Inuit 101 at Ottawa’s annual winter festival
“Even a lot of regular Canadians don’t know much about the Inuit, so it’s a chance to become exposed to our culture"
SPECIAL TO NUNATSIAQ NEWS
OTTAWA—Tucked inside an enormous iglu is an old qamutik leaning against the curved wall, several seal skins draped across a table and two people dressed in sealskin coats drumming on a qilaut at the far end, away from the entrance of the iglu.
Dozens of people move about inside, looking at the furs and learning how to spell their own names in Inuktitut syllabics. They write these on stickers, to wear as name tags for the rest of their time at Ottawa’s Winterlude festival.
However, this iglu isn’t made of snow and ice—it’s plastic and inflatable, part of this year’s Winterlude attractions at Confederation Park in downtown Ottawa.
The display, hosted by Nunavut Sivuniksavut, the Ottawa-based college for Nunavut Inuit, provides an opportunity to share Inuit culture with fellow Canadians during the winter celebrations.
And participating in Winterlude has become a tradition for NS students.
“The purpose of us being here is to share cultural information with the public,” said James Takkiruq, 17, a first-year student at NS and the emcee for the weekend. “Because not many people are exposed to Inuit culture.”
Last weekend, some 50 NS students took turns covering shifts each day as the tools and dialogues changed with each group of Inuit volunteers.
On Saturday you could find large kakivaks, with NS student Olaf Christensen, 19, showing Winterluders how to catch fish with the spears.
Takkiruq wore a modern-day sealskin parka so he could show people the differences between traditional seal skin coats and more contemporary designs.
“It helps to show the contrast between then and now,” said Takkiruq.
On Sunday, a qamutik was on display, along with a table full of sealskins and fur coats.
“The two main things that we cover here are the syllabics and this gives people a chance to interact and ask questions about the language,” said Zorga Qaunaq, 28, who works at NS. “And traditional fur clothing. So we explain if it is caribou, or whatever it is, and what region it comes from.”
When the NS students hosted tables at Winterlude, they also put on performances including western Arctic dancing, throatsinging and Inuit games, such as the muskox fight, leg wrestling and one-foot high kick.
“A lot of time goes into planning this,” Takkiruq said. “Especially the performances. We’ve been practicing all year. We do many different performances across Ottawa and so we have to keep constantly practicing.”
The iglu will also be operational again next weekend, during the final weekend of Winterlude.
Qaunaq hopes that the kiosk in the big iglu will help other Canadians become more aware of Inuit and Nunavut.
“There are so many people who come to Winterlude and some of them aren’t from Canada, so we can give them some very basic information,” Qaunaq said. “Even a lot of regular Canadians don’t know much about the Inuit so it’s a chance to become exposed to our culture. The fur parkas are a tangible way to do that.”