Tainna: The Unseen Ones, Short Stories
Douglas & McIntyre, 2021
Review by Özten Shebahkege
Tainna is a collection of six short stories that offer a searing look at contemporary Inuit life in southern Canada, refusing to shy away from the ugliness of colonialism. The characters struggle with poverty, racism, and abuse; each story is unique, as Norma Dunning blurs the lines between traditional and modern life, as well as the living and the dead. From a homeless Inuk being haunted by the spirit of his dead grandfather on the streets of Edmonton, to a white priest speaking to the spirit of a dead Inuk man at a McDonald’s, each story and the perspectives in which they are told is as enticing as the last.
Dunning dedicates her collection to Inuit people in southern Canada who live away from their communities up north, stating that they are “Inuit no matter where they stand.” It is a message to keep in mind with each of the stories, but especially while diving into the opening piece, “Amak.” The story begins with Sila as she drives to meet her estranged sister who denies her traditional name, Amak, and whose “Inuit nose” has been deformed by several fractures over the years. Their Inuk heritage is not men- tioned until ten pages in to the story, and we are given a glimpse into Sila’s mind as she thinks about her family, Google Maps, and iPods. Dunning’s characters do not perform their Indigeneity for the sake of doing so, but instead live their lives authentically.
The six stories are not defined solely by their pain, but by their complexity, joy, and hope. The title story is a spliced narrative between an Inuk mother—a “casualty of Canada” who loses her life after her new-born child is apprehended—and the man who finds her body on an Edmonton golf course. In the story’s final scene, the man has adopted the child and hoists him up to watch geese fly over the golf course—birds that watched over his mother after she died. Tainna is a remarkable reminder that “the unseen ones,” the people on the periphery of society, are not forgotten.