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Pride of Nunavut

July 9th marks Nunavut Day, the day in 1993 when Canadian Parliament passed the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement Act and the Nunavut Act. Cultural Educator Ashley Kilabuk-Savard shares her personal experiences of living in Nunavut, connecting with the land, and learning from Inuit elders.
Pond Inlet nunavut

© Dennis Minty

In April of 1999, the territory of Nunavut became formally recognized when the Northwest Territories was divided in two. One portion remained as the Northwest Territories and the other formed Nunavut. Geographically it is the largest Indigenous land claim area and affects the largest number of beneficiaries of any land claim in Canadian history.

Nunavut is my home base, and the culture and principles of the land and my people are my guiding force. Today I’d like to share some of the most impactful principles I hold dear.

Community-Mindedness

In order to survive the harsh Arctic climate, it was necessary for my ancestors to work together as a community, looking out for each other and caring for everyone. There was no property, and sharing was a cultural custom. We are still very much community-oriented people.

Today I feel there is a never-ending amount of support from my fellow Inuit! We lift each other up and praise each other’s accomplishments. We still work together to achieve our goals, raise our families, enjoy the land, and simply to have fun.

Inuit ulu traditional culture

© Michelle Valberg

Practical and powerful the ulu is a traditional knife used by Inuit women. Its continued use a reminder of Inuit ingenuity.

Resilience

Inuit knowledge and culture helped us survive but also thrive in our unique Arctic climate. We made major advancements in technology, including snow goggles, harpoons, toggled harpoon heads, and the qajaq (kayak). All tools and technologies were formed from the environment and allowed us to make the Arctic our home.

Our recent history has been a rapid shift from traditional life, to a more Western lifestyle. The systematic assimilation almost eradicated our language and culture. The last hundred years have been times of intense colonization, assimilation, and mammoth cultural adaptation. Our way of life from the previous century is almost unrecognizable.

Ashley Savard

© Andrew Bresnahan

Ashley Kilabuk-Savard

I have also experienced the trauma of colonization and carried the intergenerational pain of my own family’s experience. As I have grown, I have come to appreciate the power of my environment. As a child I did not recognize the rejuvenating qualities that come from my own personal and Inuit’s collective connection to our land. It is my right and privilege to draw on the land and its bounty. I am grateful to learn and make these connections with our elders.

Our elders link us to our history, to our culture, and to the land. We are fortunate to still have this direct link to the elders. Their experiences and tenacity give us strength today. I am fortunate to be able to personally learn from this last generation of elders that lived the traditional lifestyle. Thanks to their support, young people are taking up the reigns and our cultural practices are undergoing an exciting revitalization—one that renews pride, purpose, and hope.

It gives a great sense of satisfaction seeing our people from all generations lead that front.

About the Author

Ashley Kilabuk-Savard

Ashley Kilabuk-Savard

Cultural Educator

Ashley creates sealskin jewellery and accessories for women and men, advocating for and helping educate her customers on the importance of sealskin and Inuit sustainable seal hunting.

She believes in the importance of Inuit sustainable hunting and preserving the knowledge of crafting with traditional materials, especially at a time when anti-sealing campaigns are damaging the Inuit economy and sustainable hunting. Ashley is inspired to create simple, modern pieces with traditional materials such as sealskin, feathers, rabbit fur and caribou bone, mixing the modern and traditional worlds.

Ashley also creates beaded necklaces and has taught beading to guests aboard the Ocean Endeavour.