Johns Hopkins University Press
  • Singing With Nanook of the North: On Tanya Tagaq, Feeling Entangled, and Colonial Archives of Indigeneity


New York City, 2016: I remember tanya tagaq walking out onto the darkened stage, her diminutive frame resplendent in a ball gown, her feet bare. Walking up to the microphone, she speaks in a soft and breathy—almost off-voice—voice, pitched high. Conversational, almost chatty, her banter feels off the cuff. She talks about what U.S. filmmaker and explorer robert j. flaherty’s 1922 ethnographic film Nanook of the North missed: cultural notions of humor that come from the harshness of living on the land, the ways that the Inuit have had to make their own forms of joy, illegible to settler eyes. She describes flaherty’s film in relation to what she calls “its bastard other,” referring to the 2015 Of The North, in which French-Canadian director dominic gagnon used tagaq’s music, without her permission, to score his racist collage of [End Page 45] video clips culled from websites like YouTube as well as from porn sites. It was what Inuk filmmaker alethea arnaquq-baril described as a representation of the Inuit as “[v]iolent, wandering drunks that neglect their children and don’t care for the lives of animals . . . a cheap move to totally play up a negative stereotype of a marginalized people for [his] own artistic gain.”1

Montréal, 2017: When I see Tagaq perform her newest album Retribution the following year, her introduction feels familiar. Again, her voice is soft, its tone casual. And there she is once more, this time draped in layer upon layer of magnificent red tulle. Speaking about the importance of the seal hunt to Inuit communities and the racism that has led to criticism of this practice, she begins in a beautiful pair of sealskin shoes, eventually kicking them off to sing. Her dress was made for her, she tells us, by an Indigenous fashion designer friend—red to commemorate Canada’s missing and murdered Indigenous women—and then, drawing our attention to the row of glittering gems that adorns the dress’s neckline, she tells us about her matrilineal line, geologically expressed and embroidered along the garment’s heart-shaped hem.

What are we to make of these two ways of opening a performance? Tonally similar, both feel intimate, as if Tagaq were speaking directly to each audience member. Her words lack the presentational weight that sometimes accompanies such moments, side-stepping the anxiety found in the program bills of so many performances, that nervous impulse of didacticism that tries to shape a good-enough thematic and political container for the audience’s experience to cohere within. Tagaq’s invitation is something different: a mapping that drops clues about how to listen (and look) by constellating a sociopolitical geography of the North, one that moors and moves underneath her sonics and our listening (and looking). As part of the New York City audience of Tanya Tagaq in Concert with Nanook of the North—a musical performance in which she sings with and over Flaherty’s film, and the focus of this essay—I felt disoriented by her introduction. It was only later that I understood the aural and visual prism that she was trying to open up. Everything I saw and heard—in both cities—came to me through her opening words, subtly bending my experience of listening and looking into (political) shape.

I also take Tagaq’s introductions as a methodological invitation to construct a historical weave that you, the reader, must pass through in ways that will not aggressively overshape your reading, but instead inflect your listening to my [End Page 46] listening of her performance. What follows is thus an echo of her practice, an invitation to think through and with the historical densities that accrue around her work and are inseparable from it. One of the challenges of this writing is the one taken up by the performance itself: how to be in and think across many times and places at once. For Tagaq—an Inuk throat singer, vocalist, musician, writer, and artist from Cambridge Bay (Ikaluktutiak) on Victoria Island in what is now the Canadian territory of Nunavut—performs a sensate, sonic, and archival convergence set in the dense weave of Inuit and colonial histories of the North. These histories extend, in rapid succession, from “the prolonged contact with European whalers and explorers throughout the nineteenth century,”2 to the incursion of Christian missionaries during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (“and much earlier in Labrador”3), to the arrival of the North West Mounted Police (now the Royal Canadian Mounted Police [RCMP]) in 1903, to the early twentieth century development of the fur trade and establishment of Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) trading posts across the North, which “[encouraged] Inuit to abandon their semi-nomadic lifestyle and settle in the communities that were set up around the posts.”4 The twentieth century also saw the filming of Nanook of the North in Inukjuak, Nunavik (Northern Québec, Canada); the 1942–1943 establishment of a U.S. airstrip in what is today Iqaluit, Nunavut; and the tuberculosis epidemic of the 1940s, ’50s, and ’60s, which resulted in the traumatic evacuation of sick Inuit to southern sanatoria, as well as many family members who waited for news of their loved ones, which sometimes never arrived. There was “the decline of the fur trade in the late 1940s and early ’50s [that] led to a shift in administrative policy in the Arctic,” and the ensuing drastic changes of the mid-century, during which the federal government’s project of northern development and establishment of permanent settlements drew many Inuit “off of the land and into a wage-based economy.”5 Then, during the coercive High Arctic Relocations of 1953/1955, the federal government used RCMP to move ninety- two Inuit—including Tagaq’s mother—from Pond Inlet, Baffin Island and Inukjuak, Nunavik, to the remote Resolute Bay, Cornwallis Island and Craig Harbour/Grise Fiord, Ellesmere Island as part of a project of Cold War concerns about Canadian Arctic sovereignty, as well as a means to address economic and moralistic concerns about Inuit “dependence” on federal aid and welfare— intermittent needs caused by the transformation of more traditional ways of life in service of the fur trade, as well as by “the onslaught of Euro-Canadian culture throughout the North.”6 There were unkept promises that these Inuit families could return, with many being deceived about the reason for their relocation, as well as documented systematic mischaracterization of the hardships that they [End Page 47] would face and a widespread circulation of misinformation about the lack of game and hours of daylight in the new territories. In the 1950s, the Canadian government began establishing Indian Residential Schools across the North, one of which Tagaq attended (prior to this, there had been a smaller number of missionary schools in the North). By 1964, 75% of school-aged Inuit children were enrolled. The histories of violence continue: surges in alcohol abuse in Northern communities, multiple abuses perpetuated by the federal government between 1950 and 1975 in the Qikiqtani Region, including the systematic killing of qimmiit (Inuktitut for “Inuit sled dogs”) by RCMP, and a suicide epidemic among Inuit youth beginning in the 1980s. Then, the territory of Nunavut was formed in 1999.7 Then, there is the present.8 And in this present, Tagaq’s song presses up against the archival and historical record, a performative embrace that both binds—as kinship might—and insists upon the radically transformative potential of what Stó:lō scholar Dylan Robinson describes as “sovereignty . . . constituted by action . . ., [understood] through an Indigenous ontology wherein sovereignty is not held within documents/objects but instead within ‘doing.’”9 Doing sovereignty. These histories—of land, communities in transit and transformation, territorial boundaries drawn and redrawn, forced separation and colonial violence, assimilation and resurgence—constitute the affective and political texture of Tagaq’s performance, the way it sounds and feels, how it performs a “sensory history and [a] sensate politics.”10

Tracing the contours of Tagaq’s sensate politics through her performance of what I term feeling entangled, this essay pays attention to the ways in which she uses her body, sound, and breath to stage an intense encounter with Nanook of the North, the colonial archive, and history itself, even as she also sonically summons an expansive Inuit lifeworld obscured in and by the film. Here, I work with Flaherty’s film as a colonial archive in part because it is made up of traces presented as fact (documentary/ethnography), when in fact they are mostly fiction (staged). Colonially inscribing “Inuit-ness” at one moment in time and presenting this rendering as exhaustive Historical Truth, the film’s “trick” is not unlike that of all archives. Tagaq’s performance, however, offers one Indigenous method for communing with all those things that do not appear, inviting us to pay attention to the film’s archival seams, racialized representations, performance of authority, and performative impact on Northern histories. Following Robinson’s formulation of affect as “that which is between solid states of emotion” and incorporating a discussion of my own encounter with Flaherty’s archive at Columbia University, I ultimately argue that Tagaq’s sonic, affective, [End Page 48] and embodied remediation of the film enacts a powerful decolonial gesture: a performance of entanglement that insists upon an Inuit temporality and world view, and, in doing so, produces other ways of being with history and in time, which together gesture toward more livable Northern futures.11


Tagaq’s performance was commissioned in 2012 by the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). Touring across Canada and the U.S. in the years that followed, Tagaq performed a live semi-improvised soundscape over Flaherty’s 1922 silent ethnographic film. Using Inuit throat singing—an oral tradition that originally developed as a playfully competitive duet in which women use rhythmic breathing and throat sound to make each other laugh, or until one “loses their breath”12—Tagaq creates an extraordinarily beautiful, tensely charged, and deeply affective sonic accompaniment that both animates and disrupts the film’s static (and silent) colonial representations of the North. The performance combines live improvised sound—Tagaq’s throat singing alongside collaborator Jean Martin’s percussion and Jesse Zubot’s violin—with a prerecorded soundscape by composer Derek Charke, who explains:

I created the soundscape, using sounds I recorded in the North, of dogs and birds and the wind. . . . Tanya went to the studio first and improvised to the film. She sent me those improvisations, and I took them as a guideline. . . . But nothing was written down for her—the soundscape sounds the same, but she improvises on top.13

This improvisation takes a different shape each time, as Tagaq notes: “Sometimes I zone out and don’t look at it and just go with the flow, and sometimes I respond directly to the visuals, which is exciting.”14 At her 2016 performance in New York City, Tagaq explained that what Flaherty couldn’t see were culturally specific forms of humor, moments of joy, the complexity of life lived on harsh terrain. The violent reductiveness of this colonial optic—in which Inuit are made to perform for colonizers that which the latter projects onto them— is countered by the complexity of Tagaq’s song, which uses throat singing to [End Page 49] “talk” or “sing back” to colonial representations.15 In the face of what peter kulchyski and Frank James Tester describe as “decades of Qallunaat [non-Inuit, European/Euro-Canadian, white people] who were not interested in [Inuit] opinions and a distant government that was uninhibited in making decisions that would affect [Inuit] lives with no thought given to consultation,” this act of talking back is a resistant form of address that asserts autonomy, sovereignty, and the right to speak, while also functioning as a site for the emergence of an alternative Inuit episteme and representational regime.16


Drawing on Fred Moten’s theorization of a felt animation, in which one senses that “all these people, they’re in my head and they’re in my body . . ., disrupting the body I guess I thought was mine,” feeling entangled allows for a recognition that being caught up in others and other things is a felt experience of day-to-day life—something we intuit when we go to work, try to write, attend a protest—which also speaks to a broader sense of ecological, political, and social interconnectedness.17 Thought in relation to history, feeling entangled pushes back against the presentist discourse of neoliberal individualism and the drive toward forgetting, that encourage minoritarian subjects to “transcend” both the violences of history and the violence of constructing history, in favor of ways of being-with the past that are predicated on an unfinished relationship to that past. In this essay, I use feeling entangled to think about how particular engagements with the archive might yield new ways of conceiving of one’s relationship to history, and, more precisely, about how Tagaq’s performatic staging of her encounter with Flaherty’s film, the colonial archive, and a variety of Inuit and colonial histories might move us toward other relational modes that we so desperately need in violent times.18 The politics I wish to unfold, then, are ones that relate to her performance as its own kind of historio-graphic practice with the ability to reorient the present’s relationship to the past in order to open up other kinds of futures. Rejecting the production of privatized, smooth, and ahistorical subjects, Tagaq insists upon staying in and with the blur of times, histories, affects, and bodies. In what follows, I explore how her performance both stages an archival encounter [End Page 50] and insists upon doing so through deeply affective and embodied means. In this, I lean on anthropologist Lisa Stevenson’s theorization of Inuit modes of knowing/feeling that move beyond fetishizations of Truth and Fact in order to imagine other, more affective ways of knowing, and, specifically, of staying in touch with presences/absences—say, of a loved one—across the threshold of mortality as well as geographic distance.19 This is not to say that more traditional archival encounters are not embodied or affective, and indeed Tagaq’s staging of the archival encounter as performance both intensifies and renders explicit the always embodied and affective dimensions of encountering the past through archival materials. But at stake here, I contend, is both an insistence on performance as a robust form of historical work and a productive commingling of what Diana Taylor has termed “the archive and the repertoire.”20 Refusing easy distinctions between historiography and artistic practice—and recentering questions of affect and body that also animate entanglement’s focus on intimate connectivities—Tagaq invites us to redefine what constitutes properly historical or archival work, calling attention to the many forms of creative and embodied practice that minoritarian subjects have long used to mobilize other versions of history in the pursuit of what Anishinaabe scholar and writer Gerald Vizenor has termed “survivance.”21


This writing took place without access to video documentation, which the performance’s commissioning body TIFF told me did not exist because Tagaq does not own the rights to Flaherty’s film. I was later told by a booking agent that it was actually because each improvised performance carries a unique intensity that cannot be captured. Intersecting with a genealogy of performance studies scholarship on liveness, the second claim’s insistence that something is always missing from the document dovetails with Tagaq’s explanation of her performance as being about what Flaherty missed. Here, the ethnographic document can never be anything other than an impoverished colonial rendering of Inuit life. Performance thus becomes a salve for restoring evacuated complexities, notwithstanding José Esteban Muñoz’s important critique of the burden of liveness as a form of “forced labor” for the minoritarian subject, which denies them “history or futurity.”22 I contend, however, that Tagaq’s performance is better served by a consideration of how her liveness might resist racialized objectification, or, in Sarita Echavez See’s words, “countermand the accumulative mandate of the imperial archive” by representing the Inuit as “agents and [End Page 51] not merely . . . objects.”23 At a 2018 concert in New York City, Tagaq asked the audience not to record—an insistence on the now of performance as a way of controlling circulation of her own representation, a way of doing sovereignty through liveness and in See’s anti-accumulative mode. Similarly, how might her Nanook performance enact what Moten describes as “the resistance of the object” (of ethnographic representation), an attunement to the ways subjugated peoples negotiate the violent scripts of their objectification—her unrecorded song both exceeding and fracturing the film’s static colonial rendering of Inuit subjects-as-objects? 24

The first claim about copyright raises broader questions about anthropology’s relationship to its Indigenous subjects. We might ask, following Robinson, whom ethnographic representations of Indigenous peoples and colonial archives of indigeneity are for: who has access to them and under what conditions?25 The colonial archive, like other archives of violence, has a particularly complex relationship to the ghosts that haunt the grooves of its many absences: lives and histories redacted, suppressed, or illegible. My use of “ghosts” is not meant to further disappear Indigenous lives redacted from the colonial archive nor to render them past/passed in ways that would occlude the continued presence of both Indigenous peoples and of those living descendants who make political claims about or to particular colonial archives. Rather, my use of “ghosts” should be understood in Avery Gordon’s sense, as referring to how the ghosts of violence haunt the present, demanding a something to be done and signaling that the past—even when forcibly and violently repressed—remains present.26 As Saidiya Hartman, Tina Campt, Ann Stoler, Taylor, and others have shown, archival limits often have violent consequences for what can be said or known about the lives of minoritarian subjects.27 Archives of violence therefore demand a special attunement to “that which is ‘not written,’ ” asking us to center absence even as we imagine what other kinds of histories might be told and how.28 Moreover, they force us to interrogate the ways in which archives come to signify Truth or History, foregrounding “evidence” and “facticity” at the expense of other ways of remembering. This affects the ways in which Indigenous histories [End Page 52] get told, accepted as “evidence” of what was, or dismissed as false or unverifiably subjective. This, in turn, can impact land claims and government policies. For example, as Melissa Adams-Campbell, Ashley Glassburn Falzetti, and Courtney Rivard note, if knowledge transmitted through oral modalities is not deemed “admissible Native evidence in contemporary land claims cases” or in “cases of Native people exercising treaty rights,” this can create what Adams-Campbell calls “competing epistemologies, one in which evidence of a relationship to land/territory (rather than ownership) is communicated through collective oral histories; and the other, whereby land rights is based on written documentation and contract law (land as private property).”29 At stake here is a prioritization of the colonial archive’s episteme and a violent discrediting of Indigenous knowledges in service of a continuous assault on Indigenous life, or what Glassburn Falzetti describes as the “[maintenance of ] an epistemic framework that justifies ongoing settler occupation through the constant re-articulation of [settler] histories and the erasure of [I]ndigenous peoples.”30


Sometimes described as the first feature-length documentary, though now known to have been staged, Nanook chronicles the life of one Inuit family living in Inukjuak, Nunavik. Financed by the French fur company Revillon Frères, the film was shot in the decades before the significant post-World War II period during which the federal government shifted its previously held “laissez-faire approach to governing,” in which Christian missionaries, HBC traders, and a few RCMP officers were “responsible” for both the Inuit and “the sovereignty of [Canada’s] national borders.”31 Around the middle of the century, the government began to shift its policies partially in response to a 1939 Supreme Court of Canada ruling that Inuit (like southern First Nations) fell under federal jurisdiction.32 Prompted also by a declining fur trade, a renewed interest in asserting Canadian Arctic sovereignty, and inter/national criticism of its neglect, the government’s “increased and reluctant paternalism” resulted in increased contact and ushered in devastating changes to more traditional ways of life.33 But several decades prior to this moment, life for the Inuit was already changing. In this context, Nanook follows its main character Nanook, his wife Nyla (played by Alice Nevalinga, “Flaherty’s rarely acknowledged Inuit lover with whom he had a child”), and their children, as they travel across snowscapes by dogsled, hunt for walrus and seal, visit a fur-trading post, and build an igloo in which to spend a wintry night.34 Criticized for its reliance on the racist trope of [End Page 53] the noble savage and its reductive depictions of (feigned) Indigenous naiveté— Flaherty often had his actors perform as he imagined they might have lived in an earlier period, for example, having them use harpoons instead of guns— Nanook reveals how ethnographic films have functioned as what VK Preston calls “a rehearsal grounds for cultural erasure.”35 In one heavily discussed scene, Allakariallak—the actor who played Nanook—appears perplexed by a white trader’s gramophone: he places the record in his mouth, biting down on its ridged vinyl, seemingly clueless about this media technology that “captures” the voice. Throughout the film, Allakariallak performs this “kindly, brave, simple Eskimo,” a racist romantic figure catering to colonial fantasies of “the Inuit as an untouched society”—fantasies that function as part of a larger strategy of colonial incursion and set the stage for the Inuit’s “inevitable” erasure by the force of a “civilizing” modernity.36 In reality, however, members of the Inukjuak community acted in the film and worked “as technicians, camera operators, film developers, and production consultants” on set.37 Many also collaborated with Flaherty to devise and stage several scenes. Flaherty chose, however, to obscure these collaborative relationships in favor of a film bolstering what Faye Ginsburg calls “the history of colonial looking relations”—in which Indigenous communities do not participate in their own representation—and in doing so produced “a false sense of knowing” both the North and Inuit life.38

This kind of production of false knowledge undergirds a variety of colonial and nation-building projects in Canada—many of which have been taken up and contested by contemporary Indigenous artists. In the catalog to ARCTICNOISE, a 2015 exhibition by Inuk artist Geronimo Inutiq at Vancouver’s grunt gallery, cocurator (with Yasmin Nurming-Por) Britt Gallpen writes that

for the majority of southern Canadians who have spent a lifetime dreaming of the North, this dream [“of Arctic life devoid of community”] remains both romantic and elusive, shaped largely by the depictions, fictions and visions of others. This imagining [is] a direct consequence of specific nation-building projects by the federal government, reliant on a collective, imagined North made visible to a broad Canadian public through the iconic works of the Group of Seven and the activities of the National Gallery of Canada as well as the National Film Board.39

Here, Gallpen explains how the arts have participated in the production of Canadian fantasies about the North, in which the latter is a carefully created [End Page 54] idea lying at the heart of Canada’s construction of itself as a Northern nation. As Sherrill Grace writes:

North is multiple. Shifting, and elastic. . . . It is, above all, Other, and as such emphatically a construction of southerners . . ., paradoxically invoked to distinguish us from those who are more southern. . . . One result of the southernness of North, of course, is that ideas of North tend to serve southern Canadian interests.40

Grace goes on to describe two predominant narratives of the North: “deadly, cold, empty, barren, isolated, mysterious . . ., a dramatic atmosphere for challenge and adventure,” and “a friendly North of sublime beauty, abundance, natural resources waiting to be exploited, and of great spiritual power.” These narratives are entwined in Nanook, wherein the North is depicted as both an impossibly hostile environment and an expanse of breathtaking beauty. But what these narratives efface, Grace argues, “is not human presence altogether— the well-known emptiness of Group of Seven canvases notwithstanding—but the full multiplicity of humanity.”41 The construction of the North therefore depends upon narratives displacing both Inuit voices and more complex renderings of Northern-ness. This reductive mythologizing mirrors Flaherty’s insistence that his actors perform “back” for the colonial lens as “childlike, fur-clad, smiling primitives.”42 And while Flaherty’s film does not depict the icy plains of Nunavik as entirely unpopulated, the film evacuates any sense of broader community in favor of a clichéd visual narrative pitting one family against a desolate, if stunningly beautiful, landscape. Moreover, Flaherty perpetuates the kinds of racist stereotypes that undergirded colonial policies like Indian Residential Schools, in ways not unlike those in which both the idea and artistic representation of “empty” landscapes have been used across the Americas in service of devastating colonial land theft. Thus, the deployment of terra nullius—the legal concept meaning “nobody’s land”—and the establishment of Residential Schools worked in tandem and over time in service of violently disappearing Indigenous populations. As Tara Williamson notes, “[T]he legal foundation of Canada is built on the premise that Indians do not exist as people. The state has a strong interest in upholding this lie: its legitimacy—its very existence—depends on it.”43 She continues:

In the colonial imagination . . . we [Indigenous people] began to disappear at the exact moment we were first seen. . . . In order for colonizers to uphold their own rules of law it was necessary to declare the [End Page 55]

“New World” unoccupied and uninhabited. . . . Assimilation through education began as early as the 17th century by Jesuits and Récollets. When political institutions stabilized in the 19th century, a reinvigo-rated residential schools program became an important and now well- documented part of a new legal system designed to eradicate Indians from the geographical and political landscape.44

Insidiously multimodal, these violently strategic forms of colonial false knowledge become potent sites for Tagaq’s decolonial intervention.


Through its polyvocal richness, affective flexibility, and athletic embodiment— not to mention the relentlessness of its tonal, atmospheric, and energetic shifts—Tagaq’s throat singing performance contests and fractures Flaherty’s representations of the Inuit and the North, which have bolstered colonial and nation-building projects through the production of false knowledge and a refusal to allow or acknowledge Inuit participation in their own representation. Reprising a film that is so central to Canada’s (and cinema’s) colonial apparatus—and one that has been heavily discussed and criticized—Tagaq’s performance moves beyond discursive critique in favor of something more potent. Animating the film’s static and silent images in ways that both call attention to and displace its false knowledges, her performance restores the dynamic complexities— voices, webs of relation, sounds of the land, ways of feeling—so notably evacuated from the film in service of its colonial rendering of Inuit life as reducible to racial cliché and the North as empty expanse. Her recomplexification (as its own form of critique and performative alternative) not only recenters Inuit voices in and as an affirmation of sovereignty, but also performs the kind of epistemological reorientation that Stevenson describes as the movement toward Inuit-specific ways of knowing that are less reliant on colonial articulations of Truth. Beyond representation, then, Tagaq offers up the sound of space, the [End Page 56] feeling of movement, the breathy intimation of conversation and exchange, the lingering sonics of animals and ancestors, the laughter of land, even the humor nestled in difficulty as other, always incomplete ways of encountering—rather than exhaustively knowing—the North. As such, the performance is a powerful decolonial gesture,45 asserting what Inuk curator and art historian Heather Igloliorte calls “cultural sovereignty”: a “strategy for advancing . . . Indigenous sovereignty through the arts,” which “affirm[s] . . . long-standing traditions, highlight[s] . . . cultural continuities, and draw[s] . . . attention to the ways in which [the Inuit] have been vulnerable to the realities of colonization and the rhetoric of liberalism in contemporary life.”46

Tagaq’s performance intervenes in a long history of colonial attempts to dominate Indigenous representation,47 even as it asks that we consider the specific role that traditional forms of Inuit cultural expression play in her decolonial gesture. For these forms have had a complicated relationship to colonial and nation-building projects:

Since the beginning of prolonged contact with the inhabitants of the North around the mid-twentieth century, the government of Canada has actively sought to suppress, dismantle, and eradicate the entire pre-contact Inuit way of life through the assimilative policies of colonization. Concurrent with this period of devastating cultural imperialism, this same government actively collected, promoted, and celebrated Inuit art . . . as a quintessential Canadian art form.48

In her careful revisiting of the historical record, Igloliorte unfolds the development of the contemporary arts industry in the North. As previously mentioned, the federal government was forced to shift its previous “policy of parsimony . . . to one of welfare and support” after being sued by the province of Québec over the question of who was “responsible” for the Inuit.49 The federal government “began to consider arts production as a viable means for the Inuit to regain self-sufficiency,”50 and by the 1950s, this industry was “one of the first experimental developments introduced to replace the fur trade.”51 During this period, Inuit communities found themselves increasingly in need of support as a result of the violences of Indian Residential Schools, forced relocation, and permanent settlement, as well as a declining fur trade (which had itself already transformed more traditional ways of life).52 Moreover, post-World War II and Cold War concerns about Canadian Arctic sovereignty further pushed the government to [End Page 57] attend to the Inuit, even as the arts industry became important for constructing a uniquely Canadian settler identity. Inuit communities were encouraged to work with traditional art forms as a way to serve federal economic interests and so that the artworks could be appropriated “under a national/ist rubric.”53Importantly, Igloliorte insists that this “was also one of the first opportunities for subjugated Inuit to regain a necessary measure of self-reliance” and that “[t]he traditional subject matter of the artwork held a different meaning for [the art buyers] than it did for the makers.”54 For artists, the use of traditional forms was both economically motivated—strategically catering to Western tastes—and “an expression of cultural knowledge and cultural resilience” at a time when “their culture was being debased, devalued, and actively oppressed by the dual forces of colonialism and Christianity.”55

Tagaq’s contemporary use of throat singing—once banned by Christian priests dispatched in the region and further suppressed in Residential Schools—is crucial to a project of cultural sovereignty.56 Emphasized by Igloliorte, the importance of oral traditions to Inuit aesthetics is echoed by Keavy Martin, who notes that orality continues to function as a powerful form of cultural transmission allowing Inuit to give an account of “their own version of history.”57With regard to throat singing, Tagaq explains: “I grew up with colonialists and priests who didn’t like it, so it was kind of banned. . . . It was seen as being too sensual or too demonic, which is, of course, ridiculous. I ended up teaching myself how to do it—and that’s why I ended up singing alone.”58 The ban was part of a project of cultural genocide, enacted through Residential Schools that separated children from their communities in order “to kill the Indian in the child”; however, Tagaq’s unique solo practice emerged out of these colonial realities—she had no one to sing with.59 Her renovated use of this traditional form is therefore not simply a return, but an assertion of persistence and a reimagining that takes place through the incorporation of musical elements culled from classical, avant-garde, and punk music. This is not a loss of tradition, but rather a process of dynamic adaptability. This conception of tradition as dynamic is prevalent among many Indigenous communities, who “have always adapted useful concepts and technologies without fear that their cultural purity might be compromised.”60 It is also particularly relevant for thinking about Tagaq’s adapted solo practice, for as Inuk writer Rachel Attituq Qitsualik notes, “Inuit are the embodiment of adaptability itself.”61 This “capacity for adaptation” or “quality of resourcefulness in problem-solving” is known as qanuqtuurniq, [End Page 58] and is a crucial element of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ): an epistemology and way of life sometimes translated as “what Inuit have always known to be true” or “the Inuit way of doing things: the past, present and future knowledge, experience and values of Inuit Society.”62 As “a set of values and practices,” IQ is also “a worldview, or a way of looking at human beings in relation to other forms of life—and to each other—that contrasts sharply with Western European ideas. . . . It is a way of thinking, connecting all aspects of life in a coherent way.”63 In the words of Inuk writer, philosopher, and policy-maker Jaypetee Arnakak, IQ is “a living technology. It is a means of rationalizing thought and action, a means of organizing tasks and resources, a means of organizing family and society into coherent wholes.”64 IQ therefore depends upon knowledges embedded in and transmitted through practice that dynamically links past, present, and future in an Inuit-specific temporality resisting colonial narratives of disappearance and assimilation.65 This is what former president of the Inuit Circumpolar Council and of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (formerly: Inuit Tapirisat of Canada) Rosemarie Kuptana and author, translator, and former secretary-treasurer for the Nunavut Planning Commission Suzie Napayok-Short describe as:

The Inuit Way of Knowing [that] is over 20,000 years old on the North American continent and has developed through trial and error and through observation. It has been passed on generation after generation. Inuit teach our children and grandchildren through action, sharing, and oral history—giving them the tools and skills to live a higher quality of life and ensure survival.66

This is also akin to what Stevenson describes as the Inuit “ethical injunction to remember,” which unfolds through the enactment of traditional practices in the present and for the future.67 IQ thus offers one important way of listening to Tagaq’s solo practice: as the enactment of Inuit culture as an embodied practice of adaptability, one whose insistence on the now of tradition evidences an urgent responsiveness to changing conditions. In “The Colonization of the Arctic,” the late Inuk artist and writer Alootook Ipellie notes that:

For the original inhabitants of this at once terrible and beautiful land, the last 500 years have been full of surprises. For thousands of years, it seemed their lifestyle would never change. But their contact with human beings from other lands and other cultures forever changed the [End Page 59] scope of their daily lives. They lived through it as they have embraced other challenges in the past: by successfully adapting. It has always been part of their nature to embrace any challenges put before them by dealing with them the best they know how and going on with the task of surviving.68

Qitsualik also points to the specificity of the environment, describing Inuit as a “superb example of ingenuity, adaptability, and perseverance in one of the world’s most unforgiving environments,” a people who have “survive[d] the rigors of life in the Arctic . . . [because of ] their incredible ability to adapt.”69 Thus, the ability to creatively problem-solve through adaptation began as a material necessity for living in a harsh landscape, but it has also served as a powerful rejoinder to the impinging forces of colonization.70


Asking both what is missing and how it might be reinfused through Indigenous sonic performance, Tagaq’s decolonial gesture is a method—a way of staging an encounter across times, between a white colonial male filmmaker and an Inuk woman artist, between live embodiment and static representation, between improvised sound and an ossified visual record, between contemporary indigeneity and its colonial archive. But this encounter is not about the production of Historical Truth, for to sing with the film does not give an account of what Inuit life is or was actually like. Rather, Tagaq’s performance functions as what Stevenson calls “song,” which is not about the transmission of information, but is instead a way of calling out to the other—here, not to Flaherty, but perhaps to other Inuit across time and the threshold of mortality—of making contact with and presencing them. A singing to and with. As with storytelling, this shift away from Historical Truth is a shift toward “another way of knowing things, . . . [one] more closely linked to musicality and to presence.”71 In Tagaq’s performance, these other ways of knowing the past are affective, sonic, and embodied— structured by imaginative and speculative [End Page 60] logics of spectral kinship and belonging. Moreover, her song functions performatively, acting upon the images, reorienting them, complicating them. Tagaq’s throat singing has been described as “a demonstration in sound of how the natural order feels when you’re not separated from it”; although we should be careful to understand this statement as being about an intimate relationship to land (the Inuit’s “primordial relationship”) and not as a reiteration of what Stevenson (following Frantz Fanon) describes as “the disappearance of a colonized people into the natural background of the colonized territory.”72 Nevertheless, through a combination of sound, breath, voice, and movement, Tagaq animates the film’s human and nonhuman subjects— wintry snowscapes, ice floes, dogs, walruses, wind, seals—with a vibrancy and a vitality that reconfigure a relatively static ethnographic representation of a single typified family into an atmospherically lush and dynamic lifeworld that recalls IQ’s insistence on “the world around us and life itself [as] interdependent, interrelated, inter-dimensional, multi-disciplined, interconnected, intergenerational, evolving, and holistic.”73 For as Qitsualik notes, again insisting upon the Inuit’s adaptability, humans in a “NAN—non-anthropogenic—worldview, including that of the Inuit” are “active participant[s] in a dynamic system.”74 Consequently, “the NAN mind relies upon responsiveness to a reality outside the human condition. . . . [It] cannot expect to impose geometry upon the world, since it is the world itself dictating all conditions. NAN prosperity, then, becomes contingent upon observation and adaptation to exterior, non-human trends, rather than to interior ones established by a collective human will.”75 Thus, in Tagaq’s performance, the land, the environment/weather, and the animals are all part of the entangled ecology that she voices, and if there is some sounded threat, it is because her song is for and of a land in which “[t]he elements were against them constantly.”76 Sometimes singing with, sometimes against, her soundscape engages the film in a complex duet that transmogrifies it—reinfusing it with feeling, threading Inuit-specific humor back through it, introducing moments of nuance and uncertainty, raising the stakes, injecting a fevered energy into this carefully choreographed faux-documentary. “Improvising with this suspect archive,” Tagaq enacts what Tlingit curator Candice Hopkins describes as “making things our [Indigenous peoples’s] own”—here figured as a wrestling with the colonial visual archive and an exploration in sound of what else can be said, known, felt, or thought (and how) about Inuit life that cannot be found within that archive.77 [End Page 61]

Transcending questions of “good” and “bad” representation, Tagaq’s trans-historical communion manifests two related though distinct relationships: she sings-with the archive, even as she performs past and present as co-implicated in and affected by one another. In the context of the North, singing-with might also be a doing of the thing that Inuit are already in: a duet with coloniality, which though by no means constant and perhaps often strategically avoided, is an inextricable part of their histories. That said, Tagaq’s performance cannot and should not be reduced to a duet with coloniality, for Indigenous art-making does more than simply respond to colonialism.78 Rather, as I have described, her singing-with is also a performance of transtemporal sociality and the performative enactment of an entangled lifeworld. In addition, however, to sing-with might be about allowing oneself to be moved by what one finds in the colonial archive and to work something out. For Tagaq, this takes place through an improvisatory practice because the work to be done with these violent imprints of the past is always unfinished, always requiring incessant adjustments, and because the unruly ghosts of violent histories haunt the present, demanding that their explosive force be dealt with in the present.79 This improvisation does not simply unfold between the musicians onstage, however, but with the film itself—the content of its images, the rhythms created by the editor’s cuts, and the way the swooping pans of landscape feel. To collaborate with the film—perhaps even with Flaherty himself—might then also be understood as revisibilizing the original and obscured collaborative relationships that made the film possible. In this, Tagaq’s performance renders Inuit collaborators visible—and thus more fully present in the colonial archive—in ways whose complexity and nuance counter the at best reductive, at worst violent and/or occluded inscription that characterized their initial appearance in Flaherty’s film. Thus, following Stevenson’s account of Inuit ways of knowing/feeling that stay in touch with absences, Tagaq asks what (and who) has been redacted from the colonial archive so that she can summon and voice them, as they linger in and as absent (archival) presences.

Descriptions of Tagaq’s throat singing often flirt with animality—situated on what Mel Y. Chen describes as a racialized “animacy hierarchy”—or express disbelief that a woman could sound that “crazy, or ugly . . ., or monstrous.”80 Claims about her monstrosity—tied to her lack of sonic intelligibility vis-à-vis settler listeners—racistly align indigeneity with animality and articulate a sexist proscriptive with regard to what the feminine should sound like. Nevertheless, [End Page 62] I want to also insist that at play in her performances are a set of (representational and nonrepresentational) sonics that voice an Inuit-specific relationship to a lifeworld that includes land and animals, environment and weather, spirits and ghosts, living and dead. These sounded forms of relationality are evident in Inuit ways of knowing and Northern mythologies: IQ articulates this ethical notion of the world as “interdependent, interrelated, inter-dimensional . . ., interconnected, intergenerational,” even as Ipellie, in his famous illustrated book Arctic Dreams and Nightmares, tells stories about humans and animals turning into one another, encounters between shamans and the spirit world, and experiences of reverence and terror with regard to the elements.81 Moreover, Stevenson recounts the ways in which the living and the dead stay in touch, whether through Inuit naming practices in which a newborn takes on the name of a deceased or in the dreams of the living.82 Tagaq’s song animates all these others, expressing an understanding of the entangled ecologies that make up a lifeworld. The “monstrosity” or “unintelligibility” of her sound should therefore be understood as intimately related to Inuit knowledges not accessible to settler ears. For as Keavy Martin writes of her time in Pangnirtung, Nunavut, it “was a good reminder of the literacy we lacked in that place—of the stories that I hadn’t heard but which layered into the landscape all around me. . . . That sense of not knowing . . . encourages me to gain a better understanding of the territory I am a guest in.”83 To not know (as a settler) is therefore a critical injunction to be a better guest, or, in this instance, a better listener—perhaps one who, as Julietta Singh writes in her critique of colonial forms of mastery, “becom[es] vulnerable to the voices—human and nonhuman, audible and muted—that are always sounding even when we have not been trained or allowed ourselves to listen: Listening, as opposed to voicing that which we ‘know.’”84


Singing high, now each exhale drops “really low into your epiglottis.” Up and down. Every inhalation slinks high up into her nose. Growl. Low hum. Buzzing, snoring, the sound—like sanded paper skidding over surface—rumbles out into space. Then you “learn how to splice the notes, going from high to low.” High scream. Low lament. Now something like crying, breathing hard, heaving, mouth round and contorting and flexible. Smile, now crumpled face, or is it scrunched? Her hands never stop moving. Fingers taut and bent, swimming in the air. Traveling up and down and out and back. Sharp, high, tight inhale. Throat sounds that make the air move in circles, like stirring something up or spinning [End Page 63] something out. She sways side to side. Walking forward, now back. Eyes closed, knees bent now, her body veers down toward the floor. Pop back up, eyes open, hands claw at the air, or do they dance, as in, over the keys of a piano? Deep breath down, back rounded, air pushes out, steady stream.

Tagaq’s voice is the beat, its syncopated rhythms, now breathy—on- and off-voice—now descending into deep growls, guttural scratchings, notes dropped into the bottom of the throat. A kind of relentless rhythm that speeds up the beat of your heart. It dances with the drums, fighting for dominance. Like a panic attack, or a sprint. Her body pivots and careens, veering forward and back—pitched by and with voice. Now she’s high-pitched, childlike almost—soft, teasing, coy. Low, deep tones speak back to high kid-like ones. That violin squeals, the sound of string against string, and now the drum finds a beat. It goes out in front. Recorded Northern sounds, like twittering. “You teach your throat how to make a noise.” Babbling, mouth twitching, head thrown back, mouth wide open, deep sound from the chest and belly. Her hands beat the floor. She bows or is it crouches? Up now, upper body making circles. Shoulders hunched, elbows up, face fixed in a grimace. Squeal so high. She snarls at us. Suddenly, something like panic. Then nothing at all. The rhythms change so quickly. An electronic fluttering through the rafters, like a disoriented bird.

Pitching up, now down, voice like a drum, now panting, now you almost hear words, you hear dialogue, exchange. Breath and voice. Sound and beat. Her voice swims into its upper octaves, whistling almost, dancing with the sound of dogs barking. And the drag of brush over drum skin. You have to “spend one year trying to sound like your dog.” Now a wolf howl—shockingly mimetic. And then an electronic howl, spasmed by a turntable knob.


To ask this is to ask after the affective experience of reencountering a past that one finds oneself in an uncertain, vexed, but potently undeniable relationship with. And while I refer here to Tagaq’s performance of felt entanglement, it very much matters that this formulation carries different resonances and political ramifications when extended to Inuit, non-Inuit Indigenous, or non-Inuit non-Indigenous audience members—a point I will return to. In the context of Tagaq’s performance, however, the staging of her own archival encounter and explicit deployment of body, affect, and sound invites a consideration of what alternative and creative methods for and of reencountering the past might feel [End Page 64] like. Entanglement, as a mode of being-with others—and other things, times, places—is about co-implication, vulnerability, and intimacy, but also about indeterminacy and unknowing. It is perhaps about finding oneself in something with someone before that relation has congealed into a final form. It is therefore, with regard to the archive, about remaining in the process of encountering the bodies, affects, and histories that suture contemporary life to the past. Insisting on unfinished-ness, mutability, a something-to-be-done, the unknown, and the yet-to-be known, entanglement is a peculiar—potentially decolonial and feminist—way of feeling historical and form of historical feeling. As a feminist way of being with the world, entanglement embraces interdependency and affectability, encouraging more ethical forms of relation. And while affectability has historically affixed itself more readily to racialized bodies and subjects, entanglement asks us to imagine mutual states of affectability that both account for the reality of differential structural vulnerabilities and refuse the masculinist colonialist “denial or disavowal [that] requires one to forget one’s own vulnerability and project, displace, and localize it elsewhere.” The question of vulnerable entanglements must be treated care-fully, however, for as Judith Butler, Zeynep Gambetti, and Leticia Sabsay remind us, “it can work to exacerbate vulnerability (as a way of achieving power) or to disavow it (also as a way of achieving power).”86

I also want to draw attention to the ways in which these entanglements merely echo how many Indigenous communities have long theorized time and the ways it binds us to each other and to other things in what Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar, musician, writer, and poet Leanne Betasamosake Simpson calls an “ecology of intimacy” culminating in “a series of radiating responsibilities.”87 For as I have noted, Inuit conceptions of tradition entwine past, present, and future. Turning away from the siloed linearity of past-present-future that is a hallmark of colonialism—serving to produce ossified conceptions of [End Page 65] indigeneity planted in the past, fracture the continuity of cultures, and dispossess Indigenous peoples of their histories, languages, and land—storytelling and song can dynamically link past, present, and future to assert “the interconnected nature of all life,” not just peoples, animals, and land but also times and spaces.88 Thus, part of entanglement’s decolonial potential lies in how it echoes both an Inuit temporality and IQ’s insistence on “life itself as interrelated, inter- dimensional . . ., interconnected, intergenerational.”89 This is also one way of understanding the Lakota phrase “all my relations,” and as Hopi producer and director Victor Masayesva, Jr. writes, “[t]he Indigenous aesthetic” is how “we [Indigenous people] are heard by and commune with the Ancients.”90 The question of temporality is therefore crucial to Tagaq’s project, insofar as a colonial lens tries to subjugate indigeneity to the past. Recall, here, Flaherty’s false rendering of Nanook’s relationship to technology. And as the national Inuit organization Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami insists, “[t]o be of value, [Inuit] history must be used to instruct our young and to inform all of us about who we are as Inuit in today’s world. We do not want our history to confine us to the past.”91 Thinking contemporary indigeneity might therefore be about mapping the futures that colonialism sought to foreclose and inhabiting other forms of temporality in which past, present, and future link up as part of a constant dynamic remapping of tradition.

There is a parallel between colonial temporal figurings of indigeneity as “pastness” and colonial spatial figurings of the land as “empty,” insofar as both have been deployed to justify the violences of genocide, land theft, and Residential Schools, among other things. And so, Tagaq importantly articulates a decolonial politics through both spatial and temporal registers. Not only does her soundscape “populate” the land—voicing and animating it and all of its inhabitants— but her performance insists upon the contemporaneity of Inuit throat singing. Even as she reaffirms the fullness of the land and the complexity of its human and nonhuman relations—in contrast to the singularity of Flaherty’s barren representation—she also works with the past in order to pull it into the present. Contemporary practice is pressed up against archival record, as Tagaq labors to tell a different kind of story through the massaging of history— a working on and with its material and affective traces—and to “belong differently to time, to have the possibility of building a different relationship to what is, what has been, and what may be.”92 In this way, she both fractures and re-visions Flaherty’s mooring of Inuit life as exclusively historical— archival—while also [End Page 66] acknowledging the ways in which these violent representations matter now and for the future. The past is thus positioned as something to be worked on and with, and it is here that entanglement begins to emerge.

Although I have used feeling entangled to think about Tagaq’s staging of her own encounter with the film, the archive, and history, the term could be applied more broadly to think about a variety of webs of relation that materialize different political problematics through their manifestation of various, sometimes egregious, power differentials. Tagaq’s performance therefore presents an opportunity to think entanglement as a kind of terrain, one that this essay has attempted to inhabit in order to track these relations from within the sonic, visual, and performatic field that she curates. For instance, how can we think about the feeling of entanglement on behalf of an audience member—Inuit, non-Inuit Indigenous, or non-Inuit non-Indigenous? As a non-Indigenous, mixed-race, Canadian settler scholar and audience member, any experience of entanglement that I might have—with the performance, the film, the archival images—is one that I am ethically compelled to orient toward a consideration of what it would mean as a settler to feel implicated and complicit in this history. This would mean mobilizing my feeling of entanglement in support of what curator cheyanne turions describes as “the capacity of settlers to listen, to receive, to be deeply uncomfortable, to recognize themselves as estranged from the skewed history presented in textbooks, to feel alienated from a sense of righteous belonging and to cede powers and privileges that have been ill- gotten.”93 In this context, a settler feeling of entanglement might also—to use Métis scholar David Garneau’s account of cultural decolonization, whose often “soft” aims he is rightfully critical of, especially in settler pedagogical settings— contribute to “the perpetual struggle to make both Indigenous and settler peoples aware of the complexity of our shared colonial condition, and how this legacy informs every person and institution in these territories.”94 That said, insofar as entanglement risks a kind of leveling, it does so in line with Inuit conceptions of both temporality and the interconnectedness of all life, which together open out onto an ethics of care and responsibility. But entanglement, to use Donna Haraway’s formulation, “stays with the trouble” and does not purport to resolve contradiction, difficulty, or risk.95 Rather, it proposes a way of thinking about the world as an entangled ecology, and asks how that reconceptualization might move us toward modes of political action that are not reducible to questions of representation nor to hasty, often vague imperatives to “get it right,” but [End Page 67] which instead begin carefully from the notion of interdependence as an ethics. Interdependence must, however, importantly differentiate itself from violent relations of dependence, and so any use of entanglement should center questions of structural inequity, histories of violence, and differential vulnerabilities. In the case of Tagaq’s performance, I must ask what it means for a particular subject to feel implicated in a particular history, and how that implication might bolster (or hinder) a decolonial political project. Moreover, my contention is that Tagaq’s performance positions her as connected to but not exhaustively constituted by history, film, or archive. Rather, her entanglement with all three holds space for a variety of political and performatic actions: she sings with and against, back to and over, she returns to the film and departs from it, resists it and then duets with it. Entanglement’s dynamism and seeming broadness is not meant to obscure the specificity or nuance of these many gestures. Rather, it holds space for all of them, and, in doing so, it offers a way of thinking about connectedness as neither exclusively utopic nor singularly violent, but as both, and as more—as a terrain to be inhabited and worked out, and precisely, as the terrain of a politics that centers questions of co-implication and mutual responsibility, complicity and accountability.


In As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom through Radical Resistance, Simpson writes: “It became clear to me that how we live, how we organize, how we engage in the world—the process—not only frames the outcome, it is the transformation. How molds and then gives birth to the present. The how changes us. How is the theoretical intervention.”96 The how is a question about method and encounter. It asks us to consider how we look, listen, and enter. This is the second time I’ve come to the Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Columbia University to look through the Robert Joseph Flaherty Papers. The first time, I didn’t know what I was looking at or for. I moved through maps, geological reports, early Nanook of the North scripts, newspaper clippings, lists of objects and Inuktitut words, and correspondences scrawled in spidery black ink or blurred pencil scratches. I went through so many documents that I couldn’t read, fingering each one carefully anyway, trying to sense (something from) it. I’ve come back this second time having done more historical research, and with Tagaq’s spoken introductions in mind—their subtle cues, that invitation into political modes of listening—I’m hoping that my now-deeper knowledge of Inuit and Northern histories will open up new ways [End Page 68] of looking. This archival research takes up Stoler’s invitation to move from “archive-as-source” to “archive-as-subject,” which means thinking critically about the mechanisms of exclusion that are the archive’s founding violence and interrogating history writing as a performative operation of power.97 But I’m also trying to enact a practice that echoes Tagaq’s, that is, an archival methodology of encountering—looking, listening, feeling—the (materiality of the) past. I want to cultivate a relationship to this archive that recalls Stevenson’s theorization of Inuit ways of knowing and feeling the world that move beyond Truth in its most factual iteration and toward other, more affective ways of registering absence and presence across times and places.

Figure 1. “Innuit Tooktu Nooname (Esquimaux in the Deer Land),” Robert Joseph Flaherty Papers, Series II: Canadian Explorations, Box 15, Folder: “Eskimo drawings—reproductions—complete sets,” Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library. Courtesy of The Flaherty and the RBML at Columbia University.
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Figure 1.

“Innuit Tooktu Nooname (Esquimaux in the Deer Land),” Robert Joseph Flaherty Papers, Series II: Canadian Explorations, Box 15, Folder: “Eskimo drawings—reproductions—complete sets,” Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library. Courtesy of The Flaherty and the RBML at Columbia University.98

When I’m in this archive, I don’t ask what the objects or documents mean, but what they do. I linger with them not to find out “what really happened,” but to access a feeling of the past, to press up against other sensations of actual history, and to track the way my own encounter feels. I’m trying to find out what kinds of knowledge can be gleaned when I stay with the affective and sensuous charge of the archival object or document in the [End Page 69] moment before a historical narrative congeals or comes into view. This depends on my being here—in my body—with this archive, in ways that are both connected to and impossibly different from Tagaq’s. This might transform my sense of “what it means to know something.”99 I am also trying to stay in touch with all the unexpected scraps that cluster around—inflecting— this performance as I analyze it. Perhaps like the other archivally- oriented artists whose work I study, I also want to do something with the detritus of the past, even when it cannot be bent into a useful or believable historical shape. If the archive is never anything other than a collection of traces, then those from Flaherty’s papers haunt the margins of Tagaq’s performance and of this writing—haunting again understood in Gordon’s sense, as the ghosts of violence demanding a something to be done, a “doing” that Tagaq’s performance is undoubtedly a part of, and which this writing too, I hope, takes up as part of its ethical response to the demand that entanglement makes of me.100


In what ways do performatic or creative enactments of archival encounter differ from archiving itself or archival research or going into an archive? How do the possibilities offered by performance reinflect not only the question of what we desire from the archive but also how we go looking for it? What new forms of knowledge, ways of doing history, and modes of relation emerge through Tagaq’s performance that would have otherwise been or felt impossible? In the context of performance studies, much scholarship has focused on how performatic, ephemeral, or affective phenomena resist, exceed, or are missing from traditional archives. I am interested, here, in how these excluded elements return as methods for reencountering the archive, asking what future (historical, archival, epistemological) reconfigurations might become possible through this contact. For in Tagaq’s work, performance and affect return to and for the archive: disorganizing it, treating it like the recombinant fragmented materiality that Jacques Derrida insisted it was, and working to expand the limits of “what can be said.”101 And while more traditional forms of archival encounter are also embodied and affective, Tagaq’s performance insists upon the political potential of alternative and creative modes of historical work. As such, her performance inscribes new forms of relation to the past, and, following Ann Cvetkovich, might be understood as archiving feeling itself—of an entanglement with history, complicated kinship, loss, and love.102 Moreover, Tagaq’s performance casts feeling as central to a performatic mode of doing history; insists upon the performative force of the aesthetic and embodied to intrude upon the [End Page 70] masculinist-colonialist authority of the archive; and proposes entanglement as a mode of historical relation that more accurately accounts for how the past is lived in the present, while carrying a blueprint for more ethical forms of social life across times—ones structured by intimacy, vulnerability, and an acute sense of our co-implication in one another. For as Moten, using Denise Ferreira da Silva’s formulations, insists: “we are in a condition of ‘quantum entanglement.’ We are connected to one another . . . the condition within which we live is one of ‘difference without separability’ . . ., the brutality of life emerges out of our refusal or our disavowal of that fact.”103 Thus, out of Tagaq’s work emerges a subject both hurt and held by history, who looks to the archive not to grasp what was, but to ask how her feelings about what was and is might offer new ways of facing, sensing, and being-with the world. To perform one’s feelings of entanglement is therefore both to refuse to detach from one’s pasts—to know that one could never be detached from them— and to refuse to be relegated to that past. It is to refuse to let go of the past, to performatively reiterate this refusal that is a resistance to forgetfulness, isolation, and historical unmooring. It is to refuse to be cast as an exclusively “historical” subject—trapped in the colonial archive—and to refuse to become the ahistorical subject of neoliberalism. It is also to thwart the colonial haste to conclude, to refuse the state’s attempt to cast “that dark chapter” as a stain on the other side of a now-turned page. For while the colonial archive and its many limits often obscure the “ongoingness of colonial relations,” an archival entanglement might offer a way of being in time that is neither a relegation to the past nor an assimilatory jump into a neoliberal future.104 To perform one’s feelings of entanglement is therefore to reinscribe, over and over again, one’s complex situatedness in the tangle of history—to map the ways in which one feels its push and pull in the present. It is to know that one’s relationship to the past will remain perpetually unfinished, and that it is possible to creatively and performatically redeploy the archive to both fracture and redraw the limits of what can be said, remembered, known, felt, or thought—and how— about the past, its relation to the present, and its role in imagining more livable Northern futures. In the face of ongoing colonial relations, climate change, and [End Page 71] the exploitation of Northern resources, these futures might be ones in which Inuit ways of knowing and living—sited within tangles of times and people, land and animals—rightfully take center stage in Canada and beyond through forms of radical resurgence. As a decolonial gesture, Tagaq’s performance asserts the need to think and feel across times and spaces. To sing-with is therefore to performatively bind the living and the dead, the past and present, performance and the archive, in one entangled ecology that articulates an urgent ethics of care, interdependency, accountability, and responsibility for now, and for then, and for what will come.

Olivia Michiko Gagnon

olivia michiko gagnon is a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for the Humanities at Tufts University. She holds a PhD and an MA in Performance Studies from New York University, and an Honors BA in English and Drama from the University of Toronto. Her current book manuscript explores the emergence of closeness as a feminist and decolonial method in contemporary art and performance. She has written for the Vancouver Art Gallery and Movement Research, and her writing appears or is forthcoming in Women & Performance: a journal of feminist theory, Canadian Theatre Review, The Syndicate, and emisférica. She also recently co-edited (with James McMaster) a special issue of Women & Performance on collaborative practice and the capaciousness of couple forms.


1. Quoted in Dominique Godrèche, “Offensive Inuit Documentary ‘Of The North’ Drawing Fire,” Indian Country Today, May 10, 2016,

2. Heather Igloliorte, “Inuit Artistic Expression as Cultural Resilience,” in Response, Responsibility, and Renewal: Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Journey, eds. Gregory Younging, Jonathan Dewar, and Mike DeGagné (Ottawa: Aboriginal Healing Foundation, 2009), 125.

3. Ibid., 127.

4. Heather Igloliorte, “A Message from the Curator,” in ‘We Were So Far Away’: The Inuit Experience of Residential Schools, ed. Heather Igloliorte (Ottawa: The Legacy of Hope Foundation, 2010), 23.

5. Keavy Martin, Stories in a New Skin: Approaches to Inuit Literature (Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 2012), 46.

6. Igloliorte, “A Message from the Curator,” 22.

7. Inuit Nunangat is the homeland of Canadian Inuit, and is made up of four regions: Nunavut, Nunavik (Québec), Nunatsiavut (Labrador), and the Inuvialuit Settlement Region (Northwest Territories). See “About Canadian Inuit,” Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami,

8. This historical information is drawn from: Martin, Stories; Igloliorte, “Inuit Artistic Expression”; Igloliorte, “A Message from the Curator”; Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Canada’s Residential Schools: The Inuit and Northern Experience: The Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Vol. 2 (Montréal and Kingston: McGill-Queens University Press, 2015); Qikiqtani Inuit Association, Qikiqtani Truth Commission: Community Histories 1950–1975 (Iqaluit, NU: Inhabit Media, 2014); Qikiqtani Inuit Association, Qikiqtani Truth Commission: Thematic Reports and Special Studies 1950–1975 (Iqaluit, NU: Inhabit Media, 2014); Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, The High Arctic Relocation: A Report on the 1953–55 Relocation (Ottawa: Canada Communication Group, 1994); and “Timeline,” We Were So Far Away: The Inuit Experience of Residential Schools,

9. Dylan Robinson, “Welcoming Sovereignty,” in Performing Indigeneity: New Essays on Canadian Theatre, ed. Yvette Nolan and Ric Knowles (Toronto: Playwrights Canada Press, 2016), 6.

10. Dylan Robinson, “Intergenerational Sense, Intergenerational Responsibility,” in Arts of Engagement: Taking Aesthetic Action in and beyond the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, eds. Dylan Robinson and Keavy Martin (Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2016), 45.

11. Ibid., 51.

12. Sarah Rogers, “Should non-Inuit performers be allowed to throat sing?,” Nunatsiaq News, April 3, 2019,

13. Quoted in Mary Dickie, “Tanya Tagaq Grabs the World by the Throat,” Music Works 118 (Spring 2014),

14. Ibid.

15. See Faye D. Ginsburg, “Screen Memories: Resignifying the Traditional in Indigenous Media,” in Media Worlds: Anthropology on New Terrain, eds. Faye D. Ginsburg, Lila Abu-Lughod, and Brian Larkin (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 51; VK Preston, review of Tanya Tagaq in Concert with Nanook of the North, by Tanya Tagaq and Robert J. Flaherty, Theatre Journal 68, no. 4 (December 2016): 649.

16. peter kulchyski and Frank James Tester, Kiumajut (Talking Back): Game Management and Inuit Rights, 1900–70 (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2007), 208.

17. Fred Moten, “An Interview with Fred Moten,” by Adam Fitzgerald, Literary Hub, August 5, 2015, I draw my use of entanglement from Moten and from Denise Ferreira da Silva, “On Difference without Separability,” 32nd Bienal de São Paulo: Incerteza Viva: Catalogue, eds. Jochen Volz and Júlia Rebouças (São Paulo: Fundaçã o Bienal de São Paulo, 2016), 57–66.

18. I have drawn the term “performatic” from Diana Taylor’s The Archive and the Repertoire: Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003).

19. Lisa Stevenson, Life Beside Itself: Imagining Care in the Canadian Arctic (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014), 31–46.

20. See Taylor, The Archive and the Repertoire.

21. Gerald Vizenor, Manifest Manners: Narratives on Postindian Survivance (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1994).

22. José Esteban Muñoz, Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), 189.

23. Sarita Echavez See, The Filipino Primitive: Accumulation and Resistance in the American Museum (New York: New York University Press, 2017), 3.

24. Fred Moten, In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), 1.

25. Dylan Robinson, “sq’ép” (keynote, Hemi GSI Convergence, Toronto, ON, October 5, 2017).

26. Avery Gordon, Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008).

27. See, for example, Saidiya V. Hartman, Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997); Tina Campt, Image Matters: Archive, Photography, and the African Diaspora in Europe (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012); and Taylor, The Archive and the Repertoire.

28. Ann Stoler, Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009), 1.

29. Melissa Adams-Campbell, Ashley Glassburn Falzetti, and Courtney Rivard, “Introduction: Indigeneity and the Work of Settler Archives,” Settler Colonial Studies 5, no. 2 (2015): 113–14; Melissa Adams-Campbell, “Life of Black Hawk: A Sauk and Mesquakie Archive,” Settler Colonial Studies 5, no. 2 (2015): 145.

30. Ashley Glassburn Falzetti, “Archival Absence: The Burden of History,” Settler Colonial Studies 5, no. 2 (2015): 138.

31. Heather Igloliorte, “Arctic Culture/Global Indigeneity,” in Negotiations in a Vacant Lot: Studying the Visual in Canada, eds. Lynda Jessup, Erin Morton, and Kirsty Robertson (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2014), 156.

32. Ibid.

33. Igloliorte, “Inuit Artistic Expression as Cultural Resilience,” 129. See also Igloliorte, “Arctic Culture/Global Indigeneity,” 156–57.

34. Preston, review, 650. As Preston and others have suggested, the film constructs a “seemingly intimate portrait of plural marriage” in which Nyla may be “one of Nanook’s wives.” Preston, review, 650. A second wife is alluded to (though by no means confirmed) by the presence of a second woman, identified in the film as “Cunayou.”

35. Ibid.

36. Nanook of the North, directed by Robert J. Flaherty (Revillon Frères Fur Company, 1922); Igloliorte, “Inuit Artistic Expression,” 130; Derek Malcolm, “Robert Flaherty: Nanook of the North,” Guardian, April 13, 2000,

37. Ginsburg, “Screen Memories,” 39.

38. Ibid., 50; Yasmin Nurming-Por, “Please Wait,” in ARCTICNOISE: Geronimo Inutiq, ed. Tarah Hogue (Vancouver: grunt gallery, 2015), 46.

39. Britt Gallpen, “Testing, Testing, Do You Copy?,” in Hogue, ARCTICNOISE, 20.

40. Sherrill Grace, Canada and the Idea of North (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press: 2001), 16.

41. Ibid. 16 – 17.

42. Ibid., 4.

43. Tara Williamson, “Canada’s Vanishing Point: Reconciliation and the Erasure of Indian Personhood,” Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, May 1, 2017,

44. Ibid.

45. “Decolonial gesture” is drawn from “Decolonial Gesture,” special issue, eds. Jill Lane, Marcial Godoy-Anativia, and Macarena Gómez-Barris, emisférica 11, no. 1 (2014), . For more on decoloniality, gesture, and aesthetics, see “Decolonial AestheSis,” special issue, eds. Walter Mignolo and Rolando Vazquez, Social Text-Periscope (2013),; peter kulchyski, six gestures (New York: HemiPress, 2015); and Rebecca Schneider, “In Our Hands: An Ethics of Gestural Response-ability,” Performance Philosophy Journal 3, no. 1 (2017),

46. Igloliorte, “Arctic Culture/Global Indigeneity,” 153.

47. See Steven Loft, “Indians in Space: Curating Media Art by Indigenous Artists” (talk, IARC Speaker Series at the School for Advanced Research, Santa Fe, NM, October 29, 2009),

48. Igloliorte, “Arctic Culture/Global Indigeneity,” 150.

49. Ibid., 156.

50. Ibid., 157.

51. Igloliorte, “Inuit Artistic Expression,” 129.

52. Ibid., 128–29.

53. Igloliorte, “Arctic Culture/Global Indigeneity,” 156 – 57, 159. See also Igloliorte, “Inuit Artistic Expression,” 128–30.

54. Igloliorte, “Inuit Artistic Expression,” 129, 130.

55. Ibid., 130.

56. See “Throat Singing: A Unique Vocalization from Three Cultures,” Smithsonian Folkways Recordings,

57. Igloliorte, “Arctic Culture/Global Indigeneity,” 166; Martin, Stories, 107.

58. Quoted in “Night Life,” New Yorker, November 6, 2017, 10.

59. This infamous statement is often (perhaps incorrectly) attributed to then-deputy superintendent of Indian Affairs Duncan Campbell Scott, and expresses the goal of Canada’s Indian Residential School System.

60. Martin, Stories, 6.

61. Rachel A. Qitsualik, “Nalunaktuq: The Arctic as Force, Instead of Resource,” CBC News, August 31, 2006,

62. Martin, Stories, 3; Joe Karetak, Frank Tester, and Shirley Tagalik, eds., Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit: What Inuit Have Always Known to Be True (Halifax, NS: Fernwood, 2017); Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ) Task Force, The First Annual Report of the Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ) Task Force (Iqaluit, NU: Government of Nunavut, 2002), 7, quoted in Martin, Stories, 3.

63. Joe Karetak and Frank Tester, “Introduction: Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, Truth and Reconciliation,” in Karetak, Tester, and Tagalik, Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit.

64. Jaypetee Arnakak, “Commentary: What Is Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit? Using Inuit Family and Kinship Relationships to Apply Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit,” Nunatsiaq News, August 25, 2000,

65. See also Igloliorte, “Arctic Culture/Global Indigeneity.”

66. Rosemarie Kuptana and Suzie Napayok-Short, “Inuit Ilitqusia: Inuit Way of Knowing,” World Policy, June 15, 2016,

67. Lisa Stevenson, “The Ethical Injunction to Remember,” in Critical Inuit Studies: An Anthology of Contemporary Arctic Ethnography, eds. Pamela Stern and Lisa Stevenson (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006), 163–83.

68. Alootook Ipellie, “The Colonization of the Arctic,” in Indigena: Contemporary Native Perspectives in Canadian Art, eds. Gerald McMaster and Lee-Ann Martin (Sydney: Craftsman House, 1992), 55.

69. Rachel Attituq Qitsualik, “Living with Change,” Nunavut ’99, April 1, 2009,

70. See Ipellie, “Colonization,” 55.

71. Stevenson, Life Beside Itself, 166.

72. Robert Everett-Green, “Primal Scream: Inuk Throat Singer Tanya Tagaq Is Like No One You’ve Ever Heard, Anywhere,” Globe and Mail, May 30, 2014,; Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ) Task Force, 15, quoted in Martin, Stories, 122; Stevenson, Life Beside Itself, 121.

73. Kuptana and Napayok-Short, “Inuit Ilitqusia.”

74. Rachel A. Qitsualik, “Inummarik: Self-Sovereignty in Classic Inuit Thought,” in Nilliajut: Inuit Perspectives on Security, Patriotism and Sovereignty, ed. Scot Nickels (Ottawa: Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, 2013), 27, 28.

75. Ibid., 27.

76. Ipellie, “Colonization of the Arctic,” 40.

77. Preston, review, 649; Candice Hopkins, “Making Things Our Own: The Indigenous Aesthetic in Digital Storytelling,” Leonardo 39, no. 4 (2006): 342,

78. See Thomas King, “Godzilla vs. Post-Colonial,” World Literature Written in English 30, no. 2 (1990): 10–16.

79. See Gordon, Ghostly Matters.

80. Mel Y. Chen, Animacies: Biopolitics, Racial Mattering, and Queer Affect (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2012), 13; Ryan Porter, “Why No One Is More Rock ’n Roll than Inuk Throat-singer Tanya Tagaq,” The Loop, September 24, 2014,

81. Kuptana and Napayok-Short, “Inuit Ilitqusia”; see Alootook Ipellie, Arctic Dreams and Nightmares (Penticton, BC: Theytus, 1993).

82. See Stevenson, Life Beside Itself.

83. Martin, Stories, 123.

84. Julietta Singh, Unthinking Mastery: Dehumanism and Decolonial Entanglements (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2018), 27.

85. Quotations from this section are drawn from “Tanya Tagaq—The Sounds of Throat Singing,” YouTube video, 3:07, posted by musicisayer, July 7, 2009,

86. See Denise Ferreira da Silva, Toward a Global Idea of Race (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007); Sianne Ngai, Ugly Feelings (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005); Judith Butler, Zeynep Gambetti, and Leticia Sabsay, introduction to Vulnerability in Resistance, eds. Judith Butler, Zeynep Gambetti, and Leticia Sabsay (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016), 4.

87. Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom through Radical Resistance (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017), 8–9.

88. Loft, “Indians in Space.”

89. Kuptana and Napayok-Short, “Inuit Ilitqusia.”

90. Victor Masayesva, “Indigenous Experimentalism,” in Transference, Tradition, Technology: Native New Media Exploring Visual and Digital Culture, eds. Dana Claxton, Steven Loft, and Melanie Townsend (Banff, AB: Walter Phillips Gallery Editions, 2005), 177.

91. “Inuit History and Heritage,” Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami,, 4.

92. Stevenson, Life Beside Itself, 136.

93. cheyanne turions, “From Where Do You Speak?: Locating the Possibility of Decolonization in Krista Belle Stewart’s Seraphine, Seraphine,” ArtsEverywhere, May 25, 2018,

94. David Garneau, “Extra-Rational Aesthetic Action and Cultural Decolonization,” FUSE Magazine 36, no. 4 (September 2013): 15.

95. See Donna Haraway, Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016).

96. Simpson, As We Have Always Done, 19.

97. Stoler, Along the Archival Grain, 44.

98. In Flaherty’s papers, this drawing (which is a reproduction and is part of a larger published collection of drawings) is attributed to “Enooesweetok of the Sikosilingmint Tribe of Eskimo, Fox Land, Baffin Island.” Moreover, it is indicated that “the drawings were made at Amadjuak Bay, Fox Land, the winter headquarters of Sir William Mackenzie’s expedition to Baffin Land and Hudson’s Bay 1913–14.” The published collection of drawings is copyrighted to Flaherty and is dated 1915.

99. Stevenson, Life Beside Itself, 34.

100. See Gordon, Ghostly Matters.

101. Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression, trans. Eric Prenowitz (1995; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1998); Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, trans. A.M. Sheridan Smith (1972; New York: Vintage, 2010), 129.

102. See Ann Cvetkovich, An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2003).

103. Fred Moten, “Blackness and Performance,” Vimeo video, 1:36:49, June 27, 2014,

104. Naomi Angel and Pauline Wakeham, “Witnessing In Camera: Photographic Reflections on Truth and Reconciliation,” in Robinson and Martin, Arts of Engagement, 103.

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