November 7 is International Inuit Day. Also known as International Circumpolar Inuit Day, it is a holiday created to celebrate Inuit and to amplify their voices. According to the 2016 Statistics Canada Census there were 440 Inuit living in Calgary. In honour of this day, I had the privilege to interview local resident and University of Calgary student Tapisa Kilabuk, who is Inuk, a person of Nunavut, originally from Qikiqtaaluk now known as Baffin Island.
Click HERE to hear Tapisa introduce herself in Inuktitut.
November 7th is International Inuit Day, what does this mean for you?
For me, International Inuit Day is a reminder for everyone that Inuit are part of a large and connected community and is why, in part, that International Inuit Day was established in 2006 by the Inuit Circumpolar Council. The ICC is a major international non-government organization representing approximately 180,000 Inuit of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Chukotka (Russia). One of my ongoing jokes is that I can’t say I am one in a million, because I am literally 1 of 180,00 Inuit. Ha ha
Anyway, the ICC is a space for connecting Inuit in the larger context of community, and that’s why I appreciate November 7th. It’s also a great opportunity to get to know who Inuit are and the incredible work we have done and continue to do for our Sovereignty.
Generalizing of course, what is the essence of Inuit culture for you?
This is a great question, however, let’s first talk about the Diversity of Inuit.
Inuit currently have four defined regions in what we call Canada. Collectively, we are part of communities across Inuit Nunangat. Which means “the place where Inuit live.” The four regions are called Inuvialuit, Nunavut, Nunavik, and Nunatsiavut. From coast to coast to coast, Inuit have lived in reciprocity with the land, water and ice since time immemorial.
An important essence of our culture for me can be explained by the use of the root ending Miut. I, myself, am an Inuk from Nunavut or in the larger context of community described in Inuktitut. With my language I am a part of Nunavummiut (people of Nunavut). As an individual I am Nunavummiuq: a person of Nunavut, which Nunavut is translated to ‘our land.’ Which makes me a person of our land. The difference of being from somewhere to being of the land is what’s important! We have thrived for so long in our relationship with Nuna (land), we are not separated from it we are derived from it. I love that so much.
Another favourite essence of our culture is the concept of Kinamik Atigagpiit: WHO IS YOUR NAME? I recently learned an important lesson from my Ajakuluk – Auntie. I used to be insecure about my name. I thought it sounded weird, and I would shorten it for folks, so they didn’t have to learn how to pronounce it correctly. I always knew that in our tradition, that I was named after someone who was in relation to my family. But now, because of my Ajakuluk, I know that I carry these names and the spirits of others who held them before me. This is where the concept of who is your name comes from. It is how people can identify what family I am from. It’s a responsibility I carry, to ensure that my names are revered in the present.
And finally, the concept of Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit: that which has long been known by the Inuit. This is a living technology that has been renewed for generations and has been integrated into the context of epistemology for survival and maintaining harmony. It includes:
Traditional practice of learning by:
• developing skills through practice, effort, and action
Problem solving in real life situations
• a close relationship maintained with the land
• a philosophy of interdependence between humans and nature – Long-standing codes of behavior based on Inuit values and practices
• communicated to youth through songs, stories, legends and direct modeling of behavior
These are just a small snippet of what makes up my worldview but they each create such strong meaning within my personhood.
Respectfully, are you able to explain your beautiful tattoo?
Kakiniit — traditional Inuit tattoos have special meaning to the person being tattooed. I remember learning about the renewal in 2016 and making a commitment to being a part of the resurgence. I received my first markings on my arms in 2017 by Hovak Johnston. She had a layover in Calgary and in our very short time together she taught me a lot. Including the meaning of the V that now lays on my forehead, a marker that speaks to my moment of entering womanhood. My Kakinlit is a personal love story to myself. After my son was born, I battled post-partum depression for a year. That year was the hardest year of my life, but it was also a year full of growth because I wouldn’t give up on myself. I did everything I had to do to ensure I survived and when I came about on the other side, I knew I entered a new phase of my life. I entered my womanhood, and I celebrated that with my Kakiniit.
Is there an active Inuit community within Calgary?
There is a community of Inuit within Calgary, however we haven’t been able to put in time to really come together to create something permanent. It is something a few of us are hoping to do but we are also limited in our resources. This year at the AAWC Family Day and Pow Wow, Calgarymmiut were invited to have a booth and we were able to share some parts of our culture. It was fun and I can’t wait to get together again next year.
At Calgary Learns, we have an Indigenoous granting stream for programs serving Indigenous adults learning at the foundational level . Are there any considerations that programs should be aware of when Inuit learners enter their learning spaces?
I think a major disconnection of Inuit representation in spaces such as this, is that it is incredibly important to not pan-indigenize our existence. Mind you, I say that hesitatingly, because I don’t want to make anyone feel that they have, or I don’t appreciate being invited into circle with my First Nation and Metis relations! I say this because, Inuit are often misrepresented or are not in spaces catered to FMNI folks. It’s important to know the diversity of Inuit Nunangat; it is important to know we have different ways of knowing and doing; and it’s important to consider the disparities Inuit face from being disrupted in a not-so-distant past. It’s also important to ensure that wherever information is gathered from, it is from Inuit voices, authors and community members.
Are you aware of any foundational learning needs of Inuit community members that are not being met?
My kids are Inuit and are both in middle school, and they don’t ever learn about themselves in Indigenous Studies. [This would be something to consider when creating relevant and meaningful curriculum and content in any learning space.] There are currently no Inuit specific services in Calgary that I am aware of.
the Inuit Circumpolar Council
Inuit Nunangat Taimannganit- This storytelling project tells the story of Inuit Nunangat (the Inuit homeland in Canada) from time immemorial (taimannganit).
The Inuit way : A Guide to Inuit Culture
Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit: The role of Indigenous knowledge in supporting wellness in Inuit communities in Nunavut
National Film Board Films
List of Inuit Authors
Inuit Art in Calgary
Statistics Canada 2016