Nungak, Zebedee

Essayist, journalist and politician born in Saputiligait (Nunavik) in 1951.

Zebedee Nungak was born in 1951 into a traditional Inuit family in Saputiligait, a small village south of Povungnituk (actual Puvirnituq) on the north western coast of Hudson’s Bay and until the age of 12, attended Povungnituk Federal Day School. All this changed in 1963, when he was sent, along with two other Inuit boys, to live in Ottawa with English-speaking families. Dubbed what the Canadian government called the “Eskimo Experiment”, the boys finished high school in the South, learning the language and the ways of the Qallunaat (White people), a topic Zebedee Nungak satirized in his writings later in life.

Zebedee Nungak returned to the North in the 1970s, first working as a translator and interpreter for the Canadian government. He was the editor of Message (Tukisinaqtuk), a trilingual newsletter for Arctic communities, and broadcaster for CBC North Iqaluit.

Zebedee Nungak has been described as a leading figure in the building of Nunavik and his political work has been significant. As a young adult, he was a founding member of the Northern Quebec Inuit Association (NQIA) in 1972 with Charlie Watt, an association representing Inuit and negotiating land claims with the Québec and Canadian governments, and a signatory to the 1975 James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement (JBNQA). From 1995 to 1998 he was president of Makivik Corporation, the Inuit organization responsible for the administration of the JBNQA compensation funds. As Co-chairman of the Inuit Committee on National Issues from 1984 to 1987, he participated in negotiations with the Canadian government requesting Inuit rights be included in the Constitution.

Zebedee Nungak participates in numerous books to increase awareness of Inuit stories and the Inuktitut language. He published with Eugene Arima in 1969 a bilingual collection (English and Inuktitut) entitled Unikkaatuat sanaugarngnik atyingualiit Puvirngniturngmit. Eskimo Stories from Povungnituk, Quebec, reedited in a bilingual edition (French and Inuktitut) in 1975 under the title Unikkaatuat sanaugarngnik atyingualiit Puvirngniturngmit. Légendes inuit de Povungnituk, Québec, then many other editions thereafter, notably in 1988, 1992 and 2000. In the 1980s, he published trilingual collections on the deliberations of the elders of Nunavik, for example in 1982 under the title Northern Quebec Inuit Elders Conference. Inummariyt Katimaniskga Puvirniturk Kupaimmi. Conférence des anciens du Nouveau-Québec. With Ida Saunders, Moses Novalinga and Adamie Kalingo, in 2012 he published a trilingual work, Illirijavut. ᐃᓪᓕᕆᔭᕗᑦ. That which we treasure. La langue que nous chérissons in order to revitalize the Inuktitut language.

Zebedee Nungak is a prolific journalist and since 1979 has authored over sixty articles in Canadian magazines, publishing in Inuktitut Magazine, Windspeaker, Atuaqnik, and Taqralik. His favorite topic is what he calls “qallunology”, the Inuit study of white people. His film credits include Qallunaat! Why White People are Funny (ONF/NFB, 2006), which is translated into French in 2017 (Qallunaat! Pourquoi les Blancs sont drôles). His book, with an introduction by Tagak Curley, Wrestling With Colonialism on Steroids: Quebec Inuit Fight for Their Homeland (Véhicule Press, 2017) was translated into French under the title Contre le colonialisme dopé aux stéroïdes : le combat des Inuit du Québec pour leurs terres ancestrales (Boréal, 2019), and this French translation of his book was a finalist in the 2020 Prix des Libraires du Québec. In 2017, Zebedee Nungak was awarded an Order of Québec by Québec Prime Minister in recognition of his contributions to Québec society.

Zebedee Nungak lives in Kangirsuk in northern Nunavik with his wife and their seven children.

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