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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


February 21, 2004 - Issue 107


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Elders provide snapshots of Inuit culture
Disposable camera project produces unique cultural exhibit

by Jane George -Nunatsiaq News


photo 1: Visions Inuit 2004, photo by Leah Niviaxie, with Ivigaq - straws for baskets. (PHOTOS REPRODUCED WITH PERMISSION)
photo 2: Photo by Amélie Breton, 2003, of Lydia Tukai.
photo 3: Visions Inuit 2004, photo Tyna Amidlak - geese eggs.
photo 4: Visions Inuit 2004, photo by Tyna Amidlu - preparing meat.
photo 5: Photo by Amélie Breton, 2003, of Meeko Nastapoka.

Visions Inuit 2004, photo by Leah Niviaxie, with Ivigaq - straws for baskets. (PHOTOS REPRODUCED WITH PERMISSION)A loving look at Inuit culture and traditions is the focus of Visions Inuit, an exhibit that opens next week in Quebec City and features photos by six Inukjuak elders and photographer Amélie Breton.

The exhibit is the fruit of Breton's three-month stay last summer in Inukjuak. She is studying toward a masters' degree in anthropology under Louis-Jacques Dorais at Université Laval, and went to Inukjuak on a research project of her own design.

Her goal was to see what photos elders and youth would take about what's important to them in Inuit culture and what's worth preserving.

"I gave 10 disposable cameras to elders and 10 to youth and asked them what they didn't want to see disappear in their environment. I wanted to give them just a month, but they all wanted more because they brought the cameras to their summer camps," Breton says. "One asked for a second camera!"

Photo by Amélie Breton, 2003, of Lydia Tukai.Breton's idea was to compare the visions of the two generations- the over-55 and those age 16 to 20 - and see whether the photos could offer clues about how Inuit of different ages look at the world and their identity as Inuit.

"The elders were really enthusiastic, they said, 'Finally, I've been wishing I could take photos of my camp, it's been so long. I will able to show these to my grandchildren,'" Breton says. "They were really happy."

The elders' photos showed mainly traditional activities, young people learning traditional skills and aspects of nature.

"I developed these shots, and then I went back with the translator to learn more about them," Breton says.

Breton's project was helped out by strategic support from Université Laval and Nunavik's Avataq Cultural Institute. The camera company, Konica-Minolta, supplied the disposable cameras for participants and a lens for her camera. Air Inuit underwrote 90 per cent of Breton's ticket to the community, but that was all the financial help she received.

"I had to use my own money to pay my translator [Eva Weetaluktuk] and the participants. So, I worked unloading the sealift cargo for the co-op during one entire night alongside many local residents and my translator and I were hired a few hours a day for a month as housekeepers for construction crews.... In spite of this, my credit card was maxed out, but I didn't have any alternative if I wanted to pursue my project," Breton says.

Visions Inuit 2004, photo Tyna Amidlak - geese eggs.Breton first visited Inukjuak in 2002 on a contract for the health and social services commission of the First Nations of Quebec and Labrador, La Commission de la Santé et des Services Sociaux des Premières Nations du Québec et du Labrador.

Breton had studied film and already had a book of photographs and two awards to her credit before embarking on the Inukjuak project.

"When I was developing the photos [of Inukjuak] in black and white in the back of a closet, I was really excited to discover a new land and an Inuit vision in each and every one," Breton says. "I was touched to see that the elders had participated so seriously in this project and taken their cameras with them in the camps to show me the details."

As many of the participants in the project were out camping for most of the summer, and Breton had to leave Inukjuak in August, she wasn't able to complete all her interviews with the photographers. And she only got back three of the 10 cameras that she had handed out to the youth participants.

Visions Inuit 2004, photo by Tyna Amidlu - preparing meat.Breton plans to return to Inukjuak next summer to finish her interviews and recruit more young people who would be keen on taking photos. She looks at this project as the beginning of a career in visual anthropology - that is, the study of people through visual means, such as photos or film.

"Visual anthropology is, in my opinion, even more worth exploring and developing because in the context we live in, even in the North, we're bombarded by images, broadcast or printed, that come from every corner of our planet," Breton says.

Breton says it's too early to draw many conclusions from what the photos say, but, in her opinion, there seem to be more connections between the generations' view of their world than might have been expected.

"The youth took only a couple of photos of the town, even though their photos of the land seemed to show that they go there more for leisure than to gather food," Breton says.

Until she's reached a larger sample of youth in Inukjuak, her project, and the masters' thesis she intends to write, won't be finished.

Photo by Amélie Breton, 2003, of Meeko Nastapoka.Visions Inuit is on display from Feb. 16 to 29 in an open-roofed igloo on the terrace of restaurant-bar Le Pub at Université Laval, right behind the Pavilion Alphonse-Desjardins.

Breton plans to mount the photos in blocks of ice. Colour photos by elders Adamie Niviaxie, Leah Niviaxie, Mary Patsauq Iqaluk, Samisa Kingalik and Tyna Amidlak are included in the exhibition, as well as her own black and white photos.

The exhibition's opening takes place on Feb. 16 from 4 to 6 p.m. Breton hopes some Nunavimmiut will attend.

When she returns to Inukjuak next summer, Breton says she will be bringing the photos along. She would also like to bring a photography exhibit to Nunavik during the winter when photos could be again exhibited in a traditional igloo.

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