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Healing through the qulliq

A new Cambridge Bay video production is shining a spotlight on the cultural importance of the qulliq and those who tend its flame.

The qulliq is the traditional oil lamp used by the people of the Arctic. The qulliq is made of stone and uses the oil from blubber of seals or whales for fuel while arctic cotton was used as a wick. It provides warmth and heat to dry one's belongings, light and a source to cook your food. It gave life. This was traditionally the woman's responsibility to tend the flame.

Bessie Omilgoitok, a Cambridge Bay Elder, lighting the qulliq. The lighting of the flame is passed down from Elders, the middle aged women, then youth.
photo courtesy of the Hamlet of Cambridge Bay

"The Municipality of Cambridge Bay produced the video in our new Red Fish Art Studio which is a community studio for a variety of art disciplines opening in August of this year," said Marla Limousin, senior administrative officer for the Hamlet of Cambridge Bay.

"The studio has many component parts to it: fine arts, digital arts, recording, welding arts, craft and hobby, but we will have a dedicated area for the digital arts," she said.

We have a Mayor's Youth Advisory Council and through public forums our youth have expressed the desire to have a place dedicated to video production, music recording and computer arts. It is certainly an area they can pursue careers in."

The video was produced and edited by the instructor of the new digital arts program, Valter Botelho-Resendes, who teaches youth at the studio once. The concept, set and design co-ordination of the project was done by municipal staff, said Limousin.

Members of both the Mayor's Youth Advisory Council and the Mayor's Elders Council were involved in the production as well as some community members as stars of the show.

The idea of the video came from a discussion with some of the Elder women that were feeling really out of sorts about the Covid-19 isolation they were having to endure and the Nova Scotia tragedy. As Elders of the community, they use the lighting of the qulliq in special ceremonies to celebrate life and hope. They say it lifts their spirits by sending light out to them.

The cultural symbolism of lighting the qulliq in the video was passed from Elders to middle aged women and then to the youth. Tradition is passed on and they all wanted to send a message of hope out to the world through the video, said Limousin.

"For the soundtrack, every time I previewed the video, I could imagine the rhythm of the song Northern Lights by The Jerry Cans," said Limousin.
"We reach out to them to ask if we could use the song. Graciously they agreed and asked that the royalty fee be donated to Annana's Camp, a place for women's traditional programming in our community. They truly embody the generous spirit of the North."

"We are happy to put some positive energy out into the world and judging by the comments we are receiving, we know it has given some people a lift in these challenging times," she said. The Elders had great pleasure in making the video."

"It was my first time lighting a qulliq and I definitely felt more connected to our tradition," Deanna Ekvana Taylor, one of the youth participating in video, said.

"It was a very special moment and made me feel even more proud of being an Inuk. It was empowering and touching, I would love to do it again."