Qajaq building is putting Nunavik Inuit in touch with their past | Polarjournal
Lightweight and built for hunting and fishing, the qajaq has been a part of Inuit culture for some 4,000 years (Photo: wili hybrid)

Qajaq-building workshops are giving Inuit in Nunavik a way to connect with their roots

For the past few years, Kativik Ilisarniliriniq, the Nunavik school board has been offering qajaq-building workshops that are giving Inuit in northern Quebec the chance to build an emblematic element of their culture and connect with their roots. The workshops are the brainchild of Thomassie Mangiok, of the Nuvviti school in Ivujivik, a village of 412 in the Nord-du-Québec region.

Workshops have already been held in several villages across Nunavik and are part of a programme called “Ilurqusitigut” (an Inuit term meaning “through our culture”) that reinforces Inuit values, language and culture. Workshops on making qiviut, a fabric made from muskox down, fish leather and traditional fishing nets have already been held. 

Founded in 1975, the Kativik Ilisarniliriniq School Board offers programmes in all 14 Nunavik communities and operates 17 elementary and secondary schools where Inuktitut is the first language. Like any school board, it runs schools, but it also works to protect, preserve and develop language, culture and way of life in Inuit communities.

Despite the difficulties in getting materials that often must be purchased and shipped from the south, several workshops been held throughout Nunavik. In a video posted by Kativik Ilisarniliriniq on Facebook, students are seen building a qajaq (Photo: Kativik Ilisarniliriniq; video produced by Alain Cloutier)

Requiring up to three weeks of work, building a qajaq allows course participants to develop skills such as teamwork and teaches them as much woodworking as they would learn in a beginner’s course. But, more importantly, it allows them to connect with their roots and culture. Mr Mangiok explains: “There has been more and more interest in regaining our culture. Qajaq is a part of that movement because qajaq is a part of us. When the students come to the culture class, it gives them an increased sense of success and validation of their identity. That they are good the way they are and don’t need to be anyone else: they are Inuit.”

Learning to use the qajaq is also crucial, especially how to right one without getting out when it capsizes. According to Alain Cloutier, a master qajaq builder affiliated with the programme, paddling a qajaq is not an activity that is without risk: “I don’t encourage students to take out the qajaq by themselves. There is a natural danger involved, so it has to be well controlled as an activity … going on the water is dangerous, above all in cold regions.” He recommends that people have two or three years of experience before they venture out on their own.”

Generally spelled “kayak” at our latitudes, this light and manoeuvrable boat is thought to have been invented by the Inuit of Greenland over 4,000 years ago. Mainly designed for travel while fishing and hunting, especially for seals or whales, it was typically made of driftwood or whalebone and covered with sealskins sewn together with animal sinews and made waterproof by various treatments. A draft of only a few centimetres makes it possible to paddle a qajaq in shallow water. Today, qajait are only rarely used in Nunavik. That could change with initiatives such as these workshops.

Mirjana Binggeli, PolarJournal

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
error: Content is protected !!
Share This