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Heritage centre comes into focus with $10 million in pledges

Momentum is building for Inuit to reclaim artifacts and bring them home.

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI) pledged $5 million toward a planned Nunavut Heritage Centre at its annual general meeting which concluded Oct. 26.

The Inuit Heritage Trust and Qikiqtaaluk Corporation commissioned in 2014 a conceptual design of a Nunavut heritage centre, which would enable the repatriation of Inuit artefacts as per the Nunavut Agreement.
photo courtesy Inuit Heritage Trust

"I am confident that the decisions made during this year’s AGM will have lasting impacts in the years to come and will contribute to the long-term development and promotion of Inuit culture and wellbeing," stated president Aluki Kotierk.

The commitment matches the one made earlier in October by the Qikiqtani Inuit Association.

"Establishing a heritage centre is recognized as an urgent need under the Nunavut Agreement," said president P.J. Akeeagok Oct. 5.

"The heritage centre would empower our communities and instil a sense of pride in our culture by allowing more Inuit to gain exposure to the rich traditional knowledge and skills of our ancestors."

For Inuit Heritage Trust (IHT) president Eva Aariak, the timing is right.

"In my previous positions, it has always been important to me, but there were so many other priorities," said Aariak, who was premier from 2008 to 2013.

"But now I think the timing is right. Although the initiative has been worked on for many years now, I think it is now coming to fruition, not in the way of tangible things but in the way of serious discussions, commitments, and we just have to keep the momentum going."

With a concept plan in place – which both IHT and the Qikiqtaaluk Corporation invested in – and the $10 million in pledges, the next step is to renew efforts with the territorial and federal governments.

Not only does the Nunavut Agreement call for the establishment of a permanent home for the "conservation and management of a representative portion of the archaeological record," but as QIA notes, "there are currently more than 140,000 artifacts stored and preserved in other jurisdictions," and "the Government of Nunavut has been spending millions since 1999 to store them outside of Nunavut."

There's also the obvious fact that every other jurisdiction in Canada has such facilities.

"With the commitment of QIA and NTI, we will soon be meeting with the newly elected members because they need to have a full understanding of what we are doing and where we are at with it with these commitments," she said.

The estimated cost of the climate-controlled building is $70 to $90 million.

Aariak has visited several similar institutions in other jurisdictions in the past, including those in Ottawa and Yellowknife, which contained the artifacts of Inuit heritage.

"When you see these wonderful artifacts, it hits you, deeply. It is urgent that we have this facility, to bring back all the artifacts that are stored away in various places in Canada and beyond. They are in the dark, they are stored away in the drawers," said Aariak.

"As an IHT member, even before that when I'd go to museums I have been shown these beautiful artifacts, amazing, amazing artwork by our ancestors, it hurts me and a lot of us, to see the beautiful talent and amazing skills of our ancestors are not being exposed to our young people."

Aariak's voice quavers. She shakes it off.

"You feel it."

Though the main facility will be located in the capital – a decision made through extensive consultations dating back to 2002 – the centre would be closely linked, sharing artifacts and programming, with heritage centres dotted across the territory, from the Kitikmeot to the Qikiqtaaluk.

"They (artifacts) should be accessible to everybody in Nunavut. It instils a sense of pride as to what our culture is and was and yet to be," said Aariak.

The Qaggiavuut Society has its own campaign for an Inuit performance arts centre to be located in the capital, but Aariak doesn't view that project as competition.

"About three weeks ago we had our board meeting and the Qaggiavuut group came to talk to us, and informed us of what they're doing. And vice versa. And we both agreed that we will support each other," said Aariak.

"Artifacts, history and performing arts go hand in hand. Just look at Kiviuq Returns."

Qaggiavuut's production of Kiviuq has taken audiences by storm, and is based on the oral storytelling of elders.

"I think we would only enhance each other, in the way of showcasing our culture and language."

Aariak notes that now transportation infrastructure for the capital can be checked off, with the new airport and the planned construction of a port, it is time to concentrate on other important things.

"At the same time that our housing issues and other issues are being addressed. We all have roles to play as entities and individuals."

She'd like to see Nunavut's heritage centre built within five years, if not sooner.

"Three years," she said, interrupting herself.

"It's that urgent."