in the Inuit language
were used by the Government of Canada
in lieu of surnames
for the Inuit
and were similar to dog-tags
. The discs were small, made of leather, had a string attached and were supposed to be worn around the neck.
Prior to the arrivial of European customs, the Inuit had no need of family names and children were given names by the elders. However, by the 1940s the record keeping requirments of outside entities such as the missions, traders and the government brought about change. In response to the government's needs they decided on the disc number system.
The discs were stamped with "Eskimo
" around the edge and the crown
in the middle. Just below the crown was the number. The number was broken down into several parts, "E" for Inuit living east of Gjoa Haven
and "W" for those in the west. This would be followed by a one or two digit number that indicated the area the person was from. The last set of numbers would identify the individual. The discs were used in the Northwest Territories
(which, at the time, included present-day Nunavut
) from 1941 until 1978.
Thus a young woman who was known to her relatives as "Lutaaq, Pilitaq, Palluq, or Inusiq" and had been baptised as "Annie" was under this system to become Annie E7-121. Today carvings and prints produced by Inuit artists may be seen with the disc number on them. The Inuit singer Lucie Idlout recorded a CD called E5-770, My Mother's Name in 2005. For the most part Inuit today do not miss the passing of the numbers but at least one person, Zebedee Nungak, disagrees.
In 1965 Abe Okpik
was appointed to sit on the Northwest Territories Council
, its first Inuk. In 1968 Simonie Michael, became the council's first elected Inuk and he declared his intention to not be known by his disc number. The Government of the NWT decided to replace the disc numbers with names and Abe Okpik was appointed to Project Surname
. From 1968 - 1971 Okpik toured the NWT and northern Quebec
) recording the preferences of people. He was to be later given the Order of Canada
in part because of his work with the surnames.