Their stories, their skills: Nunavut youth research the past
Nanivara project trains youth in research, collecting oral histories
This summer, youth in Naujaat and Gjoa Haven are getting to know their history, culture and elders a lot better than before.
And they’re not only picking up skills and ideas that brighten their future prospects, they also want to rewrite history books from an Inuit perspective.
A handful of youths from the two Nunavut communities are involved in a youth-oriented history program, run through the school of social work at the University of British Columbia, aimed at connecting young people with elders.
The project, called Nanivara, which means “I found it,” is in the first of its three years and trains youth in research, interviewing and digital recording techniques to preserve the cultural and historical experiences of local elders.
“I love the history of our culture and the traditions we do, so it’s very personal for me,” Nicole Nanordluk, 19, of Naujaat, told Nunatsiaq News.
“The project is important, just to show how fun and how interesting talking to our elders can be,” said Barbara Okpik, a 16-year-old Grade 10 student in Gjoa Haven.
“Younger kids need to know about this stuff. We need to pass it on to younger generations,” said Marnie Ekelik, a 17-year-old from Gjoa Haven.
In Gjoa Haven, youth are interviewing and recording elders to learn what life was like at the time the community was settled, with a focus on the preservation and evolution of the Inuktitut language, one of the project’s directors from UBC, Patricia Johnston, said in an email.
A Nanivara project facilitator stationed in Gjoa Haven this summer, Targol Salehi, said in a recent interview that youths in Naujaat are also asking elders about memories that date back to the settlement of the community, to see, among other things, how skills like sewing, hunting and carving have changed over time.
And in the process, the youths aim to rewrite Canadian history from an Inuit perspective, Salehi said.
“I’ve heard it expressed by a few of the youths: ‘you know, we know so much about the rest of Canada but they don’t know anything about us.’ And that’s so true. They feel like it’s a hypocritical thing,” Salehi said.
“If this project is successful, maybe it could even be incorporated into an education curriculum.”
Sharing what he learns with other Nunavummiut is one of the most exciting parts of the Nanivara project, Simon Alaralak, a 20-year-old from Naujaat told Nunatsiaq News.
Alaralak explained that the members of the group in Naujaat will present their work to the community in August.
“We get to learn more of who we are as Inuit, and then we get to show it around. We get to do things like carving. We get to join the elders we interview and experience things. They do some neat tricks,” Alaralak said.
Alaralak said that so far he’s learned how to butcher caribou, skin seals and cut up fish, too.
“I’m getting to know myself a lot better, so I’m starting to think differently about my future … My future is changing.”
Other Nunavut communities would benefit from seeing their work, youth in both communities said, and from doing their own, similar projects.
“Some people still think we live in igloos,” Nanordluk said.
“It’s very important for other people to understand and know that even though we don’t live in igloos or sod houses, we still have a strong relationship with our culture.”
“I think other communities would like it too because it’s a lot of fun and you get to learn a lot of new things,” Renee Angotialuk, 17, from Naujaat, said.
“I’m 100 per cent sure other communities would have as much fun,” said Ekelik from Gjoa Haven.
The goal for this summer is to build an archive of interviews, pictures and videos of elders, Salehi said, with the aim of creating more awareness of local history.
“Everything the youths are documenting will potentially live throughout history — something that they can teach their children and their children’s children,” said Salehi.
Some of the end-goals of the Nanivara project, Salehi added, are to give local youth the chance to travel within Canada to share what they’ve learned, and to make a documentary of their experience. Organizers also hope youths can travel outside Canada to share their experience.
The project lead, Prof. Frank Tester from UBC, told Nunatsiaq News last year that the project is loosely based on the highly successful 2010 Nanisiniq project in Arviat.
Like the Nanivara project, the Nanisiniq project gave youths the tools needed to research and document local history.
The Nanivara project is a scaled-down version of the Nanisiniq project, Salehi explained, with an emphasis on interview and research skills.
“The future of Nunavut isn’t just the mining industry — it’s [also] online in terms of history and education,” Tester said in May 2014.
That’s something Nanordluk from Naujaat seems to already understand.
“That’s what Inuit should do all over Nunavut: define their talents, define their culture and their dialect so everyone can understand each other,” she said.
The Nanivara project, which is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada with support from First Air and Nunavut Arctic College, will run until the end of summer in 2017.
To see the Nanivara project’s website, you can click here.