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A window into the minds of Inuit women

Every woman experiences life through her unique lens. To various degrees, psychological, cultural and social factors ultimately influence her thoughts and behaviours. What is like to be an Inuk woman? Nunavut News reached out to three Inuit women to get a glimpse into their worlds.

Jacqui Iqilan

“I know that I have the mental strength to heal for the generations before me,” says Jacqui Iqilan. photo courtesy of Jacqui Iqilan

For Jacqui Iqilan being an Inuk woman means being adaptive, resilient and having a "great sense of humor." She believes it is embedded within Inuit women to overcome challenges and hardships with lightheartedness.

Psychologically however, Iqilan admits she feels the weight of generational trauma. She explained how her grandmother, who endured hardships, was unable to heal due to a lack of mental health services.

"This means that I am the first to face the depths of not only healing myself, but healing my mother and grandmother within me as I go through it, too," said Iqilan.

"It's a really heavy feeling, psychologically," she said, adding it was in her mid-20's when she finally understood that her mental health was inherited.

"Often times, throughout the majority of my life, I've felt the weight of it but thought it was all my fault and only my problem," explained Iqilan.

As an Inuk woman, she feels she should be knowledgeable about how to harvest off the land.

"I am already expected to know how to hunt, prepare, cook and sew," said the 28-year-old, adding "not having access to this knowledge as I was growing up has put me into an uncomfortable position of shame, embarrassment and guilt."

Besides the pressure of carrying deep traditional knowledge and skills, there is an expectation to advance successfully within the Western world, she said, referring to money, education and career status.

"There's a lot of pressure to be the best in two worlds today and an unbelievably high expectation to gracefully walk through both of them."

She also believes there is a different standard in place between men and women in the Inuit culture. Iqilan specifically addressed the issue of violence against women.

"It's almost like women are treated with the full responsibility to heal a community," she said. She feels men need to take action to heal themselves.

Mary-Lee Aliyak

Mary-Lee Aliyak feels “really” proud to be an Inuk woman. photo courtesy of Mary-Lee Aliyak

Mary-Lee Aliyak feels one of her roles as an Inuk woman is to bring back Inuit knowledge and inspire others to do the same.

"So many things haven't been passed on, in the last 40 years, especially what's expected of an Inuk woman," she said.

She wants to bring back the beauty and uniqueness that comes with being an Inuk woman. Aliyak believes Inuit women are supposed to be strong, resilient and adaptable.

They should be able to provide a home for their family, feed and clothe their children.

She practices these values in her own life by providing a stable home and remaining strong-minded for her three children. She also spends a lot of time sewing Inuit clothing.

As an Inuk woman, she feels men and women are equal despite their role differences. Within the Inuit culture she feel respected as a woman and connected to her community. When not working her full-time job or caring for her family, she is participating in a plethora of community events.

Being able to embrace and accept who she is an Inuk woman has allowed her to be confident.

"I am very happy and proud to be an Inuk," said Aliyak.

Cathy Towtongie

For MLA Cathy Towtongie, her family has instilled in her the importance of respect and kindness. photo courtesy of Cathy Towtongie

Rankin Inlet North-Chesterfield Inlet MLA Cathy Towtongie, 60, grew up learning the importance of sewing. It is a skill she has felt she tightly honed over the years.

"I am fairly confident with my sewing," she said.

She can sew an array of clothing (jackets, windpants, mitts) from both caribou and seal skins.

"I have tried to the best of my ability to keep that (sewing) tradition," she said.

As an Inuk woman, she was also taught how to dry, slice and store caribou meat properly for winter. Using caribou bones to make a special delicacy (paqquti) was yet another skill passed down to her. For Towtongie, being an Inuk woman means to have a "clean soul" (tanniq). "By clean, I mean, I do not drink (alcohol) nor do I swear," she explained. As a young girl, the idea of keeping a tidy and clean house was also instilled in her.

"My grandmother told me, 'always when you are leaving your home, clean it, leave it clean. When you come back tired, you will come home to a clean home'", said Towtongie.

Psychologically, Towtongie finds comfort on the land due to her "intimate connection" with nature.

"I go out on the land to find solitude," she said. Nature grounds her and allows her to find balance within her life.