For all the advantages of having a multi-cultural society, tensions remain regarding the emphasis and weight one culture has over another.
Isabelle Chapadeau, a TikTok Indigenous accelerator is an example of how combined heritage can splinter an identity, if an effort is not made to preserve and reclaim the minority language and culture.
Living in Pangnirtung with her husband and son, the family made a conscious choice to move so their child would grow up surrounded by Inuit society. Chapadeau knows first hand what it’s like to have to reclaim your culture, as she spent her childhood with her French-Canadian father and his family in Quebec after her Inuit mother’s death when she was two years old.
In what she calls a “privileged” upbringing, Chapadeau felt sheltered from the realities of isolation and racism Inuit face when she lived in northeastern Quebec.
“I think we maybe talked about [the Inuit] once in school,” she recalls. “My father never talked about it, and I never faced any challenges [about my heritage]… when I was younger I had no clue. I never owned being Inuit or spoke Inuktitut. I was hiding my Inuit [side].”
She describes herself as “always wanting to communicate” and being “loud in class” with her heart close to social justice causes. As her Inuit heritage became more physically pronounced as she grew up, she began to communicate more with her mother’s relatives in Nunavut, and decided to first move to the territory when she was 19. It was then, says Chapadeau, that she began to encounter subtle discrimination.
Facing “a change in attitude”
Specifically, Chapadeau cites “not being believed” in the healthcare or insurance system on things like her own pregnancy.
“They don’t trust my word,” she said. “I feel we always need to [advocate] for ourselves more than others, especially in work situations. If you look more English, you feel more welcome. You don’t have judgement.”
She describes this judgement as not an overt challenge, but more an “attitude change,” particularly pronounced in the workplace. Chapadeau found she was questioning herself in these situations, and advocates for more support among Indigenous peoples, which she gained by travelling and meeting other Indigenous creators from different communities.
Some of these experiences can be viewed on her TikTok page, but she felt more respect and understanding from other Indigenous peoples. Chapadeau was inspired and empowered through these travels and experiences to continue to create and communicate through TikTok, as well as jewelry-making and sewing, all of which she cites as precious learning experiences.
“Inuit tend to stay together, because travel is so difficult and expensive. I would recommend, if you can, having conversations with different nations that have similarities, but are different.” For example, she has attended pow-wows, where she felt “connected on so many things.”
“Take a moment everyday to just relax and be thankful,” she advises.
After a few years of living and working in the south, Chapadeau describes “feeling uncomfortable and detached.” So she moved her family to Pangnirtung, where she is currently taking a break from social media and her platform to work at the local school and have another child.
Art and empowerment
“You need to make more of an effort sometimes,” she said. “It helped me to have many chats [with other Inuit people]… you feel empowered, when you are surrounded by Elders and youth who want to learn.
“When I started [doing] TikTok, it came from loneliness and loss… It was the beginning, I had no clue [about my culture]. I didn’t see [many] Inuit on TikTok or any media platform. And I thought, ‘My culture is so beautiful.’”
Chapadeau also feels the platform gave her more freedom from judgement, and the ability to discuss tough issues like mental health, sometimes using the medium to explain her outlook to others as well as herself. “I feel I have so much more to learn… I see the effects of residential school [on others], but I have a lot to learn [myself].”
Working in an Inuit school where students speak Inuktitut, as well as a small community “where everybody helps each other” has certainly helped Chapadeau with her understanding of her own identity.
“I see a lot [travelling] by Ski-Doo. I have access to country food through my partner’s grandparents who go hunting everyday. It’s about community and the family vibe, a more traditional way [of life]. I felt stuck in a [southern] city. It’s [about] being on the land — it’s nicer, it’s close to nature.”
While Chapadeau takes some personal time for herself and her family, her TikTok channel, @isapadeau, is still active, and she plans to return to creating.
“I love what I do, so I’ll come back. Accelerator has really helped to serve the [Indigenous] experience… I know why I’m doing it now. I’m communicating with others and learning.”
For those struggling at the moment, she urges them to seek out events and community groups, and make the effort to attend, communicate and connect with others.
“There is community… everywhere. You’ll see everywhere you’re not alone. We all have our own issues… but I think it is on us to [seek others out] and believe in ourselves. Long-term it’s good. The beginning is rough, but the ending is good. Learn to communicate and involve yourself. I have been to places where it was challenging… but art really helped me to connect.”