Novelist, pilot and activist born in Inukjuak (Nunavik) in 1941 – died in Inukjuak (Nunavik) in 2020.
Markoosie Patsauq, also called Markoosie or Markassie, was born on May 24th, 1941 in Inukjuak, on Ungava’s Western coast, and died in his home village on March 7th 2020.
Born to Alliekayut and Eeta, he is the second of five children, and brother of journalist and politician John Amagoalik and poet Jimmy Patsauq Naumealuk. His family, together with six other families, experienced lifelong trauma when they were forcibly removed from their homes in a High Arctic relocation to Resolute Bay and Grise Fjord, by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on behalf of the Canadian federal government, under the guise of providing better living conditions for Inuit people. Harsh climate, infertile hunting grounds and despair caused by this uprooting, cost the lives of several of Markoosie’s family members, in particular his mother and his grandmother. The lack of appropriate medical care resulted in the worsening of Markoosie’s tuberculosis, which contaminated some of his companions. He was finally brought to Manitoba where he received medical care between 1953 and 1956 and once cured began high school.
Markoosie’s life was centred into three areas: his aviation career, his literary work and his political commitment. These first two life orientations are closely linked; the third emerges later in Markoosie’s life. After graduating from Sir John Franklin High School in Yellowknife in 1961, he brilliantly completes an aviation program and obtains a private pilot license, followed by a commercial license at Sky Harbour Air Services Flying Training School in Goderich, Ontario between the summer of 1967 and the summer of 1968. Becoming the first Inuit commercial pilot in Canada was an event celebrated by the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, and a recognition of how inspiring Markoosie’s career is for Inuit people. Markoosie wrote on days when the weather was too rough for flying. His writing was noticed by James McNeill, an official running an Inuit literary program, on behalf of the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs, and he published Markoosie’s first novel, ᐆᒪᔪᕐᓯᐅᑎ ᐅᓈᑐᐃᓐᓇᒧᑦ(Uumajursiuti unaatuinnamut) in installments in the Inuit magazine Inuttitut. Markoosie translated the novel into English in 1970 as Harpoon of the Hunter, and French translations followed in 1971 and in 2011, a bilingual edition: Le harpon du chasseur ᐊᖑᓇᓱᑦᑎᐅᑉ ᓇᐅᒃᑯᑎᖓ. This is the first Inuit novel ever published in Canada, and its importance is highlighted by subsequent translations, for instance, into German (1974), Danish (1995), Marathi (2015), Hindi (2015). A new translation of the novel into French, and a rewrite of the work in English, were published posthumously in 2021, and they have been the subject of controversy. Markoosie’s flying experience inspired him to write another narrative entitled Wings of Mercy, which was serialized in the Inuktitut magazine between 1972 and 1973. His recognition on a federal level as both a pilot and a writer wins him the esteem of Jean Chrétien, then Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs, who nominated him to the Board of Directors of Panarctic Oil in 1971. Panarctic Oils, Ltd. was then partially managed by the federal government, with a mission to insure Canadian sovereignty in the High Arctic and harvest oil and gas resources in this territory. Markoosie fought side by side with John Amagoalik to lobby the federal government to acknowledge the human tragedy caused by the High Arctic relocation and to reveal the relocation’s true motivation: insuring Canadian sovereignty in High Arctic. Markoosie won this legal case in 1996 and received an official apology from the Canadian government as well as a financial compensation for the seven once relocated families.
During the last years of his life, Markoosie lived in Inukjuak. He was very pleased to see how Harpoon of the Hunter, a story about his people, has travelled across the world and been widely read outside Nunavik.