iqaluit assembly

Unikkausivut – Sharing our Stories launches in Iqaluit, Nunavut

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* Photo, from left to right: Tom Perlmutter, Eva Aariak, Christopher Duschenes, Claude Joli-Coeur and Julie Huguet.

On Monday, we launched Unikkausivut – Sharing our Stories, at Nunavut’s Legislative Building in Iqaluit. If you’ve never been to Nunavut, or haven’t been there recently, the Legislative Building (or the “Ledge”, as it is know in town), is a sight to behold.

Brimming with local art, the bright, welcoming building incorporates traditional Inuit themes in its architecture, like the shapes of kayaks and sleds. On top of the Inuit art, the building is also the repository of gifts that were donated to Nunavut by its sister provinces and territories when it became one of them, in 1999.

In the hall where the reception was being held, I admired several stone carvings, a spectacular pair of sculpted antlers, a fur patchwork depicting Nunavut’s emblem, several photographs and lithographs (including drawings showing local facial tattoo styles), a highly ornate harpoon as well as a vast wall hanging illustrating an Arctic sunrise (or sunset?), done in expertly laid out swaths of dyed felt.

Peaking into the Assembly room itself, which was closed at the time of our visit, I saw the chairs where MLAs sit when the Nunavut legislature is in session. Every seat and bench in the room was accented with sealskin. The “red velvet rope” cordoning the circular assembly was also covered in plush, spottled seal. Chic.

The Premier of Nunavut, Eva Aariak opened the celebrations with a few remarks about the project, and reminded everyone present that to know who you are, you must know where you come from, something she felt the Unikkausivut films would help achieve in her region.

NFB President Tom Perlmutter and Christopher Duschenes, Executive Director of the Inuit Relations Secretariat, also spoke. Thanking our partners, they expressed their gladness as seeing the project reach its Inuit audience, and celebrated the fact that the rights to use the films would be theirs for generations to come.

The crowd, which included Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, her husband Jonathan Wright (the director of The Bear Facts, from the Nunavut Animation Lab series), were then treated to a short film screening, a teaser for the 2 longer projections scheduled later that day at the Astro Theatre.

I went to the 6 pm show, which was attended by dozens of kids, their parents and many elders as well. Of all the films screened, the one that elicited the most reactions was definitely Natsik Hunting, a short 1975 doc by Mosha Michael. (The film is not available for free streaming at this time.)

Shot in the water and isles surrounding Iqaluit, then known as Frobisher Bay, the short depicts a summer seal hunt, in all of its exciting details. Natsik Hunting, for the record, is also the first live-action film shot and directed by an Inuk.

(For those of us still struggling with basic Inuktitut, please note that Inuit is the plural form of Inuk. One Inuk, 2 Inuit, 3 Inuit, etc.)

What struck me, throughout the screening, was how wonderful it was to be able to bring these films back to the communities where they were shot in the first place. As a person who travels a lot, talks to people, takes their photos, etc., I am often left with the feeling of “taking” something from them, their story, pictures of their face or their house, their time. Something a blog post, or even an article in some magazine, doesn’t quite do justice to.

Although it is remarkable that NFB filmmakers documented the life and culture of the Inuit, for 70 years, I felt it was about time the results of that documentation – the films themselves – were made widely available to the people whose stories they depict, or at the very least, to their descendants.

That is what Unikkausivut is all about.

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Watch Unikkausivut films on NFB.ca

Buy the DVD box set