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Healing through the sole
Kamik-making workshop helps revitalize the art in participants

Casey Lessard
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Not having made kamiit since the death of her mother in 2000, Jeannie Arreak-Kullualik decided she needed to regain the skill at a workshop run by the Tukisigiarvik Centre in Iqaluit.

NNSL photo/graphic

Pictured are Tukisigiarvik Centre kamik-making workshop participants, from bottom left, Annie Manning, Louise Kyak, Maxine Chubbs, Naiome Palluq, Joanne Taptuna, Brenda Eckalook, Neevee Natsiapik, Mary Peter, Jennifer Demcheson, and Melanie Dostie. - photo courtesy of Elisapi Aningmiuq

"The last time I made kamiks was when my mom was still alive, about 12 years ago," Arreak-Kullualik said. "I could never get myself to make kamiks after that. I reclaimed my skills through this. I know the steps now. I'm not an expert yet, but I know the steps now and I made sure I'm not going to forget them. It was a healing journey for me."

Maxine Chubbs didn't get a chance to learn how to make kamiit growing up, as her Inuk grandmother had only made a few pairs when she herself was young. It's a skill Chubbs wanted to gain to help reconnect with her past.

"She didn't have it as something she could pass on. She couldn't remember the stitches or the technique," she said of her grandmother. "Sitting with an elder and having her help you, there were times when I was thinking this could be my grandmother."

Chubbs was only one of more than 40 women who spent Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights and Saturdays from Jan. 17 to March 31 at the kamik-making workshop.

The centre has offered cultural skill development programs for about 10 years, from sewing, beading, and quilting, to qamutik making and on-the-land programming, program co-ordinator Elisapi Aningmiuq said.

"A lot of people are working nine-to-five these days," Aningmiuq said, "and don't have the skills that our parents had, that our mothers had. People are more encouraged as adult learners to take part."

To facilitate the kamik-making workshop, Aningmiuq hired Leetia Tikivik, Palluapik Qaunniq and Oleepeeka Nooshoota, elders who Arreak-Kullualik and the others leaned on for guidance.

"Here (in Iqaluit), we're kind of on our own," she said. "When we were living in Pond Inlet, I had expert seamstresses to guide me. I have family here, but I'm too busy and they're too busy. This gave us a focused time to concentrate on the steps."

She and Chubbs both agree that kamik-making is hard, acknowledging an appreciation for the prices kamiit fetch on Facebook sell/swap pages.

"I knew there was going to be a lot of work," Chubbs said. "Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, I would go there at 6:30 (p.m.) and leave at 9 when the program finished, and then go back again at 10 o'clock on Saturdays and stay until 5. I was determined to get it done. And that was just the legs."

"I have so much more respect for our ancestors, our mothers and grandparents," Arreak-Kullualik said. "Those are the only kind of boots they used to have, and they used to make them all the time."

For Aningmiuq, it's important that the participants not only walk away with a pair of kamiik, but also connect with their culture and themselves.

"People take pride in saying the garment they are wearing or is being worn by somebody else is made by 'me,'" she said. "They can say, 'I made it,' and that brings up the self-esteem."

Arreak-Kullualik, who made three pairs during the workshop, plans to pass her skills to her children. For Chubbs, who made one pair of caribou kamiik using the legs of a caribou killed by a colleague, it was an overwhelming process.

"For how long that program took, for it to have no cost to me other than what I paid for my skins, it flabbergasts me. I'm awestruck by it," she said. "It's definitely worth the effort. They're absolutely beautiful. It's like walking on a beach with nothing on your feet, walking on the snow with your kamiks on."

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