Art and Waste(s) in Pangnirtung, Nunavut (Live Exhibit)

Pangnirtung (David Kilabuk Photography)

The aim of the Art and Waste Project is to animate waste(s) in Pangnirtung, broadly defined, as a symptom of settler colonialism as argued by Hird (2021). This community-based action research is a collaboration with Inuit artists and micky renders, a Ph.D. student in Environmental Studies at Queen’s University in Kingston, ON Canada. We will use the power of art to raise awareness and engage settler populations with the historical, present, symbolic, and imagined future of waste(s) in Pangnirtung.

This research-creation project centres on a lack of accurate historical knowledge that has had serious consequences for Inuit and Canadians as a whole. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s ‘calls to action’ include connecting Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians based on a new vision – one that includes the history of colonization and its ongoing impacts (TRC, 2015). One of the significant outcomes here will be a touring art exhibition offering a more holistic view of waste(s) centring on Inuit perspectives. The Canadian public will be invited to consider how waste represents a festering symptom of colonization, one for which we must be held accountable.

Black Ink dropped into water.

Flows \ ˈflō \

Flow:  noun

a) : an act of flowing

b) : a smooth uninterrupted movement or progress

Material and Energy Flows in Pangnirtung ᐸᖕᓂᖅᑑᖅ ‘Place of the bull caribou’

Inuit cosmologies have maintained a harmonious relationship with the land for millennia, now disrupted by decades of rapid and relentless cultural imperialism through colonization. Since the 1950s, the forced resettlement of Inuit transformed the Hamlet of Pangnirtung, Nunavut, from a seasonal outpost for semi-nomadic peoples to trade and hunt to a permanent settlement of 1,500. The “modernization of Inuit” – a stated goal by successive governments – has resulted in a shift from a sharing economy to a cash-based economy. The heavy reliance on pre-packaged, poor quality and overly expensive food and consumer goods has resulted in an overflowing, unsafe, open-air dump and unregulated burning, causing health and environmental hazards.

In today’s context of melting permafrost, extractive capitalism continues to be a driving force of colonization with the proposed reactivation of the nearby Chidliak Diamond mine on a caribou migration route. Whatever increased economic dividends this might bring to the community, one thing is sure: more people and equipment moving temporarily from south to North, significantly more drilling and extraction, and inevitably the creation of more and more complex forms of waste (Hird, 2017). Proposed southern engineered landfills, incineration and hazardous waste hauls are cost-prohibitive and fundamentally flawed approaches to dealing with waste in remote Arctic communities. The energy and material flow in communities such as Pangnirtung are complex and need to be reconsidered in the context of history and local culture.

This is a work-in-process – a snapshot of the project which began in 2019 and, as such, comments and questions are welcomed (at the bottom of the page).

Oleepika Nashalik – Designer/Artist. Pangnirtung, Nunavut.

Oleepika Nashalik – Designer/Artist Pangnirtung, NU

Oleepika’s powerful and expressive art juxtaposes aspects of the traditional Inuit way of life with modern ways. Her scenes reflect how the two cultures are bound together. Here, she considers the contradicting material cultural shifts seen in her lifetime. Oleepika’s work expresses a range of emotions. Although seemingly playful at first glance, a lot is going on beneath the surface. As with many contemporary Inuit artists, her art is a by-product of outside influences on Inuit culture and is best understood in a historical and geopolitical context – something which we intend to expand upon in later iterations of the project.

Elders teach and talk of the use and importance of seal to our culture and survival of Inuit. That is as true now as it has ever been. For Inuit, seal is an important source of good food. Seal is locally sourced, free-range, organic, abundant, sustainable, tightly regulated, humanely harvested, nutritious and delicious! We continue to hunt and fish, not just for cultural independence but to provide a necessary food source without which, many Inuit would go hungry. And you know what? There are many uses of seal-almost no part goes to waste. For example, we use the skin for clothing. The fur is warm, waterproof, durable, breathable, practical and biodegradable. The seal harvest provides a source of money in the Arctic where there are very few opportunities. We want to participate in the national and international markets and trade this ethical and natural product (meat, skin, oil, etc). This would allow our currently economically depressed regions of northern Canada to increase our potential, enhance prosperity and in turn offer many positive social and economic impacts for our local communities.

Here is a little history… Pangnirtung, for example, was first settled by Inuit nearly 200 years ago, with the arrival in 1820 of European whaling ships, which provided livelihoods for a century, followed by sealing, which was a sustaining source of income until the Bridget Bardot’s of the world succeeded in banning seal products by spreading misinformation about how seals are killed. The Inuit perspective is that each living thing has a spirit and a soul that endures even after life has left the body. Inuit are grateful for the food, clothing and other necessities seals provide. Representatives of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association have observed the Canadian harp seal hunt in 2002 and concluded that, of the animals studied, 98% were killed in an acceptably humane manner (see the Malouf Commission Report). This study compared very favourably to the animal welfare standard required in abattoirs in North America and the European Union. The EU ban does not apply to Inuit seal products but it makes no difference. The European market has dried up causing severe hardship…

Preparing county food with an ulu ᐅᓗ or “woman’s knife”.
Sled dog (qimmiq ᕿᒻᒥᖅ) and gas canisters
Kamiik, boots, (ᑲᒫᓘᒃ ᐅᑭᐅᖅᓯᐅᑏᒃ) made with polar bear fur for extra warmth.
Homemade and natural – blueberry tea (tii ᑏ)
Enjoying the fresh air and a smoke out on the Land.

Some days it’s not so easy. I’m realizing I’m getting old and I have my family – that loves and cares for me – and the past is long gone!

Oleepika Nashalik

Flow:  noun

a) : to move with a continual change of place among the constituent particles

David Kilabuk. Photographer, Pangnirtung, Nunavut.

David Kilabuk acquired his first camera in the mid-1980s – a Pentax. He was intrigued by the panoramic black and white photographs and portraits of Peter Pitseolak of Cape Dorset, who photographed his own community in the 1960s and 1970s. Pitseolak’s work inspired Kilabuk. “For me, seeing something that an Inuk had done – it was so advanced – it really struck me. I thought it was just fantastic.” Like his mentor, David’s work documents life in picturesque Pangnirtung often referred to as “Switzerland of the Arctic.”

David is considered a leader in the community and has won several national awards for both citizenship and photography. His patience, skill and sensitivity as a photographer have for over 25 years resulted in iconic photographs of contemporary Inuit life and the surrounding natural world, appearing in National Geographic, Canadian Geographic, and other magazines. His work is requested by the news media, governments and Inuit organizations. A very humble man, David is the first to tell you that he is still learning – about the Earth and all that it holds. One thing, however, is clearer than anything – he is passionate about the Arctic and he wants to share a unique perspective of life in the far North and all it has to offer with the rest of the world.

Auyuittuq National Park lies just a two-hour boat ride from Pangnirtung and is one of David’s favourite places to go. If you know Inuit at all, it is obvious that the experience of the land is central to their spiritual and physical health, and happiness. The Inuktitut name of the park translates as “the land that never melts” because it is covered by the Penny Ice Cap, a glacier approximately 6000 km2. The locals joke: “Auyuittuq” is now “auktuq” (melted). The wasting away, due to climate change, of the permafrost has many implications.

A report carried out by scientists with Environment Canada and the University of Waterloo in 2000 provided a list of changes expected to Canada’s national park system caused by climate change. Higher levels of carbon dioxide will mean temperatures from one to 10 degrees C higher, as well as more rain and more snow. Winter and spring warming would lead to larger and earlier spring melts, later fall ice formation, longer ice-free seasons on lakes, rivers and sea, and changes to permafrost. A one-metre rise in sea levels around the coastal regions near Auyuittuq will lead to increased erosion and flooding. Fish and bird habitats will be affected, and archeological sites and park facilities destroyed.

With less sea ice and more open water, shorelines would be more susceptible to erosion. All life forms will need to adapt to survive. Muskox and Peary caribou might benefit from increased vegetation, but other expected changes such as more insects could cause caribou to move to higher elevations. A worst-case scenario is the “complete reproductive failure” of the caribou, an important game of Inuit. Sea mammal distribution will adapt to changing ice patterns and affect large predators such as Arctic wolves, polar bears and other scavengers. Many of these changes are increasingly evident and Inuit are very worried.

David sheds light on the material consequences of modernization with this series of photographs documenting the dump. There are no roads connecting Pangnirtung to anywhere else and the resources of the Hamlet are not adequate to deal with this accumulation of material once it has outlived its usefulness. Everything that goes north, stays North. The scavenging of parts for reuse is important to keep everything working where supplies are limited. The locals refer to the dump as “Canadian Tire”. Sorting and separating metals and useable parts could be enhanced to facilitate diversion from the dump but there is no money to hire someone to do this.

David describes himself as a proud Inuk and “a very proud Pangnirtungmiut.” Recording his way of life is as vital to the hamlet as it is to David. Fishing, hunting and travelling with family and friends, traditional and contemporary community celebrations, and the vast natural environment, are common themes in his work. David was hired as an official photographer for the bowhead whale hunt in the Cumberland Strait in 2013. In the series of photographs presented here, he alludes to a hopeful coming together of the past, present and future generations of Inuit and the passing on of Inuit Qujimajatuqangit (Inuit traditional knowledge) from the Elders to the children – which he sees as essential to Inuit wellbeing.

We must teach our children their mother tongue. We must teach them what they are and where they come from. We must teach them the values which have guided our society over thousands of years. We must teach them the philosophies which go back beyond the memory of man…

John Amagoalik, We Must Have Dreams, Inuit Today (1977)

Inuit Qujimajatugangit (IQ) translates to “That which Inuit have always known to be true”. IQ is equally important today as part of a cultural, educational, political and scientific resurgence. “It is a living knowledge – of a way to live well”. It is about sustaining a locally based viable culture of community caring (Lucienne Ukaliannuk, an Inuit elder, 2021). I have heard IQ compared to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and it is part of the Nunavut constitution. IQ is tied to the land, connected to the specific cultural values and practices that have evolved from particular environments and geographic contexts. Shirley Taagalik (2010) a community educator in Arviat, Nunavut, says about IQ:

From this holistic and interconnected view of the universe, a sense of cultural identity, collective purpose and belonging is derived. Cultural well-being relies on the individual becoming situated within the cultural world view. For Inuit, being grounded in IQ supports mental wellness, that extends beyond the individual to the community which has sustained Inuit for generations, and is needed for the future.

You can see more of David’s photography by clicking on the link and following him on Facebook. You will not be disappointed as his work is amazing!

Black Ink dropped into water.

Flows \ ˈflō \

(flowed; flowing; flows )

a: the motion characteristic of fluids.

Youth Participation/The legacy of Waste(s)

Youth – who will inherit the legacy of waste(s) in Pangnirtung – will be contributing to the Art and Waste project and offering their unique perspective and a glimpse into their lives, values, and concerns through digital stories. Wasted time, wasted energy, garbage, reflecting on what is precious (not waste) and what is waste or should be discarded, are just a few of the ideas implicated in this open-ended theme.

<strong>Talia Metuq Game Developer/Digital Story-Telling</strong>, <strong>Pangnirtung, NU</strong>
Talia Metuq Game Developer/Digital Story-Telling, Pangnirtung, NU

Talia Metuq is an Inuk game developer, artist and awesome auntie. She has been an organizer of the Makerspace movement in Nunavut and is the Community Engagement and Special Projects Coordinator at Pinnguaq Association.
From game player to game designer, she enjoys time with her family and knitting, sewing, and going digital illustrations in Pangnirtung, NU. Talia studied at Fleming College and VCAD.

I. Talia Metuq: Ice Fishing

As it is late spring, we go ice fishing quite often. No fish goes to waste. We leave leftovers out at the lake for seagulls to eat. All the fat, bones and white meat goes to dogs, dried skins are best as treats too. Arctic char are best for the dog’s fur. And sometimes, we put a little bit of fat and bones in a jar or a small container to make a fly trap.

#wastefree #zerowaste

II. Talia Metuq: Hiking and Caribou

Summer is around the corner. That means it’s hiking 🥾 season. Most people go out camping to go caribou hunting. During the summer, we have to hike and hunt for caribou. If someone else catches caribou, then all the meat is carried back to the camp. It’s a workout, very good for mental health. Our nuna (land) is waste-free, but if there is bones left from our ancestors, we don’t pick them up. We are told to leave them alone or something can happen to us, such as boats not starting until the thing is put back on the nuna. It’s so beautiful out hiking.

#wastefree #cleanland

III Talia Metuq: Pang Hats

We call these Pang Hats – crocheted hats. Here are custom ordered hats with our Pinnguaq hexagon logo from the Uqqurmiut Art Centre that makes them. Local people make them as well. They’re warm, cute and comfortable. Other pictures are hats I made for my cousin and @ryan_oliver__‘s kids. They’re challenging, but the outcome is always so nice.

#panghat #nunavut #wastefree #pangnirtung

IV Talia Metuq:Seals

Living in Nunavut, seal 🦭 is one of the main meals. Both meat and skin makes us warm, meat itself has lots of vitamins. Fat are used for qulliq oil (Inuit traditional lamp). Sewing and all of the cleaning process of seal skin is really good for mental health. Some of the bones are also used as dice and inugait (seal flipper bones) are used as Inuit traditional toys.

#wastefree #wasteless #traditional #huntsealeatsealwearseal

V Talia Metuq: Spring Snow, Ice and Polar Bears

Have you ever been confused and wondered why it snows late spring? Well, snowing helps with the lakes and ocean melting. We don’t like it [snow] when we can still go ice fishing, and we get happy about it when we can’t go anymore – all because we look forward to clam digging and berry picking. Ice hopping is around the corner. Way back when, our ancestors were okay with kids ice hopping because it’s part of our life skills, but nowadays our elders don’t want anyone to go. Chunks of ice are also nerve-wracking because when they come into the fjord, there can be polar bears. Polar bears often go underwater and use their ears to pretend to be seagulls. Polar bears are great swimmers.

#nunavut #meltingicecaps #Inuityouth  #icepanning #dangerouslol

Ice Panning – a very dangerous pastime discouraged by the Elders (video by micky renders)

Art and Waste(s) Photovoice Project

As part of this ongoing effort to look at waste(s) and material flows in Pangnirtung, photographer David Kilabuk has been working with a group of local youth for the past two summers. These photo stories have yet to be written.

Flow /flō/

Verb 3rd person present: flows

a) : (of a fluid, gas, or electricity) move along or out steadily and continuously in a current or stream.

Fieldwork in Pangnirtung for Art and Waste Project

Diesel Dilemmas: Energy in Pangnirtung, entangled material flows, and the legacy of settler-colonial relations in Nunavut. by micky renders
micky renders, <meta charset="utf-8">settler-Canadian artist and Ph.D. student Queen's University, Kingston ON
micky renders, settler-Canadian artist and Ph.D. student Queen’s University, Kingston ON

Waste has been identified as a serious issue of concern by the Hamlet Council in Pangnirtung. This project comes out of an invitation received by Dr. Myra Hird, my supervisor, to find solutions to the waste crisis. I am grateful to be able to contribute to this effort. My aim, however, is not to theorize about Inuit understandings of waste(s) but to use art to share Inuit perspectives on waste(s), considering their personal, cultural, social, symbolic, historical, and environmental perspectives. To this end, I am providing art supplies, artist fees and other support to the artists who have agreed to collaborate on this project.

To date, three trips to Pangnirtung have been planned and cancelled, each just days before leaving. I was fortunate to travel there and meet with community members and the artists in my capacity as a research assistant to Dr. Hird in June 2019 just prior to starting my Ph.D.

As a visual artist, I will create a body of work from my position as a white settler Canadian and outsider to the community – using waste returned south from Pangnirtung. The following is a video Eshe Hird made while in Pangnirtung in the summer of 2018. Eshe, along with his mom, helped me by collecting wastes in Pangnirtung to use as raw materials for my project.

Working alongside Dr. Hird and doing research for this project to date has led me to see that Indigenous Peoples in Canada, and across the world, remain at the frontlines of extraction and waste impacts, and the responsibility for restoring degraded ecosystems is often downloaded to local communities.

“Reconciliation efforts will be in vain if land and water are contaminated and destroyed. By identifying waste as colonial and taking measures to return healthy land and water to Indigenous peoples, we seek to decolonize our relationship with the Earth on which we live and depend”

(Hird and Zahara, 2017)

My hope is to co-create this collection of art as a tool for advocacy about waste(s) that prioritizes Inuit self-determination, sharing it with non-Inuit Canadians who are unaware of this crisis. When we consider culturally appropriate solutions that take into account the damages caused by the historical and ongoing colonial project we can reconsider who is responsible for this situation and find more suitable ways of addressing this and other urgent issues in the North.

Here is a link to the Resources and Bibliography used for this exhibit.

One thought on “Art and Waste(s) in Pangnirtung, Nunavut (Live Exhibit)

  1. What a fantastic exhibit! David’s photography is stunning, the accounts of experiences, the seasons and traditional practices are mesmerizing. I cannot think of a more effective way to bring the realities of the community to the Canadian non-Inuit people.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: