Kuujjuaq’s Janice Parsons is fighting for the next generation

Youth council president focused on improving curriculum, performing traditional songs

Janice Parsons and her partner, Sandy Emudluk, wear the traditional clothes they use during performances. (Photo by Isabelle Dubois)

By Cedric Gallant - Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

For Janice Parsons, president of Qarjuit Youth Council, everything started at home.

“The sewing, the throat singing, everything was encouraged by my parents,” she said last week in her office in old town Kuujjuaq.

“They taught me the importance of being a good person.”

Now Parsons is perpetuating the kindness she was taught and sharing her cultural knowledge with the next generation by advocating for better school curriculums in international forums and touring across the North as a traditional performer.

Through the Qarjuit Youth Council, she is raising awareness about the lack of activities available to youth and how the school curriculum is inadequate for preparing students for post-secondary education.

“The generation before me was really focused on creating activities for youth,” she said.

Inuit Child First, Indigenous Services Canada

In Kuujjuaq, the youth centre used to host a variety of activities like dancing, cooking, boxing and ballet. Now, it’s closed.

“Today, there is really nothing but a little sport here and there for the youth,” Parsons said.

Her work recently brought her to Ilulissat, Greenland, for the 2023 Inuit Circumpolar Council delegates’ meeting. There, she realized Nunavik is facing a unique educational problem.

“We were given a seat at the youth roundtable discussion,” said the 31-year-old.

“Everyone was talking about their struggles in their regions, and I noticed that nobody was mentioning anything about school or school curriculums.”

Parsons said improving school curriculums is one of the biggest things she’s fighting for.

Invitation to submit an expression of interest as to the availability of space for lease in Iqaluit, Nunavut

She believes Nunavik youth need to be taught how to make presentations and write essays, and they need to be given more homework.

“You have no choice but to know these skills when you go to college and university,” she said.

“A lot of times, the youth come back from post-secondary education because they are too shocked by how it works. It is nothing like what we were taught here.”

She said that at the ICC meeting, nobody seemed to understand her at first.

“But I explained it well enough for them to be like, ‘Oh, you’re struggling with that?’”

Outside of her full-time job, Parsons works to keep Inuit culture alive in younger generations by performing with her partner in love and in music, Sandy Emudluk.

Parsons and Emudluk perform across Nunavik and Nunavut, including in Pangnirtung in 2019 at Pang Fest.

“Everyone there was not sure of who we were,” she said. “They were debating inviting us at all.”

Fortunately, her aunt who lives there convinced the community.

“We went on stage,” Parsons said, “and everybody was unsure. You could feel it.”

But as soon as she and Emudluk started performing, she said, the crowd went silent. Children and elders alike were mesmerized by the performance. She recalls seeing in the elders’ eyes the memories of the songs coming back to them.

Janice Parsons and Sandy Emudluk lead a practice last week for the youth group that will be performing at Aqpik Jam, dancing to a traditional song. (Photo by Cedric Gallant)

One elder shared with her that in Pangnirtung, the songs they were singing had been lost to time. But the performance itself brought back memories.

Parsons said she could hear the kids and the elders singing the melodies of the traditional songs she had performed as they left after the show.

“It was so beautiful,” she said.

“It made us really proud of what we do, and it made us love it even more.”

The couple’s main project now is to train a youth group to perform in this year’s Aqpik Jam Festival.

Parsons still remembers her first time performing with the youth group, when she was seven years old at Aqpik Jam in 1999.

“I was a really shy person, and my mom kind of pushed me to do it,” she said. “We were like 30 on stage, and we performed throat singing songs that have been sung for thousands of years.”

The performance resonated with her, she said, and brought her closer to her identity and her ancestors.

Now, Parsons and Emudluk have the opportunity to instill that passion into the next generation.

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