Renowned children’s author Michael Kusugak loves telling a good story.
And you can’t have a story without a character, and a name.
From Kiviuq — the heroic and ancient wanderer who will slowly turn to stone as we reach the end of the universe — to Ijirait, the shape-shifters that love a good game of hide and seek, many of Kusugak’s characters have been passed down to him through Inuit lore since time immemorial.
In the year 2000, Kusugakl was invited to keep some of those names alive for as long as Saturn circles the sun.
Canadian scientist J.J. Kavelaars had been on a team that discovered new moons around the planet Saturn, and the astronomer had been reading Kusugak’s book, Hide and Sneak, to his kids. Kusugak read a newspaper story that said Kavelaars wanted to name one of the moons ‘Ijiraq’ — because, like a talented shape-shifter, the moon had been very hard to find.
So Kusugak sent the astronomer an email, and got an immediate response: “I need three more names.'”
Now known as the “Inuit moons,” the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration says it’s believed these moons are fragments of a single object that shattered in some kind of space crash.
Kavelaars wanted this group of what was then four moons to all have Inuktut names, so in 2000, Kusugak came up with Kiviuq, Paaliaq and Siarnaq in addition to Ijiraq.
Paaliaq is named after a family friend that became a character in one of Kusugak’s books.
Siarnaq, which was chosen as a nod to the name of the sea creature Sedna, also means “grey, like a grey dog,” Kusugak said.
In 2007, a fifth moon was found in the group. It is called “Tarqeq” — Kusugak didn’t name that one but says it’s an Inuktut word for “moon.” And since then, two new moons have been found that will be named soon.
For Kusugak, being asked to the first four “Inuit moons” was a moment of recognition for his people. “It’s really nice when people begin to take notice,” he said.
Now, Kusugak wants to look at names closer to home.
He wants to rename a street in his rural Manitoba community after his mother — a street that is currently called Colonization Road.
“Colonization has failed completely,” he said, adding that because of it, many young people feel disconnected from the stories and culture he is trying to celebrate.
“When people came from Europe and other places, they decided we were second-class citizens and we didn’t know anything… It always seemed like we were always wrong. But if we were so wrong, how could we live in one of the coldest places on Earth for thousands of years?”