Inuk creates Inuit sharing boxes for school teachers, support workers
Boxes created by Muckpaloo Ipeelie now used by schools in Simcoe County in Ontario
Updated on Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2022 at 5 p.m.
Muckpaloo Ipeelie was born in Iqaluit, but grew up in Ottawa because her single mom chose to raise her there for personal reasons.
When she was three months old, she moved to Ottawa with her mother and older sister. Without them, as a teenager, Muckpaloo moved around southern Ontario with her younger sisters and step dad, first to Welland and then Collingwood, before she moved to Sudbury in northern Ontario on her own where she got her post-secondary education as a medical laboratory technologist.
Ipeelie always knew she was Inuk – and knew what it meant to be Inuk because of the Inuit specific resource centres in Ottawa and her mother’s teachings, but outside of Ottawa the cities she moved to, didn’t have Inuit specific resources and Ipeelie started becoming estranged to her culture.
Her mother was a residential school survivor who left her family in her childhood. At 14, she moved in with her stepfather, who was not Inuk, before reconciling with her family years later.
For Ipeelie, getting back with her mother and reconciling with her as a child would have been easier if she had had more Inuit-specific knowledge and culturally relevant resources, especially through school.
“The residential school system hurt [my mother’s] spirit like it hurt so many other people’s spirits,” she said.
“And that was really hard for me — I had to work through all of my feelings of resentment, bitterness, anger. If I was given cultural resources and understanding about what happened in residential schools, I think I would have given forgiveness much sooner.”
Knowing what it was like to not have those resources is why Ipeelie has created what she calls “Inuit sharing boxes.”
She sells them to schools across Simcoe County, the Ontario region where she now lives, in hopes the boxes will be used to introduce young, school-age urban Inuit to their culture and traditions, and to the resources available to them.
“I thought it was really important for students to know that we have support for Inuit high schoolers and elementary school kids,” she said.
Each Inuit sharing box created by Ipeelie includes a bannock recipe, Inuit tea from Quebec-based Northern Delights, a document that shares information about Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit values and resources for accessing post-secondary funding and non-insured health benefits that young Inuit can access.
She has also created an Inuk box for personal use that includes postcards for Inuit to write to elders or family living in Inuit Nunangat, Arctic cotton grass for the qulliq and a custom journal.
As well as being a resource for urban Inuit students, Ipeelie said she hopes each box is also tool for teachers and support workers who may not know what funding and support is available specifically for Inuit.
“When I was a student at Cambrian College, they understood how to help Indigenous students who were First Nations with funding and things, but they didn’t understand how to help Indigenous Inuit students with their funding,” she said.
“They just didn’t understand, and it was really hard communicating with them about it.
“I just felt people who are helping you need to know who you are and also need to know that you have your own sources of funding. Sharing that was important to me.”
With more than 25 boxes now being used by schools across the county, Ipeelie said she hopes they help young Inuit living in urban environments.
Ipeelie is currently selling three types of boxes through her website Urban Inuit Identity Project. Those interested can purchase an Inuit sharing box for schools, an Inuk box for personal use or one for friendship centres and social service organizations.
The boxes can be tailored to the needs of the organization and the Inuk client.
“Everything that I do is based on my personal experience and the Inuk lens that I walk around with,” she said.
“I just try and fill these gaps wherever I see them.”
Correction: This article has been updated from an earlier version to correct some biographical details about the subject.