Building for the future: Nunavut Heritage Society looks back for answers

New project to focus on Inuit architectural wisdom


The Kitikmeot Heritage Society's Pamela Gross unrolls a willow mat stored in the May Hakongak library and cultural centre's archives. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

The Kitikmeot Heritage Society’s Pamela Gross unrolls a willow mat stored in the May Hakongak library and cultural centre’s archives. (PHOTO BY JANE GEORGE)

CAMBRIDGE BAY — Sleeping on top of a willow mat, covered by a caribou skin: there may be nothing else that’s more comfortable and dry, suggests the Kitikmeot Heritage Society’s program director, Pamela Gross.

That’s what Inuinnait in what is now western Nunavut’s Kitikmeot region once used to keep the damp and cold away — and several willow mats, old and more recently-made, are among the society’s archived items.

While gathering willows might not place high among activities now practiced here, preserving the knowledge of these age-old household construction techniques is.

That’s why the Kitikmeot Heritage Society has partnered with architect and researcher Nancy Mackin on a new architectural project that is “environmentally and culturally appropriate” and will help sustain Arctic communities in the future.

The project, called Inuit Architectural Wisdom for Sustainable Arctic Communities, will involve people in Uluhaktok, Kugluktuk and Cambridge Bay, and will help document traditional Inuit structures and materials and reconsider how these can be used now in Arctic housing — although so far, only the first phase of funding is in place.

This past August, elders and youth met with Mackin to talk about what’s involved in the design and making of a tupiq — and then build a traditional tent.

“Although it used two-by-fours instead of willows and canvas in its main construction,” Gross said.

During the workshop, participants worked on developing their architectural and drawing skills, and they discussed the tent’s structure and purpose.

Mackin plans to travel again to Cambridge Bay in the next several months to oversee the building of a qarmaq (qamaaq) structure with a snow block or sod base.

And project organizers also plans to visit Kugluktuk in early 2016 to build a qalgiq (qaggiq), a snow house for communal living and drum dances.

Similar discussions and building projects will take place in Uluhaktok.

The second part of the survey will include modern architectural needs in the same three Arctic communities.

And working groups will then combine gathered knowledge on traditional structures, modern housing needs, and architectural model building to come up with new possibilities for Arctic architecture.

This final stage of project will lead to a book on history of Central Arctic housing with the models, drawings and interviews, called “Inuinnait Architecture: Past, Present and Future.”

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