INUIT IN CANADA: Celebrating By Supporting a Thriving Culture

Plate of appetizers in front of tea lights

After Hours at the Canadian Museum of Nature for Edible Arctic

Saturday night I attended the Canadian Museum of Nature’s After Hours Event. Part of the Edible Arctic Festival there was lots of yummy food using ingredients from the North. I had the best chowder I have ever tasted courtesy the Embassy of Norway. There was fresh-fried bannock with cloudberry jam, smoked salmon and arctic char. Inuk photographer Barry Pottle’s project Foodland Security occupied the 2nd floor of the rotunda and below his work was information about Inuit organizations like Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK). You could also take part in making an igloo out of foam blocks while behind you the National Film Board’s “How to Build an Igloo” was being screened. I discovered that an igloo can be constructed in 40 minutes. It takes me longer to pitch a tent!

How to Build an Igloo by Douglas Wilkinson, National Film Board of Canada

Inuit females demonstrating throat singingThe Wings of Johnny May director Marc Fafard with Johnny May.

“The Wings of Johnny May” by the National Film Board

There was also a screening of the NFB’s documentary “The Wings of Johnny May” which included a Q & A attended by the director Marc Fafard as well as the charming and witty Mr. May. Johnny was the first Inuk bush pilot and after decades of flying and tens of thousands of hours in the air he now fully embodies the knowledge of the Arctic land. He has also seen his world dramatically change more than once. As a small child his family only traveled by dog sled, a mode of transportation that he says was “slower but more pleasant.”

The beautiful 3-D documentary begins with the love story of Johnny May’s parents. Johnny’s father ended up in the Arctic when he went to work for the Hudson’s Bay Company. He was a young guy from the Prairies but he longed for the North. Soon after he arrived he met Johnny’s mother. He knew she was the love of his life so he stayed and learned Inuktitut and along with the love for a woman he developed a love for the land and its people. She gave birth to Johnny than more little ones arrived. The Inuit community adopted him as one of their own probably sensing that his soul had brought him there to stay. Johnny’s father was white but as the men at the Hudson Bay Co. said “he was more Inuit than the Inuit.”

Sounds like a typical Canadian story of intercultural love. Today these kinds of relationships are common. Most people don’t blink an eye when an interracial couple make a decision to build a life together. For Johnny’s father though it cost him his job. HBC made it clear they didn’t support his parents’ union and told his father he would have to pick between love or money. That was the world back then.

It was this same world and its xenophobia that allowed for a moment in Canadian history that was, as the director Marc Fafard says, this country’s Shoah – one of the multitude of moments that was about creating a nation that serviced a European legacy with a commercial agenda. Johnny was down South for flight school. When he arrived back his entire dog team had been shot. In the 50s and 60s, across the North, orders were often given by those ‘in charge’ to shoot all dogs.

Johnny’s wife was in the audience and she closed the Q & A with her own memories of that time. She was far away at a residential school, missing her loved ones in a world foreign to her. She relates that in each family every child had their own dog – that child’s little friend. Louisa would think often of her dog and in the letters she wrote home she would ask how her pet was. Eventually the letters no longer contained messages about her dog. As a child, she could not fully understand the omission and realizes now that adults didn’t share that kind of tragic information with a child. There was no way for her to know that her dog had been killed until she arrived back in the North to a home changed forever – a mode of travel, a way of living, a cultural landscape – wiped out.

It has taken too much time for some sort of justice to happen. Johnny lost 9 dogs. A few years ago the government paid him $6,000 for that loss decades earlier when he was just a teenage boy trying to sort out how to be a man in a world changing at an unnatural pace.

“This was literally a domination gesture” says the director going on to relate how these actions cut the Inuit off from their source of food by putting an end to their travel and ability to be self-sufficient.

So many painful memories recalled by people like Johnny and Louisa but despite defining moments meant to cripple them they are still here – warm and open – allowing us to become joined to those memories as witnesses. Hopefully we become accountable ones.

Over the last few days at Edible Arctic and ITK’s A Taste of the Arctic that warmth and openness was encountered each time I met someone from the North. It’s incredible to see that the human spirit is able to find a way to move forward with hope. Cultures and communities that have been devastated are beyond surviving – they are thriving.

Close up of plate of food full of smoked fish and musselsPeople serving and preparing foodTop, demonstrating throat singing at the Edible Arctic Festival. Middle and bottom, Food at A Taste of the Arctic. 

A Taste of the Arctic Gala at the National Arts Centre.

At A Taste of the Arctic on Monday night the youth from the Nunavut Sivuniksavut program came out to do a fashion show modelling what I call #Inuit #Glam. Wonderful ambassadors of Inuit culture, these young women and men are always rocking some serious style when I see them out and about in the city of Ottawa where they live for the duration of their course.

Young Inuit men and women modelling sealskin jackets

“Nunavut Sivuniksavut is a unique eight-month college program based in Ottawa. Founded in 1985, it is for Inuit youth from Nunavut who want to get ready for the educational, training, and career opportunities that are being created by the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement (NLCA) and the new Government of Nunavut…Students in the NS Program learn about Inuit history, organizations, land claims and other issues relevant to their future careers in Nunavut.” Read more…

Young Inuit woman dressed up with great style and sealskin
Female Inuk Elder praying at Podium and Inuk man speakingTop 4 images, the Nunavut Sivuniksavut Students. Bottom left, Inuk Elder giving a blessing at A Taste of the Arctic. Bottom right, National Inuit Leader Terry Audla. 

After a prayer from an Inuk elder the musical entertainment was provided by The Sundogs, Leanne Goose, The Jerry Cans and Beatrice Deer. Every band had the crowd jigging to melodies that included many different cultural expressions, incorporating both traditional and contemporary elements.

Young Inuk woman playing accordian

This may seem normal in the 21st century where mashup culture is the standard but hearing songs sung in Inuktitut with the inclusion of throat singing – all being performed in Canada’s Capital – this is a profound statement! Many generations of children were beaten in the residential schools when they spoke their mother tongue and throat singing, like so many cultural expressions, was banned as it was seen as sinful with no relevance in modern times. When language is embodied through the vehicle of culture, as the voices rise, the spirit is given the chance to be nourished.

Two young Inuit women singingLeft, Nancy Mike of The Jerry Cans. Right, Beatrice Deer. 

If you missed this year’s Edible Arctic at The Canadian Museum of Nature below are some of the highlights of the people, the food and most importantly the culture!

Young Inuk woman sitting on chair wearing mukluksYoung Inuk woman sitting on chair wearing mukluksTop row, making maples syrup taffy and drinking Arctic berry tea. Bottom row, Annie Aningmiuq beading her seal skin clutches.

Inuk artist Jolly Attagoyuk showing his beautiful prints and drawings. 

Young Inuk woman sitting on chair wearing mukluks
The Nunavut Sivuniksavut Students face painting traditional Inuit tattoo styles.

Odawa artist Barry Ace with a new Jolly Attagoyuk for his collection. Carleton Art students @Indigilinks & @all_gussiedup with sealskin gloves by Aaju Peter.  

Young Inuk woman sitting on chair wearing mukluksLeeanne Hainnu, one of the Nunavut Sivuniksavut students.  

All above images by Leah Snyder for Mixed Bag Mag.

 

INUIT IN OTTAWA: Foodland Security, A Taste of The (Edible) Arctic & How To Do Away With Cultural Prejudice While Having Fun!

Antique image of Inuit family, mother, little child and father with traditional clothing Iñupiat family from Noatak, Alaska by Edward Curtis, 1929. Creative Commons. 

Systems Thinking as the Solution. 

The recent #Sealfies hashtag campaign that has trended in response to Ellen Degeneres’ call to arms against the seal hunt demonstrates how out of touch the dominant culture is when it comes to making an informed evaluation regarding people’s (often necessary) lifestyle choices. When communities live off the land they must apply a sophisticated ‘systems thinking‘ approach in the way they engage with the spaces they inhabit because the systems – seasonal, migratory, biological and social – interact and are relational to each other. Disregarding them could result in a community perishing.

The Western approach tends to ignore the systems. It’s why we have developed a taste for out-of-season strawberries on demand and been lulled into thinking ‘Vegan Leather’ is an environmentally sound option. Advertising is the ‘smoke and mirrors’ that makes us feel good about our consumer choices.

While Ellen, one on hand, galvanizes her audience against animal cruelty, on the other hand, she is one of the faces of Cover Girl Cosmetics, owned by Procter and Gamble. Enough said.

As the saying goes ‘don’t fix what ain’t broken’.

On March 18 in Ottawa local members of the Inuit community staged a demonstration with a stylish twist – a fashion show. The cat walk was the steps of Parliament Hill and the show raised awareness about all the ways seals are utilized in Inuit culture – from food, to fuel, to clothing. Even the bones get used as tools, children’s games and art. When it comes to the life-cycle assessment of the products that are derived from the seal the Inuit perfected the cradle-to-grave approach thousands of years ago.



Above images by Barry Pottle as well as image below left.  

The American (& unfortunately Canadian way) is to service one system – the economy – at the expense of all others. We see this represented in the food that has become symbolic of North America’s culture – burgers, bagels and pizza. This is a culture represented by food that is fast, cheap and easy and often processed using factory farmed meat and GMO wheat. It’s all about the dough. And we can’t seem to get enough.

“Avoid Cultural Prejudice”.

Signs held up at the protest promoted seals as a food source that is local, sustainable, and not genetically modified. Westernized foods need to be flown into the region from the south resulting in inflated prices that make healthy eating inaccessible. People are quite literally starving while fossil fuels pollute in the process of distribution.

Food that is fresh, healthy and whole is deeply satisfying because along with the nutritional value it offers emotional sustenance. When Inuk artist Barry Pottle set out to document Inuit food production for his project Foodland Security he also documented people’s responses to ‘country food’ from the North and the way it makes them feel. For Urban Inuit living in the south it connects them back to memories of family, friends and home.

“Country food means maintaining the good health that I was brought up with from birth. It means that I get to eat the freshest and purest forms of vitamins, minerals, and nutrition. If I don’t eat it, I get weak and sick.”

“The satisfaction of eating country foods cannot be described. There is a spiritual and cultural charge that comes from eating country food – especially caribou.”

“Appreciation is always expressed to the hunter who harvested the catch, and to God when receiving country food, while eating, and after.”

Needless slaughtering by those living outside of the community for the sale of skins on the global market is a tragedy that should be addressed, as it perpetuates the devastation of the very ecosystems that nurture an environment where the seal can thrive. It also supports a larger system that strips Indigenous peoples of their right to self-determination. Living off the land is very different than taking without being thoughtful of the gifts nature has provided.

Approaches like Ellen’s tend to take the patronizing know-it-all stance without much actual investment in the community she is negatively impacting with her words. Another approach would be to get a sense of the culture! Starting today, Thursday, April 3 until April 7 the Edible Arctic Festival is on at the Museum of Nature and on Monday Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami is hosting the gala Taste of the Arctic at the National Arts Centre.

Click here for the full Edible Arctic Schedule and here for details on Edible Arctic After Hours Party this coming Saturday night.

Barry Pottle’s Foodland Security photographs will be displayed at the Museum of Nature for the duration of Edible Arctic Festival.

For more information in Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami’s A Taste of the Arctic click here.

black stroke

Sanitizing the Kill.

Sign Change.org’s petition against Procter & Gamble’s animal testing here. Animal cruelty in the beauty and hygiene industries is executed behind the closed doors of the laboratory. This technique sanitizes the kill. We think it’s not happening because we can’t see it but everyday billions of dollars are poured into industries that are intentionally and needlessly causing long term suffering to animals. IF we are speaking of systems, this one is archaic and everyday we support it with our dollars.

Cited from Change.org:

You’re funding and supporting animal testing every time you purchase one of these brands owned by P&G.

Cosmetics: Anna Sui, CoverGirl, Dolce Gabbana, Max Factor, Olay
Deodorants: Old Spice, Secret, Sure
Hair Care: A Touch of Sun, Aussie, Clairol, Fekkai, Head & Shoulders, Herbal Essences, Hydrience, Infusium 23, Lasting Color, Loving Care, Men’s Choice, Natural Instincts, Nice ‘n Easy, Pantene, Pert, Physique, Rejoice, Sebastian Professional, Ultress, Vidal Sassoon, Wella
Fragrances & cosmetics: Anna Sui, Baldessarini, Boss/Hugo Boss, Bruno Banani, Christina Aguilera, Dolce Gabbana, Dunhill, Escada, Giorgio of Beverly Hills, Ghost, Gucci, Helmut Lang, Herve Leger, Lacoste, Naomi Campbell, Old Spice, Puma, Valentino
Laundry and Cleaning: Ace, Ariel, Bold, Bounce, Cascade, Cheer, Comet, Dawn, Downy, Dreft, Dryel, Era, Febreze, Gain, Ivory, Ivory Snow, Joy, Mr. Clean, Swiffer, Tide
Oral Care: Crest, Fixodent, Gleem, Oral B, Scope, Whitestrips
Sanitary Products: Always, Prilosec OTC, Tampax
Shaving Products: Bran, Fusion, Gillette, MACH3, Prestobarba/Blue, Venus
Skin Care: Clairol, Clearstick, CoverGirl, DDF, Fekkai, Gillette, Max Factor, Noxzema, Ohm, Olay, SK-II
Soap: Camay, Ivory, Safeguard, Zest
Companion Animal Products: California Natural, Evo, Eukanuba, Healthwise, Iams (www.iamskills.com & www.iamscruelty.com), Innova, Karma, Mother Nature, Natura Pet Products
Food and Beverage: Folgers, Home Cafe, Millstone Coffee, Pringles, Torengoes
Paper Products: Bounty, Charmin, Puffs
Diapers and Baby Care: Luvs, Pampers
Batteries & Electrical Goods: Braun, Duracell, Gilette
Drugs & Health aids: Actonel, Align, DayQuil, Fibersure, Metamucil, NyQuil, Pepto-Bismol, PUR water filtration system, Sinex, Thermacare, Vicks

black stroke

Click here to read about how the economics of fashion has created a system of production that is polluting waters around the world but doing irreparable damage to China.

black stroke

 

TIME FOR RADICAL CHANGE: Where to begin?

A line of penguins running off an iceberg plunging into the water.
Chinstrap penguins. South Sandwich Islands. 2009.  © Sebastião Salgado. Courtesy of Amazonas images.

Start with art.

More than several times a day my heartbreaks as I watch what comes through my Facebook feed, like today as more information regarding the children of Syria killed by chemical weapons punctuated a moment. In these Orwellian times when we discover that Big Brother is indeed watching the wonder of the internet and social media is that we are watching too. We participate in bearing witness.

The other stunning quality of social media is that for every story that crushes me and makes me weep there are double, even triple, stories of action and resistance that offer hope and inspiration.

For example, my feed also includes what’s happening right now at Canada’s major cultural institutions and auxiliary events and projects surrounding these exhibits.  We have amazing curatorial teams that have produced shows that challenge the Chinese Government’s position on Human Rights, Canada’s policies on Aboriginal issues and the Economy of Oil, and global attitudes regarding the Environment.

My concern – do we walk away from these shows changed at a deep core level? Do we return to our daily lives radically motivated to stop being part of the problem and act in service of social justice and environmental causes? Will we change our level of comfort for the sake of stopping someone else’s pain or the loss of natural resources?

I pray that all the illumination will indeed cause a spiritual shift towards a tipping point that will alter the world. I want to see civilizations that are socially and environmentally just because today as children’s lives are ended by chemical warfare in Syria in this country Aboriginal women are being sold into the sex trade and the land along with the women is being violated.

It’s time to get radical folks.

What we experience in these exhibits can be our entry points into living with intention.

RECOMMENDED SHOWS THAT WILL CHANGE PERSPECTIVES:

Sakahàn @ The National Gallery, Ottawa on until Sept 2

Indigenous and Urban @ The Museum of Civilization on until Sept 2

Sebastião Salgado’s Genesis @ The ROM, Toronto on until Sept 2

Edward Burtynsky: Oil @ Museum of Nature, Ottawa on until Sept 2

Decolonize Me @ Art Gallery of Windsor, Windsor on until Sept 15

Edward Burtynsky: The Landscape The We Change @ The McMichael, Kleinburg on until Sept 29

Ai Weiwei: According to What @ The AGO, Toronto on until Oct 27

& BIG FYI

Ghost Dance: Activism. Resitance. Art. @ Ryerson Image Centre, Toronto opening Sept 18 thru to Dec 15

“For centuries, colonialism has been the cause of suffering, oppression and violence perpetuated against Indigenous people in Canada and many other countries. But attributing the rise of resistance, activism and the associated art to colonialism itself is disingenuous. The destructive ideologies inherent in colonialism are manifest by the interactions of people. The events caused by these interactions change people and their societies. Indigenous art is not predicated on “colonialism,” but on the events that it causes…Ghost Dance examines the role of the artist as activist, as chronicler and as provocateur in the ongoing struggle for Indigenous rights and self-empowerment.” Steve Loft, more on RIC’s website

Series of ads for exhibits at Canada's major cultural institutions.