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The stories we want all Canadians to know

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Mark Watt and his father’s dog team near Tasialuk, outside Kuujjuaq, Nunavik.
Mark Watt and his father’s dog team near Tasialuk, outside Kuujjuaq, Nunavik. “When I grow up, I will run my own dog team, hunt and trap, and I will teach my children all that I’ve learned growing up.” © Taqramiut Nipingat Inc.

There is a billboard on Sparks Street in Ottawa, Ontario, not far from Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami’s office. It is promoting an exhibit at a national museum. The ad features the image of a couple looking at Inuit artifacts held within a glass show­case. There is also a mannequin of an Inuit man in traditional sealskin attire. The ad says, “Welcome to your history.”

A display of our culture on a busy street in a major city should be a source of joy. Instead, it feels like a punch to the gut — for all the work Inuit have done to assert ourselves in this country, there remains a perception by some Canadians that Inuit culture is not alive today, and that we exist primarily in anthropological texts, black and white photos and artifacts in history museums.

It illustrates how far we still must go before we overturn stereotypes and the colonialist mindset that guides those views, and truly be respected as a modern Indigenous people rooted in tradition, and full participants in Canadian society.

It is with this in mind that Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami developed Inuit Nunangat Taimannganit, a living history project that tells the story of our homeland from time immemorial. Through a series of short films, we celebrate who Inuit are today and our foundational connection to our homeland.

In these films we meet Mary Kudlak, an Inuvialuit Elder who lives in Ulukhaktok in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region. She takes us by all-terrain vehicle to Okpilik, a lake just outside the community where she has gone ice fishing all her life. Mary tells us about her hope that future generations will continue to hunt and fish and make a living from the land.

In Tasialuk, near Kuujjuaq, Nunavik, we meet Charlie Watt Jr. and his young son, Mark, who teach us about dog sledding. “When I grow up,” Mark says, “I will run my own dog team, hunt and trap, and I will teach my children all that I’ve learned growing up.”

Esa Qillaq and Raygee Palituq go seal hunting at a breathing hole in Pinguarjuit near Clyde River, Nunavut. Esa tells us the place is where Inuit in the area have always come to hunt seals. “My forefathers, our grandfathers, used to hunt here all the time. We hunt seals because we’re still able to catch seals here.”

Gregory Flowers shows us his solar powered cabin and lumber mill at Oojituk Bay, more than 60 kilometres from Hopedale, Nunatsiavut. He hunts ducks and geese and pulls fish from the ice in his backyard.

This collection of stories is a living legacy of who we are as a people and the richness of our land. These are the stories we want all Canadians to know.

In Ottawa, Inuit Nunangat Taimannganit is the central showpiece of an exhibit within a space dedicated to the use of Inuit, First Nations and Metis, located directly across from Parliament Hill. We expect it to open to the public soon, and people walking past that museum billboard on Sparks street claiming that Canada owns Inuit history will also have an opportunity to see our story of self-determination in the present and our future, and what it means to be an Inuk in Canada today.

You can see a selection from the video collection too. By 2021, we will have completed 150 individual stories, each one a living testament to the things that make us unique and that bind us together as a people.

Visit us online at www.itk.ca/taimannganit to see the collection and learn more about how we are working to change our own narrative and defining what it means to be Inuit.

Natan Obed
President, Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami