, which is a totally unrelated stuffed snowy-owl figure made in Kuujjuaq was selected by the government of John George Diefenbaker to represent Canada at the Philadelphia International Trade Fair in 1963. This is both a dope-ass fact (because the Ookpik is cute as shit and because Diefenbaker is the second-greatest Prime Minister in Canada’s sordid history) and the closest thing to a segue that I could throw in to discuss the Hero of the North, Abraham Okpik. Okpik was the driving force of Project Surname, an attempt to right one of Canada’s most wretched thefts from Indigenous peoples.

(S) Cuteness buffer

See, in the 1940s it was considered just too…not-retarded to leave the Inuit well enough alone. Despite them living completely separate from the hideous Canadian apparatus of state, Ottawa just had to find some way to piss in their collective oatmeal. Not even erasing the immensely spiritually-important Indigenous naming systems and replacing them with shitty transliterations of Biblical figures would cut it for the kind of evil Canada was envisioning. Enter the disc number, a sickening dogtag that erased even the tiny dignity of Christianized names and replaced them with an enforced numeration scheme that would make it easier for the caker state to then go about murdering their dogs and forcing them to move to random hellholes for idiotic reasons. These fucking monstrous tags, the product of cakers unwilling to actually learn about the peoples they intended to brutalize in the name of “progress” had to be worn at all times, as though the Inuit were prisoners. Here’s a woman who suffered this shit talking about the kind of dehumanization that the Nazis used at Auschwitz, and no that is not a comparison I make lightly:

Anyways, in the Northwest Territories there came to be elected a fellow-badass by the name of Simonie Michael (or E7-551, if you want to pretend that this is fucking Star Wars deep lore or some shit like that) who had had enough of the cakers from the south treating his people like catalogued product and demanded that his people be given real names again. It was not a true return to the ancient norms, but at the very least Inuit could expect some agency in a core part of their identity. And the primary agent of this Project Surname was Abe Okpik.

To inform every Inuit community of the English finally being forced into dignifying them with names was a monumental task. It required a guy who knew a lot about a huge swatch of land, could reassure people, and could speak fluidly. This was a job tailor-made for Abraham Okpik, who was simply too useful for even Ottawa to ignore. The man had by all measure a shitty childhood, having been sent to residential school at the age of 8. When he wasn’t busy having tuberculosis he was writing some of the first publications in Inuit languages, translating for Diefenbaker, and trying to represent the nastily-under-represented people of the Eastern Arctic.

And then Abe Okpik travelled across the Arctic to every. Single. Community. He fucking hitchhiked. He walked. He flew. He put 72,420km behind him. He spoke with 12,000 people, explaining the change. For the first time in probably ever, the Canadian state had sent an emissary that wasn’t a turd-cake trying to steal something. A seed of restoration had been planted, with Okpik’s linguistic accomplishments helping those who had been pulled away from their roots find footing within themselves. The man was a goddamn hero for so many reasons that recreating the frigid walk at the end of the Left Hand of Darkness is just one among many.

Naturally, Canada makes no mention of this guy. Canadian history classes conveniently ignore the whole “we stole their names” bit, because giving caker children the slightest chance at honest reflection about their country is clearly verboten. Shit, the caker state couldn’t even give Okpik proper funding for transit back when we was trying to restore the dignity of an entire people. But for so many people, Abe Okpik’s heroism is best recalled as a plush animal, and even then only by a particularly dorky subset of cakers.

Rest in Power, Okpik. I’ll do my bit to make sure Canada remembers your titanic achievements.