#53 Tanya Tagaq: Tongues

Canada! Throw another steak on the barbie and… No, that’s the other one isn’t it? Throw another poutine on the Mike Myers, aye! We all love Canada, don’t we? They’re like the USA it’s OK to like! So polite! So, like, a bit American, but not offensively so, but then also a little bit English, so that’s OK! There are bits of it that are French, I believe, but I don’t really have time to logically process that right now. Those white Canadians, they’ve, like, always been there, right? There was never any indefensible stripping of natives’ land, like there was in the USA, as far as I – wider culture – am aware of. No old Canadian movies celebrating the Canadian John Wayne brutally murdering the native population, so I have to assume that it never happened. Who’s the Canadian John Wayne, I hear you ask? Probably Drake. No, I can’t explain it, it just probably is, I dunno. Oh Canada! That’s how the anthem starts, innit? Lovely country, lovely people, such a lovely counterpoint to all the divisive silliness that happened ‘down south’! Shows that actually, yes, it is possible to build a civilised society over there.


Firstly, the headline on that New York Times article is, in my opinion, grossly downplayed. Those indigenous children didn’t ‘disappear’. In fact, I would argue, the reason it has so often been remarked upon in the media over the past year (though this is hardly new information on a wider scale) is that we recently learned of hundreds more children actually being found. In late May 2021 a whole two hundred children were found, in unmarked graves around the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. In June of that year, The Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan said that as many as seven hundred and fifty one children had been found, unceremoniously and secretly stuffed into the ground near the former Marieval Indian Residential School. Also in June 2021, The Lower Kootenay Band in British Columbia said they had found one hundred and eighty two sets of human remains in unmarked graves outside St. Eugene’s Mission School, a former residential school operated by the Catholic Church. There you go. Those children are no longer ‘disappeared’. Check them off the list. Job done.

I could go on. So I will.

In July 2021, the Penelakut Tribe revealed that more than one hundred and sixty unmarked and undocumented graves had been found at the former Kuper Island Industrial School site near Chemainus, British Columbia. They were ninety three found at St. Joseph’s Mission Residential School in January 2022. Another fourty two found at Fort Pelly residential school. They found fifty four at St Bernard’s Residential School in March of this year and – what’s that? – another one hundred and fifteen in the grounds near to that school. I’d say that these children didn’t ‘disappear’ at all. No, fair point, because nobody took proper records of the one hundred and fifty thousand First Nations, Métis and Inuit children who were taken from their parents between 1876 and 1996 (Nineteen. Ninety. Six. These school were still operating when Gangsta’s Paradise was number one) and forcibly enrolled in these boarding schools, we can’t say for certain where all of these children disappeared to. But, here’s my theory, based on the two thousand three hundred and one unmarked graves found so far, I reckon we could make a good fucking guess.

This shit was recent enough ago that Tanya Tagaq remembers leaving home at fifteen to attend one of these schools. It would be simple to label her career best fifth album as a justifiably ferocious screed against this hideous colonial system, specifically and admittedly designed to forcibly assimilate the indigenous people and make them more acceptable to the now majority white culture, to bash out the remaining indigenous culture and language until it was like it was never there. “They took our tongues/They tried to take our tongues/We lost our language/And we didn’t/Inuuvunga (I am an Inuit)“. Because, surely, Tanya Taqag first became aware of all this just over a year ago, with the rest of us??

Nah, idiotic straw man that I’ve invented for literary purposes, of course she didn’t. She is perhaps the most prominent Inuit in popular culture – certainly its premier Inuit throat singer – and has been graced with many Polaris Prizes and Juno awards in the implicit understanding that Dude! Shut up about it now! She has long been the most vocal, the most prominent, and the most fierce critic of Canada’s treatment of its native people – she’s been publicly calling out the the country’s Indian Residential Schools in particular for a long time – and the higher up Tagaq rises in Canada’s cultural prominence, the more she grasps the opportunity to call out the country’s genocidal power structures at higher levels. And she doesn’t do it by getting Disney to finance a self-congratulatory liberal love in called ‘Inuit is King’. Sorry, I promised I’d stop taking shots at Beyoncé…

So, no, ‘Tongues’ isn’t just about the recent unearthing of indigenous children’s bodies. Only, of course, it kind of is. But she also touches on rape, on white vegans moralising over ancient Inuit hunting practices, on the adoption system, on many other things. But It all comes back to the same thing – the horror of oppression, the evils of taking advantage of the uneven power structure. She directs songs at me. I’m the ‘coloniser’ simply enjoying the fruits of the oppressed labour like it’s just the normal order of things. Canadians? They’re those polite, poutine-eating white people, right? Move along, nothing to see here (“Oh you’re guilty/Oh you’re guilty”).

Somehow though, despite the justification for two thousand, three hundred and one albums worth of rage, Tagaq manages to still locate warmth and tenderness, with much of the latter half of the album dedicated to encouraging her indigenous listeners to love themselves, and songs of love written for her daughter’s sixth birthday. Is this an easy album to listen to? What? Fucking no! Did you not read this post?! But it’s an artistic colossus, and enough to be sure that Tagaq is going to carry on in this fight until the world’s media next decides to pay attention.

Touch my children
And my teeth welcome your windpipe
Touch my children
And my teeth welcome your windpipe

Teeth Agape



2016 #53

No way!

Metacritic: 82

6 thoughts on “#53 Tanya Tagaq: Tongues

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