Restoring his good name
Saying goodbye to Project Surname

Kerry McCluskey
Northern News Services

IQALUIT (Oct 11/99) - Peter Irniq's recent waltz with the courts put him, once again, at the top of the dance card.

And as a result, it may be smoother sailing for Inuit who choose to follow in his footsteps.

"I'm pretty excited about it," said Irniq, who, in August, received official notice that the spelling of his name had been legally changed from Ernerk to its original form of Irniq.

"I was tired of being known as Ernerk. Irniq means son, Ernerk means nothing."

He explained that the court's ruling, which ended a personal quest that began on some levels more than 15 years ago, signified the beginning of the end of Project Surname. Project Surname was a 1970 federal government initiative that may have had good intentions, but wreaked havoc on Inuit culture.

"It created a lot of problems. Many of the names no longer mean anything," said Irniq.

Brought in to replace the disc numbers the government used to catalogue Inuit prior to 1970, Project Surname gave people the opportunity to choose their own last name and as it was put, "join mainstream Canadian society."

Inuit were nomadic and didn't have a writing system until later years, so it was up to priests, Hudson Bay employees and government workers to spell and register those names. Not familiar with Inuktitut or its proper pronunciation, many Inuit names were misspelled and have therefore, lost their original meaning.

That spelled disaster for Inuit culture, Irniq said.

"It was the beginning of the end of Inuit culture and the Inuit way of naming. But we accepted it and now we want to make some changes," said Irniq.

He noted that his crusade also encompassed changing community names to their proper spelling under the new orthography, and that it would reinstate the importance Inuit have traditionally given to naming.

"We name people after relatives to make sure that relatives or friends remain alive forever," said Irniq, who was named by his parents, but given the spelling of Ernerk by a French Catholic priest.

In an effort to ensure that the task of making changes is easier for other Inuit and to keep protecting and promoting his culture, Irniq said he will continue the arduous task of lobbying for change to Nunavut's legislation.

"If I could be taught by my father to wait for a seal at a seal hole patiently and watchfully, then I can outlast the bureaucracy."