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Rekindling the qulliq
Program helps women, and soon men, regain culture, language

Casey Lessard
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, September 22, 2011

They laughed, they cried - but mostly they remembered what was special about being Inuit.

NNSL photo/graphic

"I learned what our ancestors went through," says Leesee Papatsie, one of the first 12 women in Iqaluit taking part in the first module, Bringing the Qulliq Home. The program continued with a second intake of participants last week, and Pirurvik Centre programmers hope to expand the program territory-wide. - Casey Lessard/NNSL photo

"I learned what our ancestors went through," said Leesee Papatsie, one of 12 women making up the first cohort of students in the Reclaiming the Whole Woman program at Iqaluit's Pirurvik Centre. "I learned more about the Inuit culture. I have more confidence about who I am."

The first module of the program, which that started Sept. 12, is called Bringing the Qulliq Home. Some of the women are Inuit who have lost confidence in their ability to speak Inuktitut because they speak English most of the time, so the Inuktitut-only course was a refresher in language as well as culture. As part of the course, each woman received a qulliq an oil lamp carved from soapstone.

"After we learned how to light the qulliq with natural resources, (specifically moss and Arctic cotton), we had to make a case, or marnguti, for them out of scraps, old skins, etcetera," participant Teresa Hughes said.

"Without the qulliq, none of us would be around," said program developer Leena Evic, founder of the Pirurvik Centre, which focuses on Inuit language, culture and wellbeing. "We survived through the use of the qulliq; it's all we had in terms of heat and light in our dark winter days. It dried off our clothing from the snow, and we used it for cooking."

Today, the qulliq is mostly used for ceremonial purposes, especially for opening meetings and other public ceremonies. Evic hopes the course will help rekindle the qulliq's use as part of Inuit daily life in balance with modern living.

"As career women today, we have learned how to sew skins, and make winter clothing," she said. "And we're also good at computing, business management, and cooking."

Program participant Louise Akearok sees the value in incorporating the qulliq into her life.

"It connected me to my mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, even though they're not alive anymore," Akearok said. "I feel more grounded in our traditional ways."

Speaking at the end of the first week of the two-week course, which will continue at a later date, Karliin Aariak shared her sentiments.

"This course helped us ground us to who we are, learning how to bring that home," Aariak said. "It's important not only for our husbands, kids and us to be grounded, but it was also a healing process for us."

For Leena Evic, courses focused on wellbeing are critical for the centre's users.

"At some point in our lives," the centre founder said, "we come to a threshold where we have an urge to learn who we are and where we come from. Knowing our identity instills some sense of well-being in us as Inuit. When you are inspired and have confidence in yourself in both cultures, you have a better ability to respect your culture."

A second cohort has started the course, and Evic hopes to create a similar program for men.

"It's important for everyone in Nunavut to have these self-reflections," said Aariak.

Evic agrees, and hopes to expand the program territory-wide. The next program start for Reclaiming the Whole Woman is in Cape Dorset from Nov. 14 to 25. For more information, visit the Pirurvik website.

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