When I think of my culture, I think of the beauty and absolute richness of it. Between the barren lands and boreal forest lies my mothers hometown – Inuvik. Located on the mackenzie River in the Northwest Territories, Inuvik is the ancestral home to both the Inuvialuit and Gwich’in people.
I was 17 when I first travelled to Inuvik as a participant in the Great Northern Arts Festival. I was the youngest to ever attend, and have been coming to the festival just about every year since. For me, it’s how I discover and learn about my inuvialuit culture. Each year is filled with spectacular new experiences, from aukpik (cloudberry) picking to meeting indigenous artists from all over sharing their culture and stories with the community.
When listening to elders and the locals speak, It’s touching to hear how much care and thought they invest into the land and the animals. Despite the cold, harsh weather and the barren wilderness, especially during the long winters, the Inuvialuit were able to survive for many many decades. The reason for their cultural continuation is because of their respectful lifestyle and great knowledge of the land they inhabit; hunting animals only when they needed food, and paying close attention to the way that these animals and their environment operate.
While soaking in all of the beauty of the North, I think it’s also important to acknowledge some of the major issues in a lot of the small communities like Inuvik. Hearing about most of the issues is so much different then being surrounded and in plain sight of them. For those that aren’t aware, Inuvik was and still is home to many survivors, greatly affected by residential schools – which was to remove and disconnect indigenous children from their families, identities and traditions. And so to have art and an event such as the Great Northern Arts Festival to bring forth its beauty brings me great comfort.
And so as an artist, one of the ways of giving back to community is through teaching. This year, at the festival, I made sure to set up workshops in order to teach and hopefully inspire some of the local youth. It was incredible to watch these talented young people extremely focused and passionate about learning. The highlight of the whole festival was being able to provide resources for them to stay positive and to infuse confidence in themselves through art. My future goals are to one day provide more nurturing for these beautiful northerns, and hopefully inspire others to heal from the affects of Indigenous assimilation and colonization in more positive ways.
– caroline blechert