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Ulu-making class teaches men traditional skills

Cutting to perfection under an Elder’s eye
Elder Jack Kabvitok shows Warren Paniyuk how to complete his Ulu. Stewart Burnett/NNSL photo

Paul Pissuk used to make ulus as a child and sell them to the craft store in Rankin Inlet for $5 a pop.

“I would be happy and just give it to my mom,” he said.

Each ulu would take him about four days to make at the time. Today, he can make a small ulu in two hours.

He was working with Elder Jack Kabvitok to teach men how to make ulus in Rankin Inlet, a program spearheaded by Christina Best, community mental wellness coordinator.

“I like helping young people,” said Pissuk, adding that it’s a great activity for those stuck at home due to Covid or other circumstances. “They learn fast too.”

Three age groups had the opportunity to take part in the classes, which saw more applications than there was room for.

The workshops that began Feb. 16 was the first time Best got a men’s program off the ground in the hamlet.

“It won’t be the last now,” she said about the good reception it’s had.

She emphasized how important it was for men to be able to gather with other men, learn traditional skills and bond with Elders and other community members.

“They say a happy wife is a happy life,” said Best. “I think the same applies – a happy man is a healthy life. It goes both ways.”

Men get left out a lot in programming, she added, saying that she held the ulu-making classes in the evening to accommodate people who work during the day.

“This is a time for them to get to know each other, to work with each other and learn from each other,” said Best.

And the expert they got to learn from was Elder Jack Kabvitok. Speaking through interpretation, he told Kivalliq News that he loves teaching and working with young people.

When he was younger, working with adults was easy, but now it can be hard to find people to pass on these skills, added Kabvitok.

Best thanked those who helped make the classes possible, especially the Department of Economic Development and Transportation, EPLS, Arctic Connection and her employer for allowing her to host it at the old arena.

“None of this is possible unless you have people and other organizations pull together to make things happen in the North,” said Best, adding a big thank-you to Kabvitok, Pissuk and community members for showing interest in learning.

At the end of the program, a local Elder will be gifted with one of the ulus made.

Paul Arualak works on his skills during the ulu-making workshop. Stewart Burnett/NNSL photo
Warren Paniyuk concentrates as he works on his ulu. Stewart Burnett/NNSL photo
Ulu-making is a craft that requires stable hands and attention to detail. Stewart Burnett/NNSL photo