Iqaluit celebration honours Nunavut sealing experts
Sealskin worker and hunter help preserve Inuit tradition
Organizers of the June 21 Celebration of the Seal in Iqaluit honoured two experts at this year’s event to show that sealing is alive and well in Nunavut, thanks to the many skilled hunters and sealskin workers who help preserve the Inuit tradition.
Elisapi Davidee-Aningmiuq earned recognition for her many years of work teaching sealskin preparation skills in Iqaluit through the Tukisigiarvik community centre.
And skilled hunter Sandy Oolayou was honoured for routinely sharing his catch with the community.
“These people don’t get enough recognition for the kind of work that they do for the community,” said celebration organizer Aaju Peter. “They’ve done so much to further the cause of the seal, for education and promotion.”
The honours took Oolayou and Davidee-Aningmiuq by surprise.
“I didn’t expect anything this year,” said Oolayou, who runs a hunting program out of Iqaluit with Nunavut’s Department of Justice as part of his work with the Nunavut correctional system.
Oolayou teaches the seal-hunting traditions he learned from his parents while growing up in Kimmirut, as well as caribou-hunting and fishing.
“I like to go hunting a lot, and I try to pass it on to my kids,” he said. “They’re old enough now, and I’d like to pass on the tradition I learned from my parents.”
Oolayou also shares his hunting knowledge with inmates and young offenders.
But it was his sharing of his seal hunt catches with Iqalummiut that inspired the seal celebration committee to honour his work.
“Nobody gets paid to do these things,” Peter said. She said hunters like Oolayou invest in hunting without expecting any return when they share with the community.
“This is a fantastic way to recognize hunters like Sandy, who are sharing and ensuring people are getting fed, and never asking for any compensation or recognition,” she said.
Besides its importance as an Arctic food, the value of seal pelts for Arctic clothing was celebrated with a nod to Davidee-Aningmiuq’s work at the Tukisigiarvik centre.
“She knows so many people, especially the younger generation, who have gotten such confidence and pride in learning the skill of preparing seal and making garments,” said Peter.
Davidee-Aningmiuq coordinates sealskin-working programs at the Tukisigiarvik Society’s drop-in counselling centre, where people of all ages can learn all techniques involved in making sealskin clothing from Iqaluit-based instructors.
“The kamiik-making is very much in demand,” she said, referring to sealskin boots.
Her programs also teach sealskin preparation and techniques for making mitts and sealskin pants.
“The participants of the programs really do appreciate gaining the skills, from softening (the hides) to the finished product,” Davidee-Aningmiuq said.
The two honours marked a first for the seal celebration, and were meant to further highlight seal hunting’s importance in Nunavut, Peter said.
She hopes Arctic peoples of neighbouring countries will adopt the event to highlight its importance in response to the European Union’s ban on seal products.
The celebration “is to counter that negativity, because the animal is part of our traditions,” said Peter.
“We shouldn’t be talking about it in a bad way, and we shouldn’t be fighting about the animals. In fact we need to show our gratitude and how blessed we are to have the seal. And this continues our tradition of gratitude.”