Nunavut history project seeks new region, new youth leadership
New initiative will build on success of Arviat-based Nanisiniq project
Kowesa Etitiq wants to get youth in his home community of Repulse Bay, or Naujaat, interested in exploring their own history.
To help do that, Etitiq is coordinating a project this summer that will see youth document some of that history through art, by painting a mural on the community’s youth centre.
Etitiq will soon sit down with a group of local high school students to map out a plan.
“This area’s so rich in history, we’ve got so many choices,” he said. “When you travel around the Naujaat area it’s very rich in inuksuit — there are the remains of Inuit life everywhere you go. I see that being a theme.”
So when Etitiq saw an application for another youth history project land on his desk earlier this year, he jumped at the opportunity.
The application came from Frank Tester, a professor of social work at University of British Columbia, who has worked extensively in Nunavut.
One of the projects Tester worked most recently on was Nanisiniq, which means “discovery” in Inuktitut.
Led by Arviat’s Sivulinuut Elders Society, Tester worked with Inuit youth, who researched and documented the history of the community and the Kivalliq region.
But now that project is looking at a new region, and a new group of youth to lead it.
The initiative will use Nanisiniq as a model, although it’s a separate project with a new focus; the communities and regions around Gjoa Haven and Repulse Bay.
“The idea is to get a group of Inuit youth together to examine and document the history of their communities and regions,” Tester said. “We’ll spend the summer of 2015 exploring key stories in the history of the region.”
In Gjoa Haven, the community recently opened its new Nattilik Heritage Centre, which documents the history of the Netsilik, along with that of its most famed visitor, Danish explorer Roald Amundsen.
Some of the students selected to work on the project will likely travel to the Fram museum in Oslo, Norway which is dedicated to Norwegian polar expeditions.
Tester said the group will also look at events like the Low expedition, which in the early 1900s led the steamship the Neptune through the Canadian Arctic in one of the country’s first efforts to claim sovereignty over the High Arctic islands.
Etitiq sees the project as a chance to expose Naujaat’s youth to new media, in ways smaller communities like his own rarely get the chance to do.
“They don’t always have the opportunities or the equipment to create their own films, or interview elders and document their stories,” Etitiq said. “I think these will be lasting legacies for our community.”
The legacy of the Nanisiniq project is already clear; Arviat has access to much of its social history documented through interviews and film.
Youth in the community have gone on to found a full-time Inuktitut-language television station which broadcasts on the local Padlei Co-op channel, highlighting local stories and culture.
And Nanisiniq youth researcher Jordan Konek has gone on to work for CBC North in Iqaluit, while his cousin, Curtis Konek, will work as a research assistant on this new project.
“The spinoffs were considerable, so why not build on it?” Tester said.
“The results of what we’re doing are really important,” he said. “It worked well for Nanisiniq, but I think we can do even better.”
Overall, Tester hopes his latest efforts in Repulse Bay and Gjoa Haven will help Nunavummiut youth realize their potential, and the potential of new media as a means to share their stories.
“This is an aspect of economic development in Nunavut that’s been neglected — there’s another economy in Nunavut and it can take on many forms,” he said. “The future of Nunavut isn’t just the mining industry, it’s online in terms of history and education.”
Tester also points to Nunavut’s high suicide rates, particularly among the territory’s youth.
“Knowing your culture and who are you are really important to mental health and feeling confident,”
The latest youth project is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.