Those Who Run in the Sky is an important read, not only because it is the first novel written by Aviaq Johnston, was nominated for the Governor General’s award, won the Burt Award, but more importantly- it is an Inuit Book- written by an Inuit author. Staying true to her roots, Johnston has also made this read available in Inuktitut.
This is a story about a young boy’s journey in finding and accepting his identity. Piturniq (Pitu) is raised by his grandparents who adopted him, and lives his life as a regular Inuit. His mother wants to shelter him from becoming a Shaman, but as powerful as she is, she too must accept the fact that she can’t dictate Pitu’s life. Pitu becomes his “village’s” best hunter, because of his patience, persistence and determination. Following true huntmanship, he shares his food with other hunters, takes meat to other houses and gifts it to his betrothed’s (Saima’s) family. Despite being successful in hunting, his spirit is unrestful.
We witness him having dreams where he meets his spiritual guide- only he cannot recognize the Spirits for who they are. We witness his anger, his frustration, his jealousy, his joy and his confusion throughout the book. Although he wants to marry his sweetheart, Tagaaq, the village leader, suggests that the Spirits want him to be the village’s next leader. However, he is cautioned, that if he chooses to become a Shaman, there is “much darkness in his future”. This young boy is faced with a decision: Should he choose to become the powerful Shaman and leader? Or should he settle for being a hunter providing for his village and family?
Johnston successfully blurs the line between our world and that of the Spirits. We witness Pitu’s pain when the Spirit Wolves bite his leg, we witness his fear when he sees the transformation of the qallpillaq- and our heart races with him when he runs with the Northern Lights. We witness the legends told to children becoming reality- and as readers, we almost envy Pitu for his skills. He is able to persuade a grumpy and tired Shaman, he is able to communicate with Tiri and he can reconnect with the Spirits of his ancestors. However, with great skills comes a huge sense of responsibility. This young man proves he is worthy of leadership, when he sacrifices his dreams for the benefit of the community. We readers are privileged to see this character transform from a young boy, to a powerful man.
Johnston describes Inuit traditions of hunting, adoption, summer-winter camps and community practices in great depth. She sees the importance of the reader understanding the way of Inuit life, so they can relate to the characters in her story. It is through her descriptions that Saima’s facial tattoos and the oral history become even more fascinating.
Although this book is categorized as teen fiction, I would strongly recommend each Canadian to read it. Its pace is slower than books written by other cultures, but the pace gives us time to appreciate the power behind the pen that wrote the words. All in all, it is a powerful and important read.
Special Note: A huge thank you to Aviaq Johnston for choosing to share her stories and traditions with the outsiders- like myself. I only know of 17 Inuit Authors, so whenever one of their books passes my desk, I always stop to read it. Inuit history is an important part of our country, they have knowledge of this land from thousands of years ago- knowledge dating back to when Canada was not even Canada. These First Nations have a rich culture and I am so grateful to have caught a glimpse of it through Those Who Run in the Sky.