FEATURES: -none- June 03, 2005 - 7:58 am

Nunavik plant life the latest attraction at the Avataq Cultural Institute

Cultural centre helps explain Northern heritage to the South

JANE GEORGE

When you’re out on the land this summer in Nunavik or in South Baffin, be sure to bring a copy of Atlas of the Plants of Nunavik Villages.

The trilingual, lavishly illustrated handbook is a compact guide, full of easy-to-consult information for Inuttitut, English or French readers who want to know more about wild plants in these regions.

Colour photos of the plants are displayed next to their names in Latin, English, French and Inuttitut. There’s lots of information to show where they can be found - nearly half the plants found in Nunavik have also been seen near Iqaluit.

The book also provides information about how Inuit have traditionally viewed plants - as either fast or slow growing - and how plants can be used for medical purposes. For example, the partridge cranberry or kimminaqutik helps drain mouth ulcers and Arctic cotton or suputaujaq is useful as a bandage for babies’ bellybuttons.

The information is intended to have “an intercultural effect,” telling plant-lovers in the South about Inuit traditional knowledge and bringing “the beauty of science to the North.”

Atlas of the Plants of Nunavik Villages, by botanist Marcel Blondeau and Claude Roy, was produced in collaboration with researcher Alain Cuerrier and Nunavik’s Avataq Cultural Institute.

It’s the kind of high-quality product Avataq is known for.

It follows in the footsteps of the Tumivut journals and exhibition, the Let’s Tell a Story collection for children, Avataq’s popular Inuit herbal teas, the “aipai” Nunavik font and the displays Avataq developed for Montreal’s Botanical Gardens, Kuujjuaq’s Kaitattivik Centre and the future Pingualuit provincial park interpretation centre in Kangiqsujuaq.

And these are in addition to Avataq’s many activities, including annual terminology workshops, workshops for artists and elders’ conferences.

Jobie Weetaluktuk is immersed in a new project: a book about Tivi Etook from Kangiqsualujjuaq. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)
Yet Avataq has always been a poor cousin to the much richer organizations in Nunavik that were created through the 1975 James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement: Makivik Corporation, the Kativik Regional Government, the Kativik School Board and the Nunavik Regional Board of Health and Social Services.

The Nunavik self-government now in negotiation will give Avataq a much larger and more secure place.

“There is going to be a focus on language and culture,” says Avataq’s communications director Taqralik Partridge.

Avataq’s strength today is due to the will and persistence of the people in Nunavik, says Partridge.

And now, just in time for its 25th anniversary, Avataq has a new home - a home still not based in Nunavik, but just around the corner from the Montreal Children’s Hospital and St. Catherine Street shopping area, long a gathering place for Inuit visiting from Nunavik.

Taqralik Partridge, Avataq’s communications officer, hopes more Inuit visiting Montreal find their way to its office on Redfern Street. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)
After moving from Lachine to Park Avenue in downtown Montreal, Avataq moved again last year and signed a 10-year lease for its new office, located at 215 Redfern Street in Westmount.

“I’d like more Inuit who are in the city to visit us,” Taqralik says.

There, visitors can tour the offices, decorated with a selection of Avataq’s vast collection of prints and carvings. Space dividers between offices feature eye-catching decals based on Nunavik prints.

Elisapie Inukpuk’s doll collection is on display in the boardroom, where Avataq’s directors, headed by president Rhoda Kokiapik, meet regularly.

Down the hall, there’s a documentation room for Avataq’s archives. Avataq also has a database of thousands of genealogical records for Nunavik families - which Nunavimmiut are free to consult.

The new office also has an archeology section where artifacts such as these pipes, found last summer in Inukjuak, can be studied, catalogued and eventually exhibited. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)
In the archeology area, archeologists are cleaning ivory pipes and other items found in Inukjuak last summer when a bulldozer uncovered a mass of material where a Hudson Bay trading post once stood.

One ivory pipe has a crest carved on it, while another is carved to look like a branch.

Avataq’s archeologists are making an inventory of these and other artifacts and plan to return many for display at the Daniel Weetaluktuk Museum in Inukjuak.

In one office, you can find Jobie Weetaluktuk hard at work on a book that will tell about the life and knowledge of Kangiqsujuaq elder and artist Tivi Etook.

Another current project at Avataq involves a database on Nunavik artists, which will be used by Quebec’s arts council and lead to more funding opportunities for Nunavik artists.

To order the Atlas des plantes des villages du Nunavik, contact Avataq or order the book, which is 12.5 x 18 cm., 644 pages, 2004, softcover, $34.95. ISBN 2-89544-051-4.