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A Gathering Place

Qikiqtarjuaq highlights connection between Inuit and the sea

The iceberg form of the Piqalujaujaq gathering house. © Chris Grosset (2)

Piqalujaujaq, which means “the iceberg shaped building,” is a magnificent new building located at the shoreline in the heart of the community of Qikiqtarjuaq, Nunavut. Piqalujaujaq is a welcoming centre for residents and visitors alike, which includes the hamlet’s tourism services, cultural and interpretive displays, a gathering room for Elders, and the local Parks Canada office for Auyuittuq National Park.

“A gathering house has been a long time goal of our community,” explains Qikiqtarjuaq Mayor Mary Killiktee. Planning for the centre goes back to 2002. The hamlet of Qikiqtarjuaq recognized the opportunities for development of the tourism sector to provide services to travellers accessing the national park and the increasing number of cruise ships travelling along the coast of Baffin Island. As part of a broad regional tourism strategy developed under the Inuit Impact and Benefits Agreements for National Parks in the Qikiqtani region, Kakivak Association and Parks Canada commissioned a tourism strategy for Qikiqtarjuaq which identified a gathering centre and tourism coordinator position as community priorities.

In 2012, the Hamlet of Qikiqtarjuaq proceeded with development of Piqalujaujaq. The hamlet Council appointed an advisory committee to provide project guidance and oversee the planning. Committee members included Mayor Killiktee, Geela S. Kooneeliusie, Rosie J. Audlakiak, Stevie Audlakiak, Markoosie Audlakiak, Jaypootie Aliqatuqtuq, Phillip Sanguya, and Toomasie Newkingnak.

The first step in the project was to complete a business plan for the gathering house to identify the development needs, plan the centre, secure partnerships, and access funding.

Displays in the interpretive area celebrate the vibrant culture and landscape.
Displays in the interpretive area celebrate the vibrant culture and landscape.

The plan for the building interior identified dedicated spaces for a tourism Coordinator to greet and help visitors and handle arts and crafts sales, an interpretive area to provide cultural and educational programming, an office for Parks Canada, and a dedicated room for Elders to gather and interact with local youth and with visitors.

An existing building was renovated to provide the necessary spaces and open up the views of the bay and mountains from the beachfront lot. Construction of the building was completed in 2014 and the interior displays were installed in 2015. The Advisory Committee developed a storyline for the interpretive area, which celebrates the connection between Inuit and the sea and highlights the importance of sealing and seal products. Local craftspeople were commissioned to create clothing, tools and art pieces for permanent display in the centre. A “touch table” is at the centre of the room so that these products can be handled during educational sessions. Large photographic murals provided by Lee Narraway celebrate the natural and cultural beauty of the community and surrounding region. A display wall also celebrates the two National Wildlife Areas: Akpait and Qaqulluit. through support provided under the Conservation Areas Inuit Impact Benefits Agreement, the Sululiit Area Co-Management Committee and Canadian Wildlife Service, a 3-D, life-size hanging mural of three migratory bird species flies above the display area. The exterior of the building is to be landscaped in 2016 to provide space for performances during cruise ship visits.

Economic Development officer David Grant says the Centre will be officially opened for the 2016 summer tourism season, but that beyond the role of welcoming visitors, “the gathering house is going to strengthen our community by providing a place for Elders to share their knowledge and experience with our youth”. Students from the Nunavut Arctic College Fur Production program recently visited the centre to examine the sealskin clothing on display.

Nunavut Arctic College students in the Elders room. L to R: Dora Kopalie, Leahann Kakkee, Karen Kooneeliusie, Rosemary Metuq, and Danny Audlakiak. © Chris Grosset (3)
Nunavut Arctic College students in the Elders room. L to R: Dora Kopalie, Leahann Kakkee, Karen Kooneeliusie, Rosemary Metuq, and Danny Audlakiak. © Chris Grosset (3)

The Hamlet has hired a tourism Coordinator, Pasha Kooneeliusie, and has been working closely with the Government of Nunavut’s Department of Economic Development and transportation to identify tourism product development opportunities.

“The gathering house is an important part of our plan for economic development in Qikiq tar juaq,” says Mayor Killiktee. The Hamlet is going to continue to support the efforts of local tourism providers, arts and crafts people, and businesses that benefit from heritage and tourism. “We’ve received valuable support from Kakivak Association and other organizations in this initiative. our goal is to build on this opportunity.

Chris Grosset