The Indigenous Voices Awards are once again celebrating emerging Indigenous writers and this year there are three Inuit finalists in the categories of poetry, unpublished prose and published works in Inuktitut.
Over the past three years the Indigenous Voices Awards have awarded more than $70,000 to Indigenous writers. For 2021 there are 27 short-listed emerging Indigenous writers across 9 categories with both published and unpublished works.
Zacharias Kunuk, who lives in his home community of Iglulik, is the finalist in published work in an Indigenous language with his story The Shaman’s Apprentice, illustrated by Megan Kyak-Monteith.
The Shaman’s Apprentice is a children’s story published by Inhabit Media, based on Kunuk’s short film of the same name and is written in Inuktitut, set in a time before colonization.
“This story happened long before the Europeans came, it’s a story of teaching new shamans to help the sick,” said Kunuk.
This is his first time being a finalist in this category and he hopes to “learn from it.”
“I love touching this area when Inuit lived as their forefathers before them,” he says. “When shamans were around, when we had sky goddess, land goddess, and sea goddess.”
Back when there was a “Day heaven, middle heaven and the one below. This book goes to the one below.”
Norma Dunning, who wrote Eskimo Pie: A Poetics of Inuit Identity, is one of the finalists for published poetry in English. Dunning was born in Quebec, lives in Edmonton, Alberta and is of Inuk descent.
What Dunning hopes to explore in her collection of poetry is what it’s like being an Inuk who hasn’t quite grown up in a traditional Inuit environment.
“I also grew up in a house where we didn’t talk about it, we didn’t talk about being Inuit,” said Dunning, who spoke of Inuit relatives visiting, but there was never a discussion on what being an Inuk meant, “it was very quieted, very, very silent.”
At a point in her life, she started looking at her deeper identity as an Inuk.
“It sort of starts from that point of discovery, and the questions that I’m asked. The expectations of non-Inuit people, of what Inuit people are.”
As someone who doesn’t quite fit the mold of an Inuk she is often faced with those questions.
“This happens to me a lot, in the mainstream ideation of what Inuit people should be, and we’re always supposed to be in the North. We’re always supposed to be next to that seal breathing hole. It’s like we can’t be everyday people.”
On being nominated for this year’s Indigenous Voices Awards, she is simply happy to be one of the finalists, and that Indigenous voices have a platform to be recognized, saying “I’m just pleased for it and I’m pleased that this award exists, because there’s just so many of us Indigenous writers.
“We don’t get the promotion, marketing or visibility that non-indigenous writers get and we write equally as good, if not better.”
She is currently working on her non-fiction book on the Inuit identification system, and hopes to publish another collection of short stories.
The third Inuit finalist in this year’s Indigenous Voices Awards is Deanna M. Jacobson, who is one of the finalists in the unpublished prose in English for her story Hockey and Hot Chocolate.
It is described as “A warm and uplifting look at family support structures,” by the jurors, and as a story that “deftly navigates the challenges and victories of youth” with strong character relationships.
Jacobson was unavailable as of press time.
This year $39,000 will be given out to award recipients on National Indigenous Peoples Day, June 21.