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Throat singing in the park

Nunavut Parks summer events teach culture
Margaret Sharp laughs while encouraging participants to come up and try throat singing, admitting even she was a bit nervous. Stewart Burnett/NNSL photo

Margaret Sharp has been throat singing for 20 years, ever since her friend Linda Kopak taught her.

“My ancestors used to throat sing and I want to keep that up for me and my kids and my granddaughter,” said Sharp.

She was, in turn, passing it on to first-timers at a Nunavut Parks and Special Places event at the Elders Cabin Pavilion in Rankin Inlet on Wednesday, July 20.

Sharp was teaching the Rankin Inlet style, using animal and river sounds. She noted that styles can differ in other locations.

“There’s Baker Lake style, where they throat sing with a song, like they actually use Inuktitut words,” she said.

Eleven people came to the first event, asking Sharp questions about throat singing and shyly giving it a go themselves with encouragement from their peers.

The event was the first of a series of ‘learn-to’ workshops the Nunavut Parks team is offering this summer in Rankin Inlet.

“Participants were full of questions and we all really enjoyed hearing Margaret sing the various songs and learning about their meaning,” said Emilia Fredlund, regional coordinator for Parks, Heritage Appreciation in the Kitikmeot and Kivalliq. “It was such a fun afternoon in the park and a really positive start to the ‘learn-tos.’”

The free weekly workshops are set to continue throughout the summer, providing a way for people to connect with nature, Inuit culture and heritage as they learn new knowledge and skills.

“It also builds a sense of pride and connection to the culture and history of the land,” explained Fredlund.

The program started in Iqaluit in 2014 and Rankin Inlet in 2018, followed by other communities, including Kimmirut and Kugluktuk.

“Each year we aim to provide some different events based on feedback from the community,” said Fredlund. “We try to make the experience culturally authentic and relevant so people can connect and enjoy the experience. Some sessions this year include learn how to make and use a kakivak, learn to carve soapstone, learn to make beaded earrings, learn to make a harpoon, learn to make a sealskin rope and how to light a qulliq (traditional oil lamp).”

A full schedule of events can be found on the Government of Nunavut’s website.

Sharp’s tip for those wanting to learn throat singing: just act like no one’s around or watching you.

“Just keep throat singing,” she said. “If you learn how to throat sing, keep up the Inuit culture.”

A throat singing staple: Jacquie Gahimbare breaks out in laughter at the end of her first song attempt. Stewart Burnett/NNSL photo
Margaret Sharp leads participants in a throat singing workshop at the Elders Cabin Pavilion just outside of Rankin Inlet on Wednesday, July 20. Stewart Burnett/NNSL photo