Cover Story: Steep Yourself in Inuit Culture This Month

While accepting applications for speakers at this year’s biennial Inuit Studies Conference, its organizers were so overwhelmed by the volume and range of applicants, they created a pair of festivals, an art exhibition at The Rooms, and more, to run concurrently alongside the conference.

While accepting applications for speakers at this year’s biennial Inuit Studies Conference, Memorial University and the Nunatsiavut Government were so overwhelmed by the volume and range of applicants, that they created a pair of festivals, an art exhibition at The Rooms, and more, to run concurrently alongside the conference.

There were proposals for music and art performances, films, food demonstrations, tattoo artists, and much more. When faced with the dilemma of how to fit these aspects of Inuit culture into an academic conference, they turned their problem into a proper 4-day immersion in all things Inuit, making sure every minute of it would be open and accessible to the public.

Step one was creating the Katingavik Inuit Arts Festival to ensure these 4 days were not just all about “papers and posters and traditional academia” but the “living, breathing aspects of Inuit culture” too.

Katingavik means “a gathering place for ceremonies,” and the broad nature of the term is very fitting. This 4-day festival has everything from concerts to traditional games. The idea is to celebrate and learn from Inuit culture, and create connections between Inuit artists, arts organizations, and the St. John’s public. Katingavik’s sister festival, iNuit Blanche, will be a city-wide takeover of Inuit culture in the form of a crawl – participants will visit 25 stations in different locations , experiencing everything from Northern food to literary readings.

The event hopes to forge connections between organizations in the provincial capital of St. John’s with Labrador Inuit artists living in remote communities, who have relatively limited opportunities
to network.

Select Workshops, From Inuit Tattooing to Intuit Games

Whether you’re a cultural buff or a tattoo fanatic, Marjorie Thabone’s event, Kakiñiq: Revitalizing Inuit Tattooing on Oct.8th (2-4 at the Rocket Room) is of interest. Her workshop will focus on Inuit tattooing in Alaska and the ongoing effort to revitalize this tradition. Marjorie will share stories about Inuit tattooing and its common symbols, and she’ll give a live demonstration of two techniques: “skin-stitching” and “hand poking.” She’ll be offering temporary tattoos to participants who would like one.

From 12-2 on Oct. 8th, at the Rocket Room, “United Way Community Builder” Dion Metcalfe will demonstrate, teach, and play Traditional Inuit Games with participants. Games include everything from leg wrestling to things as intriguingly named as “seal hops, walrus walks, and raven races.” The games are said to be fun and engaging for all age groups. “Being nomadic, and living in such a harsh environment, the Inuit developed games that were fun and also engaged every muscle in the body, to develop stamina, flexibility, agility, and skills that helped with hunting and survival.” Come in comfy clothes and expect to leave spent & sweaty.

Samples of Enlightening Films Set to Screen

The festival will screen a variety of films including People of a Feather (Oct. 8th 4:30-6:30 at MUN’s Suncor Energy Hall). The film features seven years of footage from the Canadian arctic, and explores the unique relationship between the Inuit and the eider duck, and the modern challenges they both face on account of the massive hydroelectric dams powering New York and eastern North America.”

Lament for the Land, screening at 9:30am at MUN’s Suncor Energy Hall, is told through the voices of 24 people from Nunatsiavut, and weaves together the voices and wisdom of Labrador Inuit with stunning visual scenery, to tell a powerful story of change, loss, and hope in the context of rapid climate change in the North. The film brings attention to some of the most pressing climatic and environmental issues of our time.

Trapped in a Human Zoo will screen on Oct. 9th at 4pm at MUN’s Suncor Energy Hall. It tells the story of eight Labrador Inuit who travelled to Europe in 1880, lured by promises of adventures and wealth, only to be trapped in the world of human zoos. These men, women, and children were exhibited like animals. The screening will be followed by a discussion.

Sol playing Oct. 9th at 7pm at MUN’s Suncor Energy Hall, is a feature documentary that explores the mysterious death of a young Inuk man, Solomon Tapatia Uyarasuk, who was found dead in an RCMP detachment in a remote Inuit community. As the documentary investigates Solomon’s death, it sheds light on the underlying social issues
of Canada’s North.

Select Musical Concerts and Workshops

On Oct. 9th, from 2-4 at the Rocket Room, the Sila Singers will give a Throat Singing Workshop, wherein they’ll explain what throat singing is, demonstrate it, talk about why they chose to practice it, and teach the crowd how it’s a community building tradition.

Oct. 8th, 10pm at The Ship, you can catch an Inuit Rock Show, featuring Twin Flames, IVA, and SunDogs, and on Oct. 9th from 12-2 there’ll be a Nunatsiavut Jam at Rocket Room.

One huge draw of the week is a concert from Juno & Polaris Music Prize winner Tanya Tagaq at The Arts & Culture Centre. See our separate article on her new album and upcoming performance. Tagaq is an improvisational performer, avantgarde composer, and experimental recording artist whose sound challenges static ideas of genre and culture, and contends with themes of environmentalism, human rights, and post-colonial issues. The concert is October 10th.

Do Not Miss This: Inuit Blanche (Oct. 8th) 

iNuit Blanche is a clever pun-spin on the “Nuit Blanche” style of festival that takes over a city for a night of arts & culture. During a nuit blanche, a city’s museums, art galleries, and other cultural institutions are open free of charge, and the city itself becomes a de facto art gallery, providing space for art installations and performances, including music, film, dance, performance art, themed social gatherings, and other activities, including food stations related to a theme.

iNuit Blanche will be the world’s first circumpolar, all-night crawl festival of Inuit arts & culture. It’ll be an Inuit art crawl through the heart of downtown, beginning at sunset and running late into the night. All in all there will be over 25 free Inuit-themed events happening across downtown, from poetry readings and dance, to Inuit game and virtual reality demos.

As an example, at one station, visual artist Heather Campbell will invite the public to splash paint onto a large canvas. She will spontaneously shape the chaos into recognizable images of people, animals, and other Inuit imagery.

Meanwhile, Barry Pottle & Justin Igloliorte’s “Community Freezer” station will feature food and photography to represent the cultural concept of Inuit “community freezers” which uphold the idea that Inuit country food is meant to be shared by all, for the good of all. Community freezers, stocked by local hunters and fishers are freely accessible, ensuring that Inuit elders and others have healthy food to eat. In this two-person show at Eastern Edge Gallery, photographer Barry Pottle and chef Justin Igloliorte bring the photographic and culinary arts together. Igloliorte will prepare smoked char, paired with a distinctly Labradorian cocktail.

iNuit Blanche was designed to “take the arts from behind the velvet rope and place them firmly in the public space.” To give you incentive to take in all 25 stations on the crawl, there’ll be a bingo card to punch at each station you visit. You punch it with a button given out at each station. The night ends with a party at The Ship Pub – those with the most buttons will be eligible for the door prize.

SAKKIJÂJUK: Art & Craft of NunatSiavut

The official opening of SakKijâjuk: Art and Craft of Nunatsiavut at The Rooms on Octover 7th, will double as the opening reception for the Inuit Studies Conference. SakKijâjuk is a Labrador Inuit term meaning “to be visible” – the exhibit highlights the little known craft and artworks produced in Nunatsiavut (the Inuit region of Labrador) over half a century of exciting, diverse production.

The exhibition will feature the work of over 40 artists in photography, sculpture, painting, wearable art, drawing, printmaking, basketry, film, video, and textile arts. This will be the first major exhibition of Inuit art from Labrador in over 30 years, and after its presentation at The Rooms, it will tour nationally.

Illustration by Elena Cabitz for The Overcast

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