Nunavut org president chooses a Pootoogook print for PM Trudeau
“I told the prime minister I hope the print gives him as much joy as it gives me when I look at it"
Aluki Kotierk, less than two months into her four-year term as president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., thought long and hard about what to present Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during his recent trip to Iqaluit.
In the end, Kotierk chose a print by the late Kinngait artist Annie Pootoogook, called “Homecoming.”
“I told the prime minister I hope the print gives him as much joy as it gives me when I look at it,” Kotierk told Nunatsiaq News Feb. 13 from Ottawa’s NTI office before spending the day in meetings.
Kotierk presented the artwork during Trudeau’s one-day visit to Iqaluit Feb. 9, which he made to announce the official creation of a new Inuit-Crown political body.
The print shows about a dozen Inuit gathered indoors around a newborn baby.
But there are many layers to the picture, and to its selection as a gift for Trudeau, Kotierk said.
“It speaks to a challenge [Inuit] have, in that women are sent away from their home communities to have babies, rather than being with their family, when their bond should be strengthened.”
The print also shows the Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit value of inunnguiniq, which has been translated into English as “it takes a village to raise a child.”
“To me the picture says, ‘we’re going to work together to create a being who can contribute meaningfully to society,’” Kotierk said.
And in Kotierk’s mind, the baby is likely named after a loved one who has died, keeping with Inuit tradition and speaking to reconciliation between generations.
“When I look at this print, I hear the Inuit, all of whom look modern and all different ages and genders, speaking Inuktitut”—another reason Kotierk chose this print as Trudeau’s visit fell within Inuktitut language and literacy month.
“There’s a transfer of knowledge across different ages and generations going on.
“Politically, I wanted to give a print showing people because I told the prime minister, when he thinks of Nunavut, it’s not just land and wildlife, but people especially that we need to invest in.”
The fact that the artwork was by Pootoogook—whose life came to a sudden end in the fall of 2016 when her body was found on the banks of the Rideau River in Ottawa—was likely not lost on Trudeau.
The death of the world-famous artist, whose pictures often showed stark scenes of everyday life in Nunavut, sparked international headlines, in part because it was a tragic reminder of the daily challenges facing some Inuit struggle with.
The death of Pootoogook, 46, also pled an Ottawa police officer to make racist comments online. He later apologized for his remarks and was disciplined.
Kotierk said Trudeau put his hand over his heart and seemed moved with the presentation of “Homecoming.”
Besides the emotionally-charged content of the print itself, Kotierk, in her first elected post as a politician, had to suppress nerves and anxiety to present the gift to the prime minister.
As she waited in the boardroom Feb. 9 for Trudeau’s arrival, Kotierk said she quickly realized how scripted and orchestrated every minute of Trudeau’s visit was.
“I started to get shaky, feeling butterflies inside because I realized the immensity, that I would be presenting something to a person that everyone thinks is so important.”
So Kotierk said she left the boardroom, went into her office and, even though security personnel were stationed all over the building, including her office, Kotierk stood in front of a photo of her and her grandmother.
“I felt emotional standing there. ‘If only she could be here to see this, who I’ve become and what I’m doing. How would she behave?’” Kotierk remembered thinking.
“And I realized I was grounded. That I had nothing to fear and nothing to feel less than. I was there as an equal, and he was coming to my territory to meet me. I felt resolve—emotional, but resolve.”
When Kotierk greeted Trudeau, she said she did so in Inuktitut, translating “Nunavut” into English, “Our Land.”
“I wanted that to sink in. We’re part of Canada, but it’s also our land. I was happy to present a gift on behalf of Nunavut Inuit, and that he made the time to come visit us.”