MLAs urge action on stalled Nunavut Heritage Centre

“Re-open a dialogue with organizations to explore other avenues”


Although many Greenlandic artifacts remain in Denmark, Greenland has had its own national museum since the 1970s,  which located in the heart of Nuuk's old town. (FILE PHOTO)

Although many Greenlandic artifacts remain in Denmark, Greenland has had its own national museum since the 1970s, which located in the heart of Nuuk’s old town. (FILE PHOTO)

The push to build a Nunavut Heritage Centre in Iqaluit to house archaeological artifacts housed elsewhere in Canada has stalled, Nunavut MLAs heard Nov. 1.

“We don’t have any plans in place for that heritage centre during the life of this assembly,” said James Arreak, the culture and language minister, Nov. 1 during discussions in the Nunavut legislature’s committee of the whole.

The only way a heritage centre will be built in Nunavut is to have full support of the members and money from the Government of Nunavut and the Inuit organizations.

Article 33 of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement states “there is an urgent need to establish facilities in the Nunavut Settlement Area for the conservation and management of a representative portion of the archaeological record.”

“If we have close relationships and support of the federal government, we can start developing the plan,” Arreak told MLAs, who once again said they were disappointed that the $7 million which had been allotted for a culture and heritage in Iqaluit is no longer in the capital budget.

Aariak said that while the GN expects the heritage centre to be built, it’s not in the capital estimates, reminding them that “the House agreed to delete that amount of money that was going to be used for the heritage centre for the planning and design,” Arreak said.

The proposal for the 6,700-square-metre heritage centre, which would have a pricetag of about $120 million, called for exhibit and archive spaces, studios and an auditorium.

With no place to store artifacts, the MLAs noted Nov. 1 that the GN pays about $1 million a year to store its 150,000 cultural and historical artifacts in Yellowknife and Ottawa.

They suggested that many communities maintain small museums and, with support, possibly incorporate various repatriated items into their collections.

The longer these artifacts are stored elsewhere and out of the territory, where they’re made available for study and research by scholars and institutes, the greater the risk is to permanently lose them, they suggested.

Projects such the proposed performing arts centre, new educational institutions, or other government buildings could also be able to incorporate a heritage component in their design, said MLA Ron Elliott, chairman of the standing committee.

“The standing committee encourages the minister and his officials to re-open a dialogue with organizations, such as Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. and the Inuit Heritage Trust, to explore other avenues by which to conserve, protect, and promote Nunavut’s unique cultural history,” Elliott said.

That history is being lost, said John Ningak, MLA for Akulliq, who told how his daughter once found an old grave site near Kugaaruk, with objects protruding out of the ground.

“We saw a small knife and an arrowhead, and a small toy qamutik. I told an elder that we saw a child’s old grave over there, and it’s an old site.”

“How do you know it’s an old grave site? [he asked]”

“Because I saw an old toy qamutik.“

“[But] it’s not a child’s gravesite. When the individual passed on, when he was getting sick and before he died, he knew he was going to die and was very sad about that and was a shaman. The little toy sled means when they go to a different land, they would use this toy sled to slide so that they can forgive the curse,” he said.

“That’s what it means; all the artifacts have their own stories to tell,” Ningark said. “I urge the minister to start planning for the future so that we can have a heritage centre that can actually house our own historical artifacts.”

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