The Rhetoric of Silence in Life Among the Qallunaat


This paper explores the rhetoric of silence in Mini Aodla Freeman’s Life Among the Qallunaat. Partway through this memoir, the author shares a parable about a government man who, having spent significant time in the North, adopts Inuit ways, becoming “Inuk-washed.” The marker of this man’s transformation is his decision not to speak back to his superiors; instead, “he chooses to be quiet and to sit back and listen.” This learned behaviour resonates with other silences in the book: the narrator is characterized by her refusal and sometimes inability to speak up; meanwhile, Aodla Freeman has since alluded to what was not included in her book (the full history of her experience at residential school). And while these decisions not to speak reflect Inuit cultural protocols around deference to authority, they also challenge a 21st century audience reading this text in the era of Truth & Reconciliation—a time, after all, of ‘breaking the silence’ and of speaking back. What are readers to make, then, of Aodla Freeman’s insistence upon silence as a commendable act? How are qallunaat to emulate the silence of the government man, especially when it risks complicity with oppression? I argue that Life Among the Qallunaat re-figures silence not only as a form of resistance to the expected ‘confession’ of traumatic experience (Garneau), but also as a rhetorical tool capable of inspiring reflection and even alliance where, previously, there was none.

This article “The Rhetoric of Silence in Life Among the Qallunaat” originally appeared in Indigenous Literature and the Arts of Comunity. Spec. issue of Canadian Literature 230-231 (Autumn/Winter 2016): 144-159.

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