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.
Flows \ ˈflō \
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’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.
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.
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:
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!
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.
I. Talia Metuq: Ice Fishing
II. Talia Metuq: Hiking and Caribou
III Talia Metuq: Pang Hats
IV Talia Metuq:Seals
V Talia Metuq: Spring Snow, Ice and Polar Bears
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.
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
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.
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.