Quebec designation “energizes” throat singing: Avataq president
"But the government should consider other parts of our culture too"
Nunavimmiut welcomed the designation of throat singing by the province of Quebec as part of its cultural heritage Jan. 28 – the first “immaterial” or intangible designation of its kind.
But Avataq Cultural Institute president Charlie Argnak hopes it’s the first of many designations for the Inuit of Nunavik.
“It was a very special day,” Argnak said. “We have been trying to get this recognized for many years.”
But, he added, “throat singing is just the beginning. Our language and the culture have to be recognized like this too.”
Although throat singing is practiced and performed by different generations of Nunavimmiut across the region, Argnak said the new designation will do a lot to popularize the practice, even beyond Nunavik.
It wasn’t always that way, he points out; throat singing was at risk of disappearing in the 1970s and 1980s as Inuit communities in Canada’s North underwent major changes in their social practices.
Argnak said it’s through the concentrated efforts of an older generation of throat singers that the practice was kept alive and passed to younger singers.
One of those woman, Nunavimmiuq elder Aulla Tullugauq, was asked to perform at the Jan. 28 press conference in Montreal, in what Argnak described as the old, traditional way of throat singing.
“She got a standing ovation,” Argnak said.
A younger generation of Nunavimmiut throat singers has developed a new style of singing, Argnak said, while their craft is enjoyed by a much larger audience than ever before.
Throat singing grew from a traditional Inuit game played by two people making sounds face to face; mostly women, and mostly practiced in the home.
Argnak credits some of throat singing’s modern-day popularity to a conference Avataq hosted in 2001 in Puvirnituq, which drew singers from across the country, allowing them to build networks.
“[Quebec] started to see it should be recognized and continued from there,” he said.
As an oral tradition, throat singing is Quebec’s first heritage designation that carries no physical form, under the province’s Cultural Heritage Act, which came into force in 2011. The act covers many famous Quebec landmarks, including historical buildings, artefacts and deceased politicians.
“This really energizes throat singing,” Argnak said. “I’m really happy Quebec has recognized this, but the government should consider other parts of our culture too.”