Annanattiat-Pitquhiit Ayukikvia – ANNANA’S CAMP

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    Pihoak making tea on a quiet morning at the camp. © Francis Oduro

    A Place of Cultural Learning

    Look around you. Hasn’t this pandemic highlighted ‘things’ that you might have taken for granted before? Only it’s not ‘things’ brought forward in stark relief, it’s relationships. The Elders have been right all along. Quietly, politely, on the edges, they’ve been watching and worrying over the disconnects that have wedged into their communities.

    Almost in tandem, the Youth have been in a quandary, straddling two societies on a tightrope fence. Trip one way and they are in danger of losing their past, trip the other and they can’t keep up with all the ‘apps’. 

    Fortunately, Cambridge Bay, in Nunavut, has managed to forge a safe, respectful meeting ground that is becoming a foundation for some exciting upgrades. 

    You’ve heard the adage, ‘you have two ears to listen twice as much as one mouth to talk’? Demonstrably, The Mayor’s Elders Advisory Council and the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council very aptly fill the role of building a cohesive Community, where Elders very much guide and Youth very much influence our future. Through a process called The Comprehensive Community Plan, these two groups worked hand-in-glove with the Municipality and the Municipal Council, making sure that no one was left out. 

    In those community meetings we mourned the loss of culture by colonial interventions: removing sick individuals to TB sanatoriums ‘down South’, from which they might, or might not have returned; the Residential Schools that broke familial links and dumped brainwashed kids speaking a foreign language back in the Community years later; the killing of sled dogs that had enabled hunters to proudly feed their families, the Elders and their Community. These monstrous wrongs still angle at the side-lines, like fish hooks dragging. 

    Yet, Inuinnait are nothing short of resilient, ingenious, and funny. The Elders wade through the past and reach in to family. “Family,” they say, “have sustained us all this while and family will show us the way again”. Not the nuclear family. But the way that the Inuit see family: ‘the Community as family’. 

    This is where ‘Annana’s Camp’ was born. A pivotal teaching method, ‘a living land camp,’ where Grandmothers (Annanas) camp out on a spit of land, close enough that little children can walk there, and carry on their customary lifestyle. Tent flaps flapping, they light the qulliq (the oil lamp) that centres us all and commands observation of the traditions; they flesh seal or dry fish, make tea and bannock … while carefully demonstrating the right way in all things. Originally envisioned as a ‘look and don’t touch’ scenario, this has grown into a far more interactive sharing, bringing focus to Inuinnaqtun, their language, and how it describes the connection Inuit have to the land, explaining the ‘stories’ of their auditory history. Annanattiat-Pitquhiit Ayukikvia/Annana’s Camp: A Place of Cultural Learning is already being regarded as an institution of teaching. It is a place alive with questions and knowledge and beaming Elders who confidently play their roles. 

    In a recent Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (Traditional Wisdom) Day, three seals had been caught by a young hunter who, as tradition dictates, brought this harvest to the Elders. Nothing was wasted. The fat was pounded into oil to light the qulliq, the meat was boiled for food, the skin scraped for clothing, and the flippers were fermented. 

    Food, of course, draws in the Community. Celebration of ‘family’ ensues. But more than that, the celebration underlines what the Elders are saying. The Universe gives to us. We are bound to recognize that connection in our young hunters, who bring us gifts. To them we give kamiit, made from seal skin to keep their feet dry and warm. This is the circle of life, so clearly defined in Inuit communities. 

    At Annana’s Camp, the ‘old ways’ are encouraged and supported, for you see how this builds the sense of Community. We are drawn in by the stories and the jokes, always lessons in the teachings. The toddlers are enchanting and are familiar with visiting within the group. They tumble over and are resurrected by whoever is closest, with heartfelt affection. At the camp, the girls in their bright calicos and the boys are equally as mesmerized by the stars and the wash of the ocean, discussing where the fishing is best. It is a sense of belonging that is the mainstay. 

    The Annana’s are not advocating a return of the past but an understanding of the past to successfully negotiate the world of today. Come and visit. Your life will be changed forever.