'It's so grass roots.'

Nunavut training program wins museum award


A made-in-Nunavut training program designed by the Inuit Heritage Trust is the winner of a national award from the Canadian Museum Association.

"We were recognized by the CMA for this project because it's so grassroots and it deals with community capacity building," said Ericka Chemko, project manager with the Inuit Heritage Trust.

The program was designed to train people who work in Nunavut's museums, heritage centres, and visitor centres.

Topics included the basics, from how to design exhibits and care for fragile artifacts to managing heritage sites and training seasonal employees.

"This course isn't meant so that someone comes out at the end and knows everything," Chemko said. "But they have this great tool kit to pull things out."

The program took place last year in both Iqaluit and Ottawa, which is home to both numerous museums and a large selection of Inuit art in the National Gallery of Canada.

Some of the 21 participants even had what Chemko called "family reunions" when they found artwork made by their grandparents in the National Gallery.

"These museums have taken really good care of the objects and they're really thankful for that… but [they began] thinking that this stuff needs to be back in the communities."

Nunavut's heritage sector still faces a shortage of space to store and display heritage items and trained people to take care of them, Chemko said.

She added that many hamlets oversee their local heritage centres and may not always know what to look for when ­hiring.

While many communities have heritage or visitor centres displaying local collections, Nunavut still has no territorial heritage centre and many items remain in collections in ­Yellowknife, Ottawa or elsewhere.

Uriash Puqiqnak, a soapstone carver from Gjoa Haven, who's also the community's former mayor and MLA, and who took part in the training program, said his community has been trying for years to get a heritage centre to house a collection of artifacts now kept in the hamlet office and elders ­centre.

"We're still waiting for capital money so we could put all this [the artifacts] together," Puqiqnak said. "It was made by our ancestors and we've got lots of stories."

Among the items are old cups and rifles from the Hudson Bay Company, photographs by explorer Knud Rasmussen, and a piece of the Gjoa, the first ship to transit the Northwest Passage, and from which the hamlet draws its English name.

Puqiqnak said the program showed him how to take care of such objects. He hopes that Gjoa Haven can send another person to be trained and help the hamlet take care of its collection in one place.

Chemko plans another run of the program this fall or next spring, although that depends on securing stable funding.

She also wants to develop a "train the trainer" component because the southern heritage consultants who helped design the program "know they need to write themselves out of it."

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