The UTSUK* program was a research initiative funded through the International Polar Year, ArcticNet and Northern Contaminants research programs in Canada to look at the relationships between environmental change, marine fats and Inuit health and wellbeing in the Arctic. The project involved researchers in the environmental, health and social sciences working in collaboration with Inuit organizations, knowledge holders, hunters, Elders and communities.
The changes taking place and interactions between aspects of the Arctic environment and Inuit health and society were the impetus for the development of research aimed at understanding the nature, role and importance of marine fats in Inuit diet, and ultimately Inuit health, and how that may be changing in relation to a variety of different forces.
This video documentary introduces aspects of the research project and explores the larger topic of environmental, social and cultural change and health transition among Inuit and other Indigenous Peoples. It emphasizes the value of the relationship that exists for Inuit, and other Indigenous Peoples, between their health and that of their environment through their connection with country foods harvested from the land and sea. Further, it discusses the challenges to and importance of maintaining aspects of a healthy diet in the context of a changing world.
*About the title of the film
The film’s title ‘Utsuk’ means fat / blubber in Inuttitut, the Nunatsiavut dialect of Inuktitut. It was chosen in collaboration with translators from Nunatsiavut, the Inuit land claim region in which the film was made and the footage was filmed.
While the overall research program spanned several Inuit regions with different dialects and different words for fat / blubber, the film carries the title ‘Utsuk: The Story of Fat’, to honor the region of Nunatsiavut and the individuals appearing in the film.
For those that are interested, below is an explanation of the evolution of Inuit terminology in the different Inuit regions of Arctic, which includes the confusion around the term uqsuq / urqsuk / utsuk. It is taken from “The Language of the Inuit”, by Louis Jacques-Dorais, of Laval University.
Jacques-Dorais, L. 2010. The Language of the Inuit: Syntax, Semantics, and Society in the Arctic, McGill-Queen’s University Press, Montreal and Kingston, London, Ithaca. 396 pp.
In Chapter 5: Historical Sources and Linguistic Change
Lexical Change (pgs 118-119):
“Vocabulary has been directly affected by phonological change. In several instances, the gemination and ensuing neutralization of originally different consonant groupings obliterated the distinction between lexemes. We just saw that some young speakers now confuse aggatit (“your hands”) with akkatit (“your uncles”). For a majority of eastern Arctic Inuit, words such as aglait (“letters”) and allait (“Indians, others”) are now pronounced the same way (allait) due to gemination. In West and East Greenlandic, the neutralization of the diphthongs ai and au may also entail some confusion. The word aat, for instance, can mean either “your sleeve” (originally ait) or “your blood” (originally aut).
Potential confusion is higher in Nunatsiavut, where, in contrast with other dialects, uvuC clusters have become full geminates. For instance, the lexemes anna (“that one”) and annak (“woman”; originally arnaq) sound almost identical. Likewise, the words for “snow owl” (ukpik) and “willow” (uqpik) have both become uppik. This homophony sometimes entails embarrassing confusions, to which Nunatsiavut Inuktitut has to react. For example, several older speakers still say ibjuk (“earth, soil”) rather than itjuk, even though bilC groupings (e.g. bj) have now disappeared from their dialect. They do so in order to avoid any mismatching between this lexeme and another itjuk (formerly igjuk), which means “testicle”. In a similar way, the gemination of uvuC groupings entails a potentially awkward homophony between uqsuq (“seal or whale blubber”) and utsuk (“vagina”), both pronounced utsuk. The Nunatsiavut solution was to give utsuk the exclusive meaning of “blubber” and to call the vagina aahaak (Jeddore 1976, 5), an onomatopoeia originally belonging to the speech of young children. …”