Kuujjuaq’s showcase in progress

Workers toil around the clock to finish conference centre in time for ICC gathering


KUUJJUAQ — In two months, Inuit from around the circumpolar world will discuss their concerns in Kuujjuaq’s new conference centre.

However, the 500-seat hall where the Inuit Circumpolar Conference will meet from Aug. 11 to Aug. 16 is still a dark, unfinished space.

It’s filled with the sound of welding and hammering, as round-the-clock construction crews scramble to meet their mid-July deadline.

Despite the construction-site atmosphere, a vision for the centre comes to life when Kuujjuaq Mayor Michael Gordon tours the facility with Rhoda Kokiapik, Avataq’s executive director, and Sylvie Côté Chew, the coordinator of Avataq’s documentation centre.

The visitors are keen on seeing the space where would like to mount an ambitious exhibition of photos, art and artifacts from Nunavik.

The walls of the huge entry area aren’t painted yet, but it’s here that Côté-Chew and Atagotaaluk want to introduce ICC delegates to Nunavik’s people, history and traditions, and highlight objects from Nunavik that have been stored in various museum collections — that is, if Avataq can find the money to mount their impressive display.

A series of photographic portraits of Kuujjuaq taken at different time periods would hang on the walls, the two explain to Gordon.

In one corner, ICC delegates would see a rare ujjuk-covered sea kayak on display.

Anthropologist Bernard Saladin d’Anglure collected the 20-foot kayak in Kangiqsujauq in 1960. Owned by Masiu Ningiuruvik, it is likely the last of its kind from the community.

Avataq also wants to put a cast or an original example of Kangiqsujuaq’s puzzling rock art on display. These ancient unique masks are carved into rock on Qajartalik Island, not far from the community.

In addition, organizers plan to showcase some of the objects collected 120 years ago by visiting American ethnographer Lucien Turner, which are now stored at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.

Avataq would arrange to send women from Kuujjuaq to U.S. capital to make a replica of the large “magic doll” Turner brought back with him. The replica would serve as a display for some of its original amulets.

The doll, with its three-fingered mitts, represents the shaman Sappa, whose talismen included a wooden figurine and a string of bullets to assist him in controlling animals and spirits.

An amauti from Inukjuak made in the 1930s, children’s clothing, and a goose-skin bag from Puvirnituq and traditionally dressed dolls from Kuujjuaraapik would also be on show in cases set up in the entrance.

At one end of the space are two floors of almost-finished offices for the municipality, which will be used as meeting rooms for ICC delegations during the conference.

On the other end is a cavernous hall that will soon be filled with seats for spectators and large conference tables for the ICC delegates.

Gordon is optimistic the $8-million centre will be finished on schedule, a couple of weeks before the first of the 700 visitors expected during the ICC meeting start to descend on the community.

The outside area around the hall will be cleaned of debris and the building covered with grey-blue siding.

“It’s going to look pretty good,” Gordon says.

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