Ottawa’s Inuit Olympics brings people together for traditional games, food
Vanier business association hosts annual event in area of Canada’s capital with significant Inuit population
Inuit traditions were in the spotlight at the annual Inuit Olympics event in Ottawa’s Vanier neighbourhood Saturday, where people took part in traditional games and to feast over palauga, or fried bread, and stew.
“I’m really proud to work at a place where we offer free food at all our events as food insecurity is a huge issue, especially in Vanier. We couldn’t get caribou stew in time like last year, but at least we have Tim Hortons stew!” said Kayla Spagnoli, an Indigenous event producer at Vanier Business Improvement Area, which sponsored the Inuit Olympics.
Joey Nakoolak, a carver and jewelry-maker gets his inspiration and material from his hometown in Coral Harbour. Nakoolak displayed his soapstone sculptures, walrus ivory necklaces of polar bears and igloos, and baleen earrings, made from the filter-feeding bristles inside the mouth of a bowhead whale.
The booth’s highlight was Nakoolak’s seven-year-old daughter Violet’s animal portraits of caribou and polar bears.
For Nakoolak, the opportunity to sell his art helps provide for his family after he developed scoliosis from working 12-hour warehouse shifts at a mining company in Nunavut.
“This is a hobby I’ve had since I was a 9-year-old, but also a source of income. We had to move to Ottawa from Iqaluit to get back on our feet…,” he said.
By hosting events in urban spaces like the Hub community centre, — the Vanier business association not only continues to preserve the cultural heritage of Ottawa’s Inuit, First Nations and Métis communities, it also provides an Indigenous support network for people like Nakoolak.
Rev. Colin McFarland and Rev. Aigah Attagutsiak, two priests at nearby St. Margaret’s Anglican Church who volunteered at the Olympics, joined in the fun by playing a rope-untying game. The first to untie a rope after rolling a ‘magic number’ on a dice wins.
“These dice games, I learned for the first time at Easter when the Inuit congregation at St. Margaret’s put on a feast, so I was happy when I was asked to volunteer at this games table,” McFarland said.
Other traditional games were hosted by an Inuk man who goes by the name Stranger and his son Damian Metcalfe who demonstrated one- and two-foot-high kicks which were traditionally used by Inuit to improve their agility when hunting. Metcalfe is also working on his Alaskan high kick, where he balances on one hand and extends his other leg to kick a hanging target.
Brie-Anne Shatraw works at the Métis Nation of Ontario and has previously volunteered at the Inuit Olympics.
“The purpose of the Inuit Olympics is to spread education of the culture because it’s not something that’s taught very much in our schools. It’s to give people hands-on experience with traditional food, music like throat singing, and games and to get insights so it’s not new when people experience it for the first time,” Shatraw said.