The Inuksuk High School drum dancing group is representing Nunavut as cultural delegates at the Arctic Winter Games 2023 in Wood Buffalo, Alta, this week.

The group was created in 2008 when music teacher Dr. Mary Piercey-Lewis, started working at the high school. Many drum dancing groups led by Dr. Piercey-Lewis have represented Nunavut at the AWG in the past, but it’s the first time the current high school drum dancing group is attending.

The high school teacher has been bringing performers to the games since 2002.

“The experience is very spectacular. Our group will perform at least five times throughout the week. We will do pop-up performances in community centres, like the mall or at an Elder centre. And at the end of the week, on Thursday and Friday night, we participate in a big gala concert at the Arctic Cultural Centre,” says Piercey-Lewis.

“What is special about the event,” explains the teacher, “is that cultural delegates teams from all across the circumpolar North, all bring something unique to the cultural delegation park.”

“They hire an artistic director who pulls in all these different types of music and dances together. We all work in workshops all week long to create these big collaborative pieces to perform at the gala concert. It’s very exciting to work and perform with people from other parts of the world who have a completely different way of expressing their music and their art. The creation becomes the final number at the end of the gala. I’m excited for our choir to meet the other teams,” Piercey-Lewis says.

The drum dancing group comprises six performers: Taiga Las, Ella Estey, Kristy Kanayuk, Mackenzie O’Dell, Aura Kwon and Mia Maurice.

“I’m most excited about all the performances that we will be doing and perfecting as a group, as well as the final performance. I’m also eager to meet all the people from Wood Buffalo and learn new things,” says Maurice.

“We have been preparing for this, I’m looking forward to showing everyone what we can do,” says O’Dell.

“At the gala, we’ll be collaborating with the other groups across the North which is very exciting, I can’t wait to show our culture and what we do,” says Estey.

“I’m excited to see all the other provinces, countries and nations perform in their sports and games and give their best,” says Kanayuk.

“I’m most excited about the closing ceremony when all the delegates from every region will be combined in one show,” says Las.

The group will present three main drum dancing/throat singing arrangements.

“The first big drum dancing choreography, “Immaqaali”, features the innovative choreography of Siobhan Arnatsiaq-Murphy. It’s a very beautiful piece where the group starts as an Inuksuk. We mix throat singing and drum dancing to present an elaborate story, it’s my favourite one to perform,” says Estey.

The second piece is composed of three different sections — a combination of songs creating something “spectacular and exciting,” says Piercey-Lewis.

“The three part harmony is named “Hanga/Katajjausiit Extravaganza/Mittimatilik.” The first section of this song, “Hanga,” was written by Pura Fe, Layla Locklear, and Charley Lowry from the Tuscarora-Iroquois family. The second section is a throat singing/drum dancing extravaganza where the choir members improvise enchanting throat singing rhythms and melodies while Kristy and Mackenzie embark on a drum dancing duel. The last section of the piece is a beautiful harmonious rendition of Susan Aglukark’s song “Pond Inlet-Mittimatilik.”

Their final presentation is called “Inngiqtuq”. This new drum dance song was written by Mark Sirett and members of the Inuksuk Drum Dancers back in 2015.

“It’s a very beautiful piece that involves slow and then fast drumming, and vocals that sound like echo,” explains Maurice.

During their pop-up performances around the community of Wood Buffalo, the group will try something new by presenting a variety of contemporary songs. With the addition of a guitar, the songs will be more “folk based” explains the teacher.

“We’ll be doing songs from Susan Aglukark, Paul K. Irksak, Charlie Adams, Twin Flames (Chelsey June and Jaaji Okpik), The Jerry Cans, and RIIT. There is also an original from the Inuksuk drum dancers group called “Courage”, encouraging athletes to do their best,” says Piercey-Lewis.

The group usually practices for months to be able to master the choreography and songs.

The Inuksuk drum dancers are known for their impressive performances and have participated in key events all over the country.

This year, the group has performed at the Anglican Church for the Queen Elizabeth memorial, opened for a ceremony at the Frobisher Inn, and at the Alianait festival they took part in the Inuksuk Christmas concert. They also performed at a vigil at Iqaluit’s museum on the subject of “Danger and violence against women”, in Ottawa for the “Truth and reconciliation” ceremony on September 30th, and in Toronto with Susan Aglukark.

“They even flew us from Toronto to Ottawa, where we performed in front of the prime minister,” says the teacher.

“During our performance for Truth and Reconciliation, we experienced a feeling of relief. As the kids got to carry cloths with the names of children who were missing from residential schools written on them. A lot of people cried and it was very nice to see everybody come together and honour the victims,” explains Maurice.

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