Inuit take the lead in Inuit Studies conference

“Inuit are now leading our own research and are able to present our own findings”

This print by Ooloosie Saila, called Sunlit sky, is among the prints from the 2019 Cape Dorset Print Collection Preview, on display this Thursday at the Elca London Gallery during the Inuit Blanche arts and culture tour in downtown Montreal. (Photo courtesy of Inuit Blanche)

By Jane George

A look at what you will find during this week’s Inuit Studies Conference in Montreal reveals the striking evolution of this event from its start in 1976.

Presentations at the 34th edition of the conference, which gets underway on Thursday, now mainly feature Inuit, rather than southern researchers.

And they’re talking about issues important to Inuit, such as education, health, language, governance, housing, identity, art and urban life.

The all-Inuit list of keynote speakers includes political and cultural leaders: Lisa Koperqualuk, Alethea-Arnaquq Baril, Dalee Sambo Dorough, Ruth Kaviok, Natan Obed and Aaju Peter.

Since the first Inuit studies conference in Quebec City, this event has alternated between Arctic communities and cities in the south, meeting in Fairbanks, Alaska, in 1990, in Iqaluit in 1994, in Paris in 2006, and St. John’s in 2016.

A notable change has occurred since the 1996 Inuit Studies conference at Memorial University in St. John’s: it was fraught with tension as Inuit participants Peter Irniq and Martha Flaherty contested the right of non-Inuit researchers to talk about such subjects as shamanism or sled dogs and accused some of using Inuit traditional knowledge for their own ends.

Reflecting the change, this year’s conference is likely to end on Sunday with a new name for future gatherings.

Bernard Saladin d’Anglure, the president of the Association Inuksiutiit Katimajiit Inc., the group behind the conferences and Études/Inuit/Studies journal, wrote in 2017 that, in keeping with the processes of reconciliation now taking place in Canada, it seemed important to overhaul the way the journal and conference have been managed.

“The word ‘studies’ has negative connotations for many Inuit as it harkens back to the days when Inuit were put on display or studied as curiosities,” Nunatsiavut researcher Heather Campbell said in the conference schedule, referring to Saladin d’Anglure’s comments.

“This is especially true for Inuit from Nunatsiavut who were taken to Europe during the early contact period, or lured into participation in the 1918 World’s Fair for example.”

Campbell will lead a roundtable on Sunday that will explore possible name changes for the conference and the proposed Inuit Research Network and Inuit Quajimajatuqangit or IRNIQ.

Research on Inuit has increased with time so that in 2011, for every three Inuit, there was one publication or dissertation, Campbell said.

“A name change would better reflect the fact that Inuit are now leading our own research and are able to present our own findings. We are no longer just subjects of study,” Campbell said in the abstract on the roundtable.

Before that Sunday afternoon roundtable, there is much to see and do at the four-day conference, as outlined in the online schedule.

There are four separate venues at the conference, with two simultaneous events often taking place and several off-site events, as well as an arts and crafts fair, book fair, a Labrador slipper-making workshop, performances and two book launches.

Thursday includes “Pisulaurtaa! Let’s go for a walk!” from 10 a.m. to noon, when Christopher Fletcher and Annie Pisuktie will lead a walking tour of downtown Montreal, with stops and commentary about places of importance to Inuit in the city. The evening brings the Inuit Blanche gallery crawl, which takes place at arts institutions throughout the downtown to celebrate Inuit art and culture.

Among the nearly 160 sessions:

  • A half-day panel on urban Inuit realities, featuring themes such as identity, cultural loss and revitalization, representation and community organization, will feature Stephen Puskas, Jason LeBlanc, Joshua Stribbell, Nikita Larter, Maxine Angoo, Lisa Watt, Annie Pisutkie, Tina Pisuktie, Jenna Joyce Broomfield, Amanda Kilabuk, Nicole Parsons, Jessie Kangok and Janet Evvik.
  • Bringing it Back: the Reclamation of Inuit Digital Collections, Archives and Knowledge, will include presentations relating to digital projects such as Pitquhirnikkut Ilihautiniq’s Inuinnait parka project.
  • Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. President Aluki Kotierk and Louis Tapardjuk, a former Nunavut cabinet minister who is chair of Inuit Uqausinginnik Taiguusiliuqtiit, Nunavut’s language authority, will speak about Inuktut as a human right.
  • Louis-Jacques Dorais, a linguist well-known in Nunavik and Nunavut, will look behind the meaning of Inuktut words, such as angakkuq (shaman), tuurngaq (helper spirit), qaumaniq (shamanic knowledge) and qilaut (shaman’s drum.)
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(15) Comments:

  1. Posted by Karl Popper on

    It’s good that Inuit are becoming more involved in science and research; yet paradoxically the notion that an outsider should be scolded or prohibited for doing research on an Inuit related topic, like Shamanism, is a distinctly non-scientific approach to how science is done.

    • Posted by Category Mistake? on

      Or perhaps the problem comes from an automatic association between the words research and science. Judging by the presentations this at best appears to be “qualitative research,” which is more akin to literature or creative writing, being disposed to a focus on feelings and points of view and “what it’s like to be or experience”. Interesting in its own way, but not to be categorized as scientific research either.

      • Posted by James Hemsath on

        Qualitative research is real science. Based on Grounded Theory there are many techniques and approaches including interviews, nominal group techniques, action research that are all recognized in the academic community. This attitude that qualitative research isn’t real is the same thing as saying traditional or indigenous knowledge isn’t real which is at the core of this argument and the leading cause of lack of trust of western scientists.

        • Posted by Israel MacArthur on

          I’m so glad that you wrote this. I was waiting for someone to tackle the ‘qualitative isn’t research’ angle. Thank you.

          • Posted by Karl Popper on

            We are into hairsplitting here, Israel. So you need to be careful what you say and how you read it. No one said qualitative research isn’t research, only that it is not to be categorized as science. Granted, this too is controversial. In an of itself qualitative research has some use, but it tells us only a very little about a very small range of things, which is mostly the subjective experience of those creating their stories. Can it yield hypothesis or predictions? Only if paired with quantitative data, not in and of itself.

  2. Posted by Joe Silasiut on

    Kublunuk high school grads from Nunavut were barred from taking the NTEP program.

    • Posted by Regressive on

      Admissions by DNA testing alone. This is the future.

      • Posted by Israel MacArthur on

        Oooh, that will be interesting.

        Given the largish percentage of the influential population that is of recent mixed-ethnicity heritage it would be interesting to see what the standard would be. 80%? 50%? Will it be ‘marry out, lose all recognition’ like some of the First Nations tried and failed?

        Would Natan Obed still be able to keep his position? Would his children qualify for Inuit language education? Would the Premier be able to hold his position? How many MLAs would be disqualified?

        So many questions. Let me get my popcorn. /S

    • Posted by Israel MacArthur on

      Yes, actions like this are worrisome for the future. It was highlighted as risk when Canada created a territory focused primarily on one ethnic group.

      We can only hope that someone has the time and inclination to launch a human rights complaint, racism has no place in our territory.

    • Posted by Arnaujaq on

      I could not find Kublunuk High School from the Department of Education’s list of all schools in the Nunavut territory. Would you elaborate more please?

  3. Posted by Israel MacArthur on

    How incredibly dopey. Anyone, regardless of ethnicity or cultural background, can become expert in other fields. There are whole departments in universities worldwide devoted to Sino-Asian studies, Slavic studies, etc, etc staffed with very culturally diverse faculty.

    Inuit studies is no different.

    If we follow this line of thinking through we need to get rid of all Inuit clergy, cause Christianity isn’t culturally Inuit you know. We also need to stop Inuit studying guitar, piano, English literature, etc. Oh wait, that isn’t going to happen and shouldn’t happen.

    Inuit studies and language is no different, anyone who has an interest should be encouraged to become knowledgeable in the field.

  4. Posted by Karl Popper on

    Does qualitative research yield useful predictions and explanations of the world? Not without quantitative data. So, qualitative data might be useful, but on its own it basically offers anecdotes and stories.

    Saying “that qualitative research isn’t real is the same thing as saying traditional or indigenous knowledge isn’t real”. I’m not sure I agree that these are same, though questions about traditional knowledge are also interesting. Are you saying that all traditional knowledge is qualitative; which would be to say that it is subjective and based largely in personal or group narrative? Does traditional knowledge aspire to make predictions? About weather, about animal behaviour? Then it is quantitative as well. I’m not sure, but I suspect blanket statements about what constitute traditional knowledge needs qualification for this discussion to be meaningful.

  5. Posted by Behold the new fascists on

    “Peter Irniq and Martha Flaherty contested the right of non-Inuit researchers to talk about such subjects as shamanism.” – What right do you have to tell me or anyone that we can’t talk about it?

  6. Posted by Ms.T on

    Inuit Broadcasting Corporation will be there to do a presentation on Archives. The archives are the “unknown” gold mine of Inuit language being digitized. It’s time to get our own Inuit TV channel to save the language. TV is the most effective instrument to save and keep a language.

    • Posted by Israel MacArthur on

      Not anymore, 40-10 years ago for sure, but now the media space is so fractured and personalized.

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