November 10, 2006

Malikkaat: For all things Inuit

“I’m completely immersed in it. It energizes me”


Click images to enlarge

Eva Aariak hangs up parka ties on an antler in the showroom of her new Iqaluit store, called Malikkaat. (PHOTOS BY JANE GEORGE)

Malikkaat has a variety of handmade dolls for sale, including this sealskin-clad doll by Connie Kilukishak of Arctic Bay.

It’s been a home, an armory and now a business. Eva Aariak always thought this 1950s “512” building would make an ideal store.

Aaju Peter of Iqaluit makes these sealskin angels; the embroidered duffles in mini-skin stretchers come from Pangnirtung.

Eva Aariak wants to purchase items directly from artists throughout Nunavut. Here she looks at a tin of parka ties that Eemeelayou Juaraluk of Iqaluit has brought in.
If you’re looking for a cozy crocheted hat, a harpoon, an ulu, a qulliq, or a harder-to-find item such as an uuktuut tool for cutting skins or a qaksungagavik tie for fastening an amauti, head over to Malikkaat.

Malikkaat is Iqaluit’s new shop and gallery “for all things Inuit.”

Inside its showroom, practical items used in fur preparation and hunting vie with carvings, CDs, jewelry, clothing, and decorations.

“I wanted a place where northerners could do a ‘one-stop’ shopping,” says Malikkaat’s owner Eva Aariak.

She wanted the store to be a cultural resource, too, for young Inuit with pride in their culture, but who lack time or nearby relatives to make things for them.

Aariak also yearned for a store where visitors could buy “something authentic” — made, used and sold by Inuit.

For years, Aariak dreamed about opening this business; she made lists, drew plans, and mulled over exactly what she would do and how.

Meanwhile, she kept busy. Aariak was Nunavut’s first official languages commissioner. After finishing her term, Aariak started teaching Inuktitut at Iqaluit’s Pirurvik Centre, a consulting company for Inuit language and culture.

Aariak says she decided to jump into the retail business when the former Eastern Arctic Armory building, one of Iqaluit’s oldest existing structures, became available this past January.

The building, located down the road from Iqaluit’s airport, is a 512-style house. A snug 16 by 32 feet, this building is similar to hundreds more, which the federal government built as housing in the Arctic during the 1950s. They comprise 512 square feet, and the few that remain today are still known as 512’s.

Aariak says she had eyed this particular 512 for years and imagined it as the home for her future store.

To finally boot this dream into reality, Aariak received strategic help and money from Kakivak Association, the non-profit Inuit economic development corporation in the Baffin region, and the Baffin Business Development Corporation.

Last summer, Aariak, with family and friends, renovated the building. The result is a pleasing contrast of old and new, warmth and light.

The store opened Oct. 21.

Inside, glass shelves display carvings and qulliit of all sizes and shapes; a caribou antler holds zipper ties and hood pins; lichen-covered rocks carry jewelry; and on the walls there are oil paintings, photos and prints. You can also find Inuit clothing and sealskin accessories by well-known Nunavummiut such as Aaju Peter, Rannva Simonsen, Mary Ekho Wilman, and Bernadette Makpah.

Aariak also wants to showcase young talent in non-traditional crafts such as photography.

“We have new talented people that don’t have an outlet,” she says.

Along with the objects sold, Aariak says she wants to provide information about what’s being sold, “to promote the community.”

Next summer, she plans to invite local artists to demonstrate their skills.

This plan is part of Aariak’s dream, in which she sees artists working outside the shop during the summer, surrounded by the malikkaat she will include in the building’s landscaping.

Aariak’s store is named for the malikkaat, yellow and white Arctic avens or dryads, which are called “the followers” in Inuktitut.

The flowers acquired this name because malikkaat work like miniature satellite dishes during the summer, tracking the sun through the sky.

Inuit used malikkaat as “time-keepers” for the seasons.

Here’s why: a long hair, which grows from each side of the Arctic aven, starts growing all twisted and then slowly straightens out.

When the hair began to untwist, Inuit used to know winter was on the way. Aariak says this also marked the time when caribou hides reached their prime for making winter amautiit. When the flowers’ hairs drooped down and became fluffy, it meant the caribou skins were the right thickness for a qulliqtaq, the outer layer of the men’s parka.

Aariak is now choosing the final design for the store’s sign, which is certain to feature the Malikkaat.

Aariak says she’s looks forward to customers seeking her out, to share her knowledge of Inuit history, language and culture. While she’s still teaching Inuktitut in the mornings, she’s at the store every day from noon to 6 p.m.

“I’m completely immersed in it. It energizes me,” she says.

Aariak says her dream, something she once thought would be “a little thing on the side,” is now a real-life passion for business.