The narrow bigotry of a few Iqaluit Inuit helped sabotage the internationally-acclaimed Inuit dance group, Sikumiut.
As a follow-up to recent articles concerning the need for increased support for youth and Inuit culture (Mary Wilman and the NSDC), economic development in Nunavut (Elizabeth Hadlari and the Cambridge Bay jewelry program) and the GN urging hamlets to raise their own money, here’s our experience with Sikumiut Inuit Dancers and Drummers Inc.
At the request of the Inuit youth performing with us on April 1, 1999, we formed Sikumiut. This idea came from them, as they so enjoyed performing for a national audience and wished to continue to be ambassadors for Inuit culture.
We two were passionate about the Inuit culture — this is why we came North in the first place. Zinour had more than 10 years experience collaborating with the Inuit of Siberia, and as we were willing to dedicate some time and energy to the endeavour, we agreed to establish the troupe as a non-profit organization.
Due to the reviews from the April 1 performances, we received a number of invitations to perform. That summer, Sikumiut performed in Nuuk, Greenland to sold-out audiences — a first for Nuuk.
In the fall of 1999, we did a one-month tour of Belgium and France, taking with us elder throat-singers Haunaq Mikkigaq and Napatchie Pootoogook of Cape Dorset as performers, consultants and role models for the youth.
Next, Sikumiut, along with Haunaq Mikkigaq, Timangia Petaulassie, and David Serkoak, whom we requested be included, represented Canada internationally on the "Global Millennium Special — 2000 Today."
We also did a tour of the Ukraine and Russia, performing in two acclaimed international festivals, as well as a number of theatres. It is worth noting that one performance was at the National Opera House of the Ukraine, the same theatre where Barishnikov and Nureyev performed on a regular basis. This performance was at the request of the Canadian embassy in Kiev.
Our tour to Russia took us to the Siberian Arctic where we did collaborative performances with other circumpolar Inuit.
In the spring and summer of 2000, Sikumiut performed in Inuvik, at the Circumpolar Children and Youth Festival, at the International Aboriginal Conference in Alaska, and at the National Aboriginal People’s Day celebrations in Ottawa.
This spring, Sikumiut performed at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, and southern Ontario, during a 10-day tour. These are just some of the shows that Sikumiut did upon invitation outside Nunavut.
There were many performances here in Iqaluit — the joint meeting of ministers for sustainable development, the hockey association, Nunavut Tourism, the Arctic Cooperatives Ltd. AGM, the 2002 Arctic Winter Games host society meetings, and so on.
My role in Sikumiut was as administrative director, manager and proposal writer. Zinour was the artistic director, choreographer, trainer, and dancer. We raised more than $350,000 from over 15 organizations–most of which went to Inuit youth in the form of salaries, local businesses, seamstresses and drum-makers.
Other than a very short period — six weeks — of receiving a part-time salary, I worked voluntarily as manager and proposal writer. In two years, Zinour also worked voluntarily, with the exception of short periods of pay gained through proposals.
We consistently paid the dancers, bills, and local people before we paid ourselves, a choice that meant that at the end of the day, we were left unpaid. This decision was made due to the passion and commitment that we had for the Inuit culture and youth of Nunavut. We didn’t want to be seen as Qallunaat again taking advantage of Inuit.
For financial support we would like to thank Kakivak, the Department of Culture, Language, Elders and Youth, the Elks, the Department of Sustainable Development, the Legion, the Tulugaq Bar, QIA, NTI for travel funding for beneficiaries, the Arctic Insurance Co., Nunavut Tourism, Canadian North and First Air.
Thanks also to the many individuals who supported us in our efforts to bring Inuit youth and culture to a wider audience: Marie Fortier at Top of the World Travel, the Iqaluit District Education Authority, Ed Picco, Nancy Karetak-Lindell and staff, Ingo Moslener, and to our board of directors: Monica Ell, Oo Aqpik-Billard, Natsiq Kango and Peter Ittinuar.
Unfortunately, like Elizabeth Hadlari, after much time and energy, financial and emotional heart breaks, by this March we simply had enough. The success came with some support, but also much sacrifice.
We housed, rescued, testified for, paid, trained voluntarily, fed and counselled more than 50 Inuit youth in a two-year period. We dealt with lack of commitment, dancers quitting at the last minute before tours and performances, the sabotage of projects by a few local Inuit, and being defrauded of funds by dancers.
We were repeatedly told by NTI that we were not considered an Inuit organization and did not qualify for ongoing funding, despite the fact that they used our image in their ads many times as being the voice of Nunavut. We were denied funding by the Canada Council based on reports by a few Inuit who said we were not involving Inuit in our endeavours.
In deciding to pack it in, we cancelled tours to Europe and Australia, as well as performances in Indianapolis, on Parliament Hill for Canada Day, and an invitation by CBC national producers to put something together for the Arctic Winter Games 2002.
Art and culture exist in order to make people reflect upon their daily lives and their purpose in it. This is often a painful experience, as it makes us look in the mirror.
We leave hoping that the government of Nunavut, Inuit organizations and Nunavummiut will come together in a meaningful way in the preservation, promotion and development of Inuit youth and culture.
Special thanks to our friends and families — North and South — who have been there for us throughout.
Editor’s note: We originally recieved this piece as a letter to the editor, but because of its length, and the seriousness of the issues that it raises, we turned it into a commentary. It has been edited only for grammar, spelling and punctuation.
-Gayle Reddick and Zinour Fathoullin