The protagonist of Skraelings, a short novel by Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, is Kannujaq, a young Inuit man living some time in the first millennium. Kannujaq stumbles across a community of Tuniit, a mysterious Arctic tribe that he has heard of but never seen. The Tuniit are being attacked by “giants” who arrived in a huge boat unlike any Kannujaq is familiar with, and he must quickly decide whether he will help the Tuniit fight back, despite his prejudices against them and the deep discomfort he feels about confronting men who are clearly well-versed in violence.
As Kannujaq and the Tuniit prepare to fight for their survival, the reader learns much about the pre-contact Inuit way of life. Kannujaq’s people value hunting and exploring, and have great respect for the land. Their culture has no concept of private property or national borders, and open violence is not acceptable because it serves no purpose. When Kannujaq meets Siku, a young Tuniit shaman, it becomes clear that these important community figures are as feared for their powers as they are revered.
While I commend the authors for providing young readers with the chance to explore different environments and rethink Canadian history, the novel’s execution presents difficulties. The authors frequently interrupt the story to speak directly to the reader. In addition to distracting from the narrative, these interjections can feel condescending, as if the authors don’t trust readers to grasp the point they’re trying to make.
The Qitsualik-Tinsleys’ constant “othering” of Kannujaq in these sections also makes it difficult to relate to him, as we are repeatedly reminded how different he is from a modern-day person. This defeats the goal of helping readers appreciate the relevance of history; why learn about people from the past if we can’t relate to them? While more insight into the ancient Inuit way of life and legends of the Far North is welcome, one hopes future instalments in this series will feature less heavy-handed discourse and more chances for readers to reach their own conclusions.