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Authors on the land

Daron Letts
Northern News Services

Southhampton Island (July 25/05) - Authors Margaret Atwood and Sheree Fitch will eat, sleep and write on the land on Southampton Island, north of Rankin Inlet, this week.

They are participating in the third annual Somebody's Daughter camp. The program puts women from across the Kivalliq in touch with traditional skills while focusing on literacy and healing.

"We are preserving Inuit culture one by one by one," said program co-ordinator Bernadette Dean.

When women take hard, stubborn seal skin and transform it into a beautiful kamik or warm mitts, they feel a sense of accomplishment, she said. It's the same way with writing.

Dean got Fitch involved after attending a writing workshop she gave at Arctic College. This is Fitch's third year with the program.

"To see the women sewing, stitch by stitch, reclaiming those skills and to see what's made at the end is so incredible to me," said Fitch, who is from Ottawa but is living in the U.S.

Fitch, who never sewed a button in her life, chewed seal skin and made a kamik during her first camp. She learns more than she teaches, she said.

"We write a lot and talk a lot and laugh a lot and we do a lot of listening," she said. "The kind of trust that happens in a community of women in this setting is like nothing I've ever seen. I wish it could be a model for the whole world."

Atwood will introduce the world to Somebody's Daughter this year.

Two weeks ago, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) asked the Toronto resident to write on women and literacy. She will write about Somebody's Daughter.

"Our camp on Southhampton Island is going to go, in some form, all around the world, so I hope that I will be a good observer," Atwood said.

Unlike Fitch, Atwood has done a lot of sewing and knitting in her life.

"Writing, sewing, knitting - it's basically the same thing," she said. "You take something and you make it into something else."

The skills acquired through the program will extend beyond the individual participants to their families and communities, Atwood said.

"Writing brings people a whole new level of confidence in themselves," she said. "By acquiring the skill of writing they are better able to deal with the world and create a life that's fulfilling."

Dean and Atwood became friends after meeting on a Greenland cruise.

"Only Bernadette could have talked me into doing this," Atwood said.

Somebody's Daughter is funded through the Aboriginal Healing Foundation, a federal program established in 1998 as one way to address the cross-generational impact of the residential school system.