Collecting culture in Cambridge Bay

Work is underway on new cultural centre.



CAMBRIDGE BAY — In this Kitikmeot community, where some residents worry that Inuit culture is fading, a place is being built to display Inuit artifacts, old photos and recordings of the Inuinnaqtun language.

The cultural centre, to be built as part of the new school in Cambridge Bay, will be the first of its kind in Nunavut.

With eight months to go before the centre opens, excitement is building in Cambridge Bay. Posted on bulletin boards in many of the local stores and businesses are posters announcing the new centre, accompanied by sketches of the building’s layout.

Kim Crockatt, president of the Kitikmeot Heritage Society, is anxiously awaiting the centre’s completion. She’s been working on the cultural centre since the idea was first developed.

In the mid-1990s, as the public librarian in Cambridge Bay, Crockatt and other community members wanted to get more residents to come to the library.

They started collecting oral histories and documenting Inuit stories on videotape, hoping to attract people with the prospect of learning more about their culture.

Some of those efforts were destroyed in 1998 when the high school, where many of the items were stored, burned to the ground.

But the heritage society’s dream will become a reality in February. That’s when construction of the new school is slated to be complete.

In her small office in Cambridge Bay, Crockatt talks about the progress that’s been made.

“This will provide the elders with a way to make sure everyone hears their stories.”

— Kim Crockatt, Kitikmeot Heritage Society

She says the Kitikmeot Heritage Society has now found funding for every major exhibit planned for the cultural centre. All the display cases for the artifacts have been built.

The society, which works on cultural and historical projects in the Kitikmeot, has been on a full-force fund-raising campaign for two years.

Crockatt says the group has written a lot of proposals, making pitches to Nunavut businesses and federal arts programs for money.

Besides getting the exhibits sponsored, the society has also secured $28,000 for a diorama, a three-dimensional display.

Displays of culture, language

The cultural centre will house Inuit artifacts, copies of church records and other archival documents, videos and cassette tapes of elders speaking Inuinnaqtun and telling stories of the past, as well as old photographs.

Crockatt says the heritage society is looking to the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Center, a museum which houses many Inuit artifacts, to get some archived photos.

“We’re going to start with Cambridge Bay, but we’re compiling a list of photographs from other communities,” Crockatt says.

The centre will also have a large me anine with a northern book collection, a research area, an archival work-station and an art gallery with 120 feet of wall space.

A special area will contain recordings in Inuinnaqtun, which is rarely heard among the younger Inuit population.

Crockatt says the recordings are very meaningful to the elders.

“Some of them spend a lot of time trying to pass on the oral traditions. This will provide the elders with a way to make sure everyone hears their stories,” she says.

For Crockatt, the excitement is in preserving the area’s culture and its past.

“I have a real interest in history,” she says.

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