Part of the Inuvik Tuktoyaktuk Highway was inside the Donald Kuptana Sr. Memorial Arena in Tuktoyaktuk during celebrations for its opening Wednesday, Nov. 15.

Joe Nasogaluak poses with his sculpture, named Taimani, an Inuvialuk word meaning “at that time.”
Stewart Burnett/NNSL photo

A giant mural, made out of the same material that is below the gravel on the highway itself, spanned the entire arena.

It was painted by Tuk-born Joe Nasogaluak, who completed the project in only six days: three to paint it, and three for touchups.

The piece displays the scenery along the drive between the two communities.

“The reason we used (this material) is because it was under the road,” said Nasogaluak. “I decided that we’d put it on and I’d make the road too, eh?”

He used white paint to recreate the drive on canvas, making sure to include the mountains near Aklavik.

“Without saying or writing it down, you include (Aklavik) by heart,” said Nasogaluak.

He was also commissioned to create a sculpture for Governor General Julie Payette to present at the celebration.

Nasogaluak made Taimani, a carving of an Inuvialuit dancer with a number of ideas and meanings represented.

“That one took a little while,” said Nasogaluak, who made it from Norman Wells stone. “I try to teach kids and young people that we have local stone and we don’t have to buy it from (elsewhere).”

A mantle on the back of the carving tells a story about traditions, culture and history of the Inuvialuit people as it passes from generation to generation. The bottom of the mantle depicts that history through traditional images of a whale, gyrfalcon, bear and caribou.

Next, three hills symbolize traditional beliefs of shamanism and spirits that occupy vast lands, while crosses mark a change when missionaries came and when the Inuvialuit population declined as a result of epidemics, changing lifestyles and new institutions.

Six flowers on the piece represent the six Inuvialuit communities, symbolizing regrowth and renewal of life with the promise of a new beginning.

Stars at the top represent a positive future vision with the new road connecting Tuktoyaktuk to the south.

The dancer depicted in the carving holds two caribou antlers, which represent Inuvialuit tools one one hand and commitment to continue to manage traditional lands on the other. When viewed together, the caribou antlers cross to show youth that there is a right path in life for them to follow.

While on the phone talking about how great the road was the morning before the celebration, Nasogaluak saw the significance of the new highway when his brother- and sister-in-law showed up unexpectedly.

“I said, this is what the road is all about,” said Nasogaluak, speaking about the connection to family. “I’m a really proud Inuvialuk, but I’m more proud to be from Tuk today.”

He hopes the road can become a gateway for future generations to resources in the sea.

“That’s an open door, a stepping stone for our kids to see if we can get access to work with the oil up here,” he said, adding that Northerners are resilient people even in economic downturns.

“We get by. We hunt, we live. We don’t need the oil company. We can still get by. It’s what we do. We find ways. If there’s no caribou, we get more geese and fish. But the oil companies, for the younger people, can maybe make (them) a living and start businesses.”

The Inuvik Tuktoyaktuk Highway cost $300 million and is the first road to connect Canada coast to coast to coast.

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