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Unikkausivut – Sharing Our Stories launches in Kuujjuaq, Nunavik

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On Tuesday Nov. 8, before dawn, we left Iqaluit for Kuujjuaq by way of an Air Inuit charter flight. In the North, charters mean “fun-sized” propeller planes, and our ride, that morning, turned out to be a De Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otter.

For those unfamiliar with small regional planes, the Twin Otter is a snug, very comfortable 15-seater. (De Havilland Canada planes makes 2 even smaller planes; the Chipmunk and the Beaver.) When you board, you have to crouch to get to your seat, as if making your way around a small dome tent. And no need to stress about having to share your row with snorers or sleepers, whose lolling heads are attracted to your shoulder like magnets! In these planes, all you have is single seats, on either side of the aisle.

Our trusty Twin Otter took us over the Hudson Straight in just over 2 hours. Sunrise over the Arctic, before we reached our cruising altitude beyond the clouds, was spectacular. Homer, who wrote of the “rosy-fingered Dawn”, would’ve really appreciated the shade of pink we were privy to, thousands of feat above the tundra.

Arriving in Kuujjuaq, we made our way to the Makivik Corporation headquarters. Makivik, which means “to rise up” in Inuktitut, is an organization whose mandate is to protect the rights and interests of the Inuit in Nunavik. There, we had lunch with president Pita Aatami, his council, Kuujjuaq Mayor Paul Parsons, as well as representatives from the Kativik School Board and the Avataq Cultural Institute. After lunch, Tom Perlmutter, President of the NFB, officially introduced the Unikkausivut project alongside NFB Assistant Commissioner, Claude Joli-Coeur.

Aatami, whom we had had the pleasure to meet and hear in Ottawa, said he remembered watching NFB films at school, especially the Netsilik series. “There were screenings at school,” he said. “We always looked forward to them and never missed one.”

Aatami said the films, though undeniably useful across all 4 Inuit regions, would serve a special purpose in his neck of the woods, Nunavik. “We live below the treeline,” he said. “Most of us don’t know how to hunt polar bears or build igloos. Except perhaps this man on my left,” he said, pointing to Johnny Peters (Makivik’s Vice-President of Renewable Resources), a gentleman with glasses and a handsome, weather-lined face. “He grew up in Kangirsuk.”

Johnny Peters

Johnny Peters

Maggie Emudluk, President of the Kativik Regional Government, said she had heard about the project 2 weeks prior, in an interview Peter Irniq granted the CBC. Peter Irniq, who worked as an Inuit consultant on the project alongside Martha Flaherty, lent his own voice to some of the films. Emudluk had been delighted to hear him say those great NFB films she had liked as a girl, the Tuktu and Netsilik films.

She said her own father was in the film The Annanacks. “That film is very close to me,” she said, adding that the Unikkausivut collection would be good for all Inuit. “It will be good for our children,” she said, “and their children.”

Sarah Airo, Assitant Director at Kativik School Board, thanked the NFB for bringing the films back to the North. She said that the schools still used NFB VHS, but that the curriculum was under revision. “The technology has evolved,’ she said. ‘And so must we. We’re excited.” She said she was looking forward to see how the Unikkausivut films could be involved in the newly minted school curriculums.

Pita Aatagami and Tom Perlmutter

Pita Aatagami and Tom Perlmutter

That night, films from the project were being screened at the Kattitavik Town Hall. Despite the fact the event was competing against 2 highly attractive Tuesday evening activities: Hockey Night in Canada and bingo night in Kuujjuaq, there was an appreciable turnout at town hall.

We watched The Living Stone, a fantastic film everyone should see (find it online here), as well as Lumaaq, a film by Co Hodeman about a blind boy, a loon, and the perils of revenge.

After the screening, on our way to the Nunavik Coop Hotel, we walked right through the flat, landing area of a party of young sledders, who were tobogganing and Krazy-Karpeting in the dark. (Yes, that is probably borderline dangerous, but as someone who’s done her fair share of night-sledding, I can say I totally get the thrill.) Laughing and squealing like that little piggy who went wee-wee-wee-all-the-way-home, the kids were piling up 3 in a sled for that extra speed and barreling down the steep, short hill. Kids, it was nice to be reminded, are the same everywhere.

The next morning, chances are some of these same night-sledders were in the gym of Jaanimmarik School when channeling the spirit of the NFB’s travelling projectionists before us, we brought a selection of Unikkausivut films to show students. Run by Pierrette Beauvais, its strict but loving principal, Jaanimarik caters to both primary and secondary school students in the Kuujjuaq community. All in all, around 375 students are enrolled in the school, which is split down between French and English sectors. When children enter grade school, all instruction is in Inuktitut. It is only when they reach grade 4 that they must choose French or English as a second language.

Amongst all the films screened were June in Povungnituk and Eskimo Summer, a short 1944 documentary that shows the daily life of the Inuit in the summer months. While completely fascinated with the hunting and fishing scenes, the kids had a good laugh when the turbulent sled dogs jumped up and down in an attempt to catch some fish laid out on the line to dry. Good times had by all at the NFB matinée, and we left Jaanimarik happy to know Unikkausivut had reached its desired destination: the children of Nunavik.

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Watch Unikkausivut films on NFB.ca

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