Dozens gathered at Somba K’e Civic Plaza in Yellowknife to mark the 35th anniversary of the signing of the Inuvialuit Final Agreement on July 27.
“It is important for us to be able to reach our members living south and celebrate,” said Duane Smith, chair of the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation.
Signed on June 5, 1984, the final agreement was the first comprehensive land claim agreement north of the 60th parallel and only the second in Canadian history.
Under the terms of the agreement, the Inuvialuit gave up exclusive use of their ancestral lands in exchange for certain rights. The rights came in three forms: land, wildlife management and money.
Smith said he met many Inuvialuit people at the Yellowknife celebration, as well as in Edmonton where the IRC visited in July. They were overjoyed as they hadn’t been able to participate in traditional culture in many years, he said.
Those who joined in the celebration enjoyed country foods such as beluga muktuk, Arctic char, goose, reindeer and bannock among others.
“Everyone worked really hard to make this happen,” said Christine Sydney, executive assistant with the IRC. “A lot of our food was harvested from Ulukhaktuk and Paulatuk and staff did all the catering. We were working for over a week to get everything ready for our people to enjoy.”
Saturday’s celebration included many traditional games such as the one-foot high kick, Alaskan high kick and an Inuvialuit skipping game along with many traditional drum songs and dances.
“The games are a lot of fun to watch but were designed with a purpose,” said Smith. “It was meant to toughen the body to endure the harsh Northern landscapes that Inuvialuit live on.”
Inuvialuit living away from home do not get to visit their traditional territory very often due to the high cost of travel, so in addition to bringing cultural actives south, the IRC raffled off flights to Inuvik.
Paige Kimiksana was one of four raffle winners to receive a round trip flight.
“I’m very excited,” said Kimiksana. “My family is from Tuktoyaktuk but I was born in Inuvik. I haven’t been back there since I was born.”
Another recipient in Edmonton was brought to tears after winning, as she had not seen her family in over a decade, said Smith.
With beautiful weather and happy participants both Smith and Sydney called the celebration a great success.
“If you look around, all you see is smiles and laughter,” said Smith. “We do this for our people but also for the other First Nations peoples and non-Indigenous peoples to come celebrate and be proud as Canadians together.”
The IRC hosted a similar celebration in Edmonton in the end of July and will be travelling to Whitehorse for another event on Aug. 4.