Rosemary Ganley The Peterborough Examiner February 4, 2021
(That’s “hello” in Greenlandic)
A chance encounter a few months ago when I went downtown to see Public Energy stage some unique, site-specific performances, led to watching eminent Canadian dancer Bill Coleman dance on the rail line, literally on the four-inch rail itself, in Millennium Park.
I ran into actor-director Patti Shaughnessy, whom I had known in the ’90s when I was a teacher and she a student at St. Peter’s.
She was on her way to the red dress installation held in the park to honour Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women in our country.
Patti told me she and Coleman, her partner, were going shortly to Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, to create a play for its National Theatre.
A whole new world was opening up to me. But first, I needed a map.
Greenland, situated entirely above 60 degrees north latitude, is the world’s largest island, located in the Arctic and the Atlantic oceans. It has 56,000 people, mostly of Inuit heritage, and is an autonomous territory within the Kingdom of Denmark.
It has two official languages: Greenlandic and Danish. It is the least populated country in the world, and “the air quality,” says Patti, “is the world’s best.” The size is stupendous, at 2 million square kilometres, and its mountainous beauty, with hundreds of coastal fjords, is staggering.
There have been 30 cases of COVID-19 since the outbreak, and precautions regarding visitors are in effect. The fishing industry dominates the economy, and there is rising interest in its rare minerals and in the new pathways in the North Atlantic. Patti says: “In my 10 years of coming to Greenland, I have witnessed more ice in the fjords, the result of melting glaciers.”
Tourists come for the northern lights, for whale watching, and to see to see snow hares and reindeer. And the friendly Inuit people.
Denmark sends an annual financial contribution to Greenland, and has devolved some government responsibilities to its leaders.
Greenland has self-government. Although Denmark maintains control over foreign and justice affairs, it benefits greatly from GL. It made a deal with the U.S. for Thule Air Base in the north.
Eighty per cent of Greenland is permanently covered in a massive ice sheet. People live along the coast in settlements. Transportation around Greenland is by dogsled, a few cars in its 16 towns, airplanes and coastal vessels. Nuuk, with a population of 16,000, boasts the National Museum, an art gallery and the Katuaq Cultural Centre.
To get to Greenland, one flies from Iqaluit in Nunavut, or from Iceland or Copenhagen.
Patti lives creatively out of her dual heritage, Irish and Anishnaabe. Both cultures are rich with storytellers. She grew up in Ennismore with her Irish-Canadian father and Anishnaabe mother and two brothers. “We were good at keeping life imaginative,” she says.
“We listened to my grandparents, Muriland and Ila Knott, telling stories in English or in Nishnaabemowin. And with grandparents Rita and John Shaughnessy on Highland Road, often singing and dancing.”
Her family moved to Curve Lake when Patti was 14, and she worked in Whetung’s Art Gallery, absorbing the art of Daphne Odjig and Norval Morrisseau. Teacher Patricia Young recalls Patti’s warmth and humility. In 1992, the 500-year anniversary of the arrival of Europeans in Turtle Island, Young called together the Indigenous students at the school to produce a play using the words of Chief Dan George. Later, at Trent, Patti was influenced by elder Edna Manitowabi. "She helped me find my voice," Patti says.
Then she went to CIT, the Centre for Indigenous Theatre in Toronto where she met Makka Kleist, an actor from Greenland. An invitation to come to the great island followed. Patti has worked some months each year in Nuuk, this year directing “Angakkussaq: To Become a Shaman.”
“My identity comes from my family and ancestors. They are with me wherever I go.’’
“Qujanaq” (“thank you”).
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