Campaign to name Ottawa park after Inuit artist gains support

Nunavut premier among those calling for Annie Pootoogook Park

Detail from “Cape Dorset Freezer,” a 2005 drawing by artist Annie Pootoogook featured in the National Gallery of Canada’s exhibition of international Indigenous art called Sakahán. (File photo)

By Patricia Lightfoot

Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq and various Ottawa-based organizations that support Inuit have written in support of a campaign by Ottawa resident Stéphanie Plante to name a city park after the revered Inuit artist Annie Pootoogook.

Pootoogook, whose many honours included the prestigious Sobey Art Award for young Canadian artists, was a longtime resident of Ottawa before her untimely death in 2016.

Plante has approached the City of Ottawa to propose that the park next to the Sandy Hill Community Centre, between Somerset St. E and Templeton St., be named after Pootoogook.

Plante told Nunatsiaq News that she felt that attaching Pootoogook’s name to the park would commemorate both the artist’s legacy and her life in a city where the names for public places don’t recognize Indigenous cultures.

Plante said she is drawn to Pootoogook’s art.

“Her art really spoke to me. ‘I woke up this morning and I didn’t have enough toothpaste in the tube.’ Everything she drew you could relate to. It was colourful. It was vibrant. And I think that’s why she was so popular.”

“She was kind of a superstar.”

Plante said she wouldn’t have started any of this without the blessing of Pootoogook’s family.

She approached both Pootoogook’s brother Cee in Kinngait and Veldon Coburn, who is  the adoptive father of Pootoogook’s seven-year-old daughter Napachie, who both encouraged her to pursue the commemoration project.

Plante also reached out for letters of support from community members that she will present as part of her formal application to the city. She shared with Nunatsiaq News a folder of letters from individuals and organizations, including the Nunavut premier; the Ottawa Aboriginal Coalition, which includes Tungasuvvingat Inuit and the Inuuqatigiit Centre for Inuit Children, Youth and Families; and Nunavut Sivuniksavut.

Savikataaq wrote, “Ms. Pootoogook was an incredible Inuit artist from Cape Dorset, and her art is world-renowned. Her death in 2016 left a great void in Nunavut’s art community…. Having a park named after this prominent Inuit woman is a great tribute and step towards reconciliation, as well as an important connection for Inuit in the area.”

Speaking of the support she’s received, Plante said, “Literally, there’s no one who thinks this is a bad idea.”

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(3) Comments:

  1. Posted by Colin on

    I regard this initiative as a typically insensitive gesture of cultural grandstanding. Like many Inuit in trouble, Annie needed support systems that were hopelessly inadequate insofar as they existed. It would be an entirely different matter to provide massive funding in her memory for addictions rehab, remedial education, job placement services and the other supports that Indigenous people in Ottawa need, and don’t get in sufficient quantity or quality.

    The Wabano Centre for Indigenous Health employs just one full-time mentor for all the 60,000 Indigenous people in Ottawa, some 5,000 of them Inuit. He sometimes conducts a course comprising a half-day class once a week for people needing guidance.

    I took an able-bodied Ojibwa woman who needed help to the Ottawa YM/YWCA, which provides full-fledged one-on-one mentoring services of all kinds like what Annie needed early on. As we were filling in the application form, a Black man came and asked about my friend’s background. In effect, he said, “Go away. We’re only here to serve immigrants.” Unsurprisingly, my friend, already fragile, got up and left in disgust.

    • Posted by Stephanie Plante on

      HI Colin. Thanks for your message. I didn’t know Annie, but from what everyone tells me towards the end of her life she was refusing all help and deep into her demons. The point of re-naming the park in her honour is acknoweldge and commorate the complexities of women’s lives and the dualities we are often faced with as well as give the Inuk kids who live in this area of town a space specifically for them. I am happy to answer any questions you have (although I am not an expert on either Inuit art or municipal bylaws!) but calling this an ‘insensitive gesture of cultural grandstanding’ is simply not true and purposely hurtful to everyone who has put a lot of effort into this, especially during the pandemic. I hope you can come visit the park when we finally get our wish. Thanks.

  2. Posted by Raven on

    Also, Ottawa memorializes mainly depressing events in history. Yes let’s never forget.

    Perhaps asking the Algonquin what the name of that area is would be a more suitable start to memorialize an indigenous person.

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