I honestly think it would be strange if I didn’t have my feet firmly planted in more than one world at one time.
2001 was the year I did my first field trip as an anthropologist-in-training. I was headed to a small hamlet community called Igloolik, in the newly established Nunavut Territory. I was going to find out what I could about local filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk and his film production company called Igloolik Isuma Productions (http://www.isuma.tv/isuma-productions). Kunuk was at the Cannes Film Festival when I arrived, winning the Camera d’Or for Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner. I just have to point out here that to date, Kunuk is the only Canadian filmmaker to have won the Camera d’Or in the history of this prestigious award.
I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was out of my element well before I arrived in the hamlet community of 1200 people. I’m pretty sure the plane from Iqaluit to Igloolik was a Lockheed L-100 Hercules; seats were installed for passengers and the rest remained sectioned off for cargo. The flight attendant was a guy in coveralls, maybe even the co-pilot for all I can remember now. When I arrived at the tiny little one-room airport, I waited for Israel, the one person I knew in Igloolik to come and meet me.
He eventually showed up with buddy and a snowmobile. It was the beginning of May and there was still snow and sea ice as far as the eye could see. Somehow the three of us, plus all of the luggage and gear that was meant to support my five-week stay piled onto the snowmobile, and we were off!
Over the course of five weeks, I interviewed eight people who had worked on Kunuk’s films, including Kunuk himself. I ran a sled dog away from a boatful of fish; this is NOT something in retrospect I would recommend, though I somehow escaped unscathed. I was invited out on the land three times, which was a big deal according to my thesis supervisor. One of those expeditions was a camping trip with my research assistant Leappi’s family. I didn’t see any polar bears but I did go ice fishing and I ate caribou and raw seal for the first time.
Maybe it was during my undergrad, or, maybe it was in grad school, but I distinctly remember a discussion about how often times, people who are drawn to the discipline of anthropology come from bi-cultural backgrounds. The main part of our jobs as anthropologists; if I can include myself as one, being that I am ‘only’ masters prepared; involves immersing one’s self in a culture and community that isn’t one’s own. Learning to successfully live in two worlds simultaneously from a young age serves one well when they’re in the field is the idea, I guess. And it makes good sense to me.
This may sound odd, but it wasn’t until my 20s that I realized that my family is bi-cultural. I always knew that my Mom’s family is English protestant and my Dad’s family is French Catholic – French Acadian, to be precise. Despite the accents and the French spoken in certain places and at certain times, it honestly didn’t occur to me that I was French too, until I was a little older. Weird, right?
We lived in an Anglophone community where English was spoken almost without exception. I had a Grandmére and a Grandpére sure, but they spoke to me in English. I wouldn’t have understood much if they had tried to say something to me in French. Their thick Acadian accents had always been there, so I didn’t really think about the way they spoke as different; it was just part of what made them who they were in my little kid brain. I can’t help but think that if only we could all hold onto that kind of thinking, the world might be a much better place.