Nunavik mothers tell their children’s stories
“It’s so important for our children to know about their past"
On cold winter nights in some Nunavik communities, parents and caregivers can find warmth around a table with others.
There aren’t usually children in the room, although children are the focus of the gathering.
The group is often made up of women: teens, middle-aged and elders. And they’re talking about raising children — sharing their struggles and offering advice.
All the while, the group sifts through photographs, scraps of cotton, animal fur, ribbons, and other material they’ll attach to the pages of the scrapbooks they’re crafting.
But this is no scrapbooking session. These caregivers are creating a gift to give their children as adults, a book that will document their family lives, culture and history.
“It’s a never-ending project,” said Inuluk Papigatuk-LeBreux. “A book can be forever.”
Papigatuk-LeBreux works for the northern village of Salluit, where she recently started facilitating “baby book” workshops in the Hudson Strait community.
While Papigatuk-LeBreux is on maternity leave with her four-month-old son, she’s working on two books now, one each for her older five- and six-year-old sons.
Starting next week, the group will begin to gather again Monday and Tuesday evenings, accompanied by a community elder.
“We have elders who write to the child about their grandparents,” Papigatuk-LeBreux said. “My own mother was ill, so another elder helped to write about my mother and where she grew up.”
“I cried a lot when I read the story,” she said. “It’s so important for our children to know about their past.”
The baby book workshop is not entirely new to Nunavik. It was born from adult education programming developed by the Kativik School Board, geared towards parenting skills and family wellness.
But the workshops have recently launched in more communities, said Denise Allard, a pedagogical counsellor with the KSB.
“It seems to have really taken off quite a bit in the past few years, since we started training community facilitators,” she said. “A lot of high-risk moms weren’t interested in listening to lectures, so we had to find a way to draw them in.
“And the scrapbooking really does it.”
The baby book workshops try to cover a theme during each meeting, from the baby herself, to baby’s mother and father, other family members, and elders from the community.
Parents and caregivers must also dedicate a page to creating a “contract” between parent and child, Allard explained, a contract that highlights the dreams and values they want to pass along to their children and a page to explain the origin of their baby’s name.
“The kids get such a kick out of seeing their own stories,” said Allard. “This book is the gift you’re preparing for your child when they’re 18, but it’s a book you’ll refer to over and over again.”
Allard said the books are used by parents who have lost children to foster homes as a way to keep in touch. The books can also be used by families struggling through a difficult period.
Allard said one young Salluit mother — who lost her own mother as a child — participated in the baby book workshops and told her ‘I know I’ll be a better mother because of what I’ve learned here.’
To date, funding for the baby book project has come through Brighter Futures, but Allard hopes the workshops can find some more permanent local support.
“We could get regional money for this, but I really want to put this in the hands of the women who take part,” she said.