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Minnie Palliser

Inuit

Inukjuak, Quebec, Canada

(1928-2003)


Minnie and her carpenter husband George share their small renovated house with a fluctuating number of sons, daughters and grandchildren. George is the son of a Labrador Inuk named Thomassie. Thomassie was brought to Inukjuak by the Hudson’s Bay Company as an interpreter, the only indigenous person in the settlement able to speak English. He was also, according to his son, responsible for saving many people from starvation. George is obviously proud to be the son of his father, husband to his talented wife and father of their children, all of whom warrant his esteem.

Minnie and George are frequent delegates to the annual highly respected Elders’ Conferences sponsored by the Makavik Corporation. Drawn from all the Arctic Quebec communities the elders delve into their pasts, usually at great length, in order to preserve those aspects of their culture which would otherwise die with them. They have been responsible, for instance, for establishing genealogies, language variations, place names, and recalling native medicines and healing practices. Young Inuit frequently experience difficulty and sometimes failure translating the writing of old people as the language rapidly evolves to a more abstract form. These conferences, generated and recorded in conformity to the people’s own priorities, provide a valuable adjunct to the observations of outsiders.

The Pallisers have instilled in their children, seven of whom are stil living, their own highly developed socially conscious precepts. Several of the children have been active in movements designed to enhance their compatriots’ well-being. Minnie’s proclivity for carving seems to be uniquely her own, although two of the boys did experiment briefly. Posters celebrating the previously mentioned Elders’ Conferences, reproductions of The Last Supper and Jesus “Suffering The Little Children” cover the living-room walls and vouch for the household’s priorities. A faded wedding photograph dating back to 1947 shows George, dashing in a “Captain’s” cap, protecting his shy bride.

At about the same time as the photograph was taken, James Houston encouraged Minnie to try carving. He also urged her to attempt basket-making, a skill he was hoping to revive. She made one basket which took a month to complete, netted her ninety-seven cents and put an end to that venture. A few doll-making trials taught Minnie where her inclinations and talents lay.

Acquisition of carving stone is sometimes a problem for women carvers, and so is the studio space. Minnie usually has stone, and also has access to a shed for the roughing-out phase. A plastic sheet spread before the stove, with a pillow to sit on, is her preferred place to do the finishing and polishing. This gives her a vantage spot to keep an eye on whichever of her grandchildren (fifteen and counting) she is baby-sitting at the time.

In this environment Minnie’s focus has been almost exclusively on mothers or fathers and children. Her carvings are usually small, compact, and comfortably rounded. Her cachet is the textured effect, generally designating fur trim, this is achieved by a flurry of nail pricks, which accent the contrasting materials.

To top it all off, Minnie is also a traditional throat singer, and accomplishment which had taken her to many performances including two European tours.

—Mary Craig

Artist Contemporaries

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