Inuk filmmaker Jennie Williams found out she won Best Short Documentary for her film Nalujuk Night at the 2022 Canadian Screen Awards while watching the ceremony over Zoom.
“My producer was freaking out about it. She was like ‘it’s like the Oscars of Canada and you won best short documentary’ and I didn’t even really know how big that was,” said Williams.
The short film has won three other awards.
Screened at the 2022 St. Thomas University Indigenous Film Festival in October, Nalujuk Night tells the story of a Labrador Inuit tradition of the Nalujuit, who come from the sea ice into town chasing people and hitting them on old Christmas Day.
“Nalujuk night is a tradition that happens every Jan. 6,” said Williams. “Parents use it, talk about it all throughout the year to get the children to behave.”
Williams took photographs of the Nalujuit in the community of Nain before deciding to create her first short film. She researched for three years before shooting the short film on Nalujuk night in 2019 with the National Film Board of Canada and the people of Nain.
The Nalujuit often wear Labrador Inuit-style winter coats, with a pointed hood and fur around the face, paired with sealskin boots. Nalujuit hit people with wooden sticks, chains and sometimes Caribou antlers. The Nalujuit will have scary faces and sometimes wear masks.
The Inuktitut word Nalujuit can be translated to heathens — the Nalujuit are not spirits nor are they people. The old Labrador tradition can be traced back to the lost Labrador community of Hebron.
“The Nalujuit come off the sea ice and the town is there to greet them. Where the people wish them a happy new year and shake hands with the Nalujuit, the Nalujuit do not speak back or make any sounds,” said Williams.
Once the greeting of the Nalujuit is done, they go to people’s homes.
The Nalujuit beat on people’s doors until they are let in by the family. The Nalujuit come into the home where the family must sing them old Christmas songs in Inuktitut. If the Nalujuit is pleased with their songs, they shake hands and give out treats.
The Nalujuit then go into the middle of the town, where people have gathered, and start the chase. A community member’s main goal of the night is to run from the Nalujuk to avoid getting hit by their stick.
“So, they’re really scary. The kids are so excited and scared to get a treat,” Williams said. “The chase part … is later in the night, which I find super exciting. You don’t know where they are coming from.”
Williams interviewed elders from Hebron who talked about how they used to have Nalujuk night when they were kids. Hebron was a thriving Inuit community in Labrador before the Newfoundland and Labrador government forcibly relocated Inuit communities down south in 1959.
“I find it amazing to see a tradition still going so strongly, one that was from Hebron when the people were still living there,” she said. “I think it’s important to have Inuit stories told by the people themselves.”
This article was published in partnership with the Local Reporting, Global Media class at St. Thomas University and The Aquinian, St. Thomas University’s official student publication.