Up until this summer Cynthia Tunguak had never worked with seal skin. Being from Baker Lake, Nunavut’s only inland community, Tunguak said the marine mammal isn’t traditionally used as a material for making clothing. That changed after she attended the Somebody’s Daughter program in Rankin Inlet this summer.
“It was a good learning experience,” Tunguak said.
Somebody’s Daughter was developed by Rankin Inlet’s Bernadette Dean when she was the social development coordinator for the Kivalliq Inuit Association in 2003.
The idea behind the program is to empower women who may have experienced intergenerational trauma as a result of residential schools.
Dean, who returned to help with the program as an instructor this year, said the goal is to mix traditional skills with more modern forms of healing like journaling and group discussions.
“The Elders at the time wanted to teach traditional skills and we incorporated the literacy and writing as healing components,” she said. “With the exercises we use we ask them to focus on their early memories, the good and the bad ones. When you’re honest with yourself they’re very effective in helping you heal.”
Tunguak said the experience of working on the kamik and getting to talk with the other women was beneficial for her.
“There’s been lots of healing and lots of laughs,” she said. “We talked about what we’ve been through, how we grew up and what we’re planning for the future.”
The women came from every community in the Kivalliq and were as young as 19 all the way up to 63-years-old.
This year’s program was held in two phases. During the first phase, which ran from July 13-22 women from the region travelled to Rankin Inlet where they learned how to prepare seal skin.
“I’m a total inlander so I didn’t like the smell but it was a good learning experience,” said Tunguak.
During the second phase which ran from August 13 to 22 the women worked on making the kamik. Although it didn’t smell as bad, Tunguak said that sewing the bottoms of the kamik was the hardest part of the workshop.
“When I first started I almost cried. I had to keep taking it apart,” she said.
Dean said the between working on the kamik and sharing stories, the program can get pretty intense. However, by working through the process together the women end up building a support network.
“It can be very emotional but it’s very rewarding when you’re in touch with your culture,” she said.