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The customs of our ancestors

Megan Wennberg
Northern News Services
Published Monday, December 10, 2007

IQALUIT - Myna Ishulutak wants to build a powerful bridge.

Ishulutak grew up on the land in an outpost camp near Pangnirtung, and she's determined to bridge the gap between the traditional way of life she knew growing up and the life she now lives in Iqaluit.

"I miss it," says Ishulutak. "It's very different now. How my parents taught me, the traditional lifestyle - living in a qarmaq and using the qulliq we don't use it any more, just for ceremonies. Young people don't know it any more ... and it's very important to try to use it again. If we don't pursue it, we're going to lose it."

Ishulutak and her family moved to Pangnirtung in 1983, and she first moved to Iqaluit in 1996 to complete the Inuit studies program at Nunavut Arctic College.

Ishulutak next studied social work in Cambridge Bay, followed by film studies in North Bay, Ont.

Ishulutak is now back in Iqaluit, after working for two years as co-facilitator of the Tupia program at the Fenbrook Institution in Gravenhurst, Ont., where she taught Inuktitut and culture studies to Inuit inmates.

Ishulutak is currently working as an Inuktitut teacher with the Pirurvik Centre.

She teaches Inuktitut to children in daycare four times a week, and teaches beginner and intermediate groups of adult Inuktitut-speakers twice a week.

Asked which are the better learners, Ishulutak laughs and says, "both, it's very different ... "

In addition to her work as a teacher, Ishulutak is the founder of the Tajarniit Collaboration Project.

The project is focused on the seal and its integral relationship to Inuit - as food, clothing, shelter, transport, games and entertainment.

Tajarniit refers to the tender meat found behind a seal's shoulder blade that is traditionally a woman's favourite part of the seal to eat.

"Men can eat it too," says Ishulutak, "but mostly women we try to grab it quickly!"

Ishulutak's partners in the Tajarniit Collaboration Project are Stacey Aglok MacDonald, Jolene Arreak, Karliin Aariak and Alethea Arnaquq-Baril.

Together, these five women will visit communities across Nunavut to hold workshops and demonstrations (last month an elder in Pangnirtung showed how to make a seal-skin kayak) and video-document the different uses of the seal.

The five will also facilitate youth and elder camps, put on fashion shows (showcasing seal-skin clothing) and give video production workshops.

"I'm so grateful to work with these powerful ladies," says Ishulutak. "They're such hard workers. We're all on the same page and we're willing to learn. (This project) is very important for us - if we don't do something about it we're going to lose it. And our elders are ... " she trails off, "we're losing our elders. And I think it's very important to learn from elders. I'm so proud of our ancestors, how powerful they were; not depending on other people, just the animals and the seasons."