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Nunavut film crew aims to record every Nunavut elder

Producer hopes project will give youth life survival skills



A team of Nunavut film producers are embarking on an ambitious mission to put the legends and stories of every elder in the territory on video.

A camera crew has already recorded the advice and stories of all the elders in Pond Inlet for archives being assembled by Inuit Communications System Ltd., the commercial branch of the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation. The group travelled to Pangnirtung this week, and plans to cover four more communities in the next year.

Jolene Arreak, a 26-year-old film producer who played a key part in making the elders video project into a reality, says it will forge a bond between youth and elders that she fears is rapidly disappearing, along with the Inuktitut language and traditional Inuit culture.

“They’re being lost in the modern world,” Arreak said. “[Elders] are worried about the future of youth and where they’re going, and they want to make sure they [youth] have at least something to fall back on.”

Arreak said she hopes the videos will give young Inuit the life skills that she inherited from grandparents, who raised her and 14 other children in Pond Inlet. She suggested that without their guidance, she would have lacked the skills needed for university in the South, a daunting step for a youth who had never left her community before.

“What I learned from my grandparents helped me survive wherever I go,” Arreak said. “I’m trying to pass down to youth what’s been passed to me by my grandparents, because it’s been useful for me.”

Arreak recently met with her bosses at ICSL about recording elders’ stories and teachings on video, after she attended an Aboriginal conference in the South. Arreak said she was inspired after hearing that other communities were also struggling with protecting their language and preserving elders’ traditional knowledge.

But the project didn’t come without sacrifice. For now, film crews have to volunteer their time to make the elders’ recordings while they’re in the communities working on other documentaries.

Charlotte de Wolf, production office manager at ICSL, said her company doesn’t have extra funding for the elders’ archives project, and instead puts time aside while they’re in communities doing a separate elders documentary series for the Aboriginal Peoples’ Television Network.

Through $90,000 in funding from the Nunavut Film Board, ICSL is assembling a documentary series on Inuit culture as told by elders. The first of the six films will focus on Arreak’s relationship with her grandfather, and about her return to Pond Inlet after her grandmother’s death.

Other films in the series will touch on subjects like Inuit mysticism and balancing traditional and modern knowledge in Nunavut today. Although the project will require further funding, de Wolf said she’s hopeful her crew will travel beyond the six communities chosen so far — Pond Inlet, Pangnirtung, Iqaluit, Clyde River, Baker Lake, and Taloyoak.

Once the documentary series and archiving are finished, elders will be consulted about where their stories are kept and who has access to them, said de Wolf.

“The elders’ stories are property of the elders,” she said, adding that the video storage could be anywhere from that National Archives in Ottawa, to a future facility somewhere in Nunavut.

Arreak’s grandfather, Joanasie Benjamin Arreak of Pond Inlet, said the elders archives project fits with why his generation dreamed of creating Nunavut.

“The reason we wanted Nunavut was to bring the culture back to future generations,” Arreak, 76, said in Inuktitut. “We want them to have the good life that we lived in the past. We’re trying to bring traditional Inuit knowledge to the youth for the main reason that we want them to know the difference between right and wrong. The youth today don’t seem to know that anymore.”

Most elders have already been chosen for the documentary part of the ICSL project, but organizers are still scouting for residents in the communities to coordinate the filming.

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