June 27, 2003

A day to shine

National Aboriginal Day is a celebration of Canada and of being Canadian

KIRSTEN MURPHY

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Some Nakasuk students couldn't believe the throatsinging. (PHOTO BY ODILE NELSON)

Nunavut joined the rest of Canada in celebrating Aboriginal Day on June 21.

Kugluktuk marked the day by launching Millie Kuliktana's book, Nuivainirmut Angmaqtiridjutaat or The Introduction of Trade Among Copper Inuit.

"The timing was ideal," said Kuliktana, whose labour of love took three years to write. "It highlights who we are as Inuit and promotes Inuinnaqtun."

The 32-page pictorial history book was written for high school students and adult learners.

Aboriginal Day is rooted in history. In 1995, the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples recommended the federal government recognize aboriginal peoples and traditions in one dedicated day a year. A year later, former Governor General Romeo Leblanc declared June 21 National Aboriginal Day. The day coincides with summer solstice - the first day of summer and the longest day of the year.

Coral Harbour held their Aboriginal Day celebrations three days after the rest of the country. The delay allowed weekend campers and hunters to enjoy festivities mid-week.

"The committee wanted everybody to be involved and they were," said Heather Kolit, recreation coordinator for the hamlet.

Indian and Northern Affairs Canada allocates $100,000 of block funding to communities across Canada. Canadian Heritage also provides funding for Aboriginal Day through its Celebrate Canada program. The money pays for performers, stage rentals, equipment and food.

Nunavut groups are entitled to $10,000. Money is approved through a request for proposal process.

In Iqaluit, festivities lasted two days. Activities focused on drum dancing, a fashion show and motivational speeches.

Ooleena Nowyook started the celebration off with a sing-along for children. Youth were brought to their feet with an Inuktitut version of Eensy, Weensy Spider. Students were equally impressed with a throat singing demonstration.

Many of the students dressed in traditional amautis, some hiding teddy bears instead of babies.

Eden Tootoo, 10, was drawn to a throat singing demonstration, a tradition she learned from her grandparents.

"If I could, I'd like to throat sing with Ita [Kanayuk] because we both have a deep voice and I heard that two deep voices make one awesome voice for throat singing and, plus, she's my best friend and it's fun," Tootoo said.

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Aboriginal entertainer Tom Jackson kicks back. (PHOTO BY KIRSTEN MURPHY)

The next day, the school gym was jumping and hands were clapping and toes tapping to the tunes and poems of Tom Jackson, former North of 60 television star and motivational speaker.

Nunavut Commissioner Peter Irniq was one of the keynote speakers.

"I know than Nunavut is in good hands. Our elders are now passing on their great wisdom to our youth, our future. Inuit youth are traditional and yet so modern. You are much admired, you are talented, artistic, you are creative thinkers and you are great achievers. We trust that Nunavut will be in good hands by the time those of us who are here today retire," Irniq told the crowd.

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A smiling Eva Alainga and friends model QIA's fur collection. (PHOTO BY KIRSTEN MURPHY)

"I'm happy and proud to be an Inuk today. I'm happy and proud to be a Canadian."

The Iqaluit band Uvagut brought down the house, followed by a fashion show of caribou and sealskin outfits belonging to the Qikiqtani Inuit Association. Joamie School students concluded the afternoon with a drum dancing performance.

Aboriginal Day festivities are part of the federal government's Celebrate Canada events, which also include Saint-Jean-Baptiste on June 24, Multiculturalism Day on June 27 and Canada Day on July 1.