History project reuniting Inuvialuit with artifacts of their ancestors

From a braided sealskin dog whip to a historic ulu, Inuvialuit across the Western Arctic have been reuniting with the artifacts of their ancestors.

As part of the Inuvialuit Living History Project, replicas from the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife, and artifacts from Ivvavik National Park in Yukon, are being brought up to the Inuvialuit Settlement Region.

Albert Elias has been contributing his knowledge to the project since 2009, when he and a group of elders went to the Smithsonian museum in Washington D.C.

“To see the artifacts that the Inuvialuit had at the Smithsonian, safe keeping there, was at sometimes emotional because we were able to hold the items,” he said. “What I saw there was how resourceful our people were from way back,” said Elias.

The Smithsonian holds the MacFarlane Collection, which is about 550 artifacts collected by Hudson’s Bay Company clerk Roderick MacFarlane during his travels in the Northwest Territories between 1860 and 1870.

Rebecca Goodwin sits with a display of traditional artifacts. (Submitted by Rebecca Goodwin)

Elias says one of the first thoughts he had while at the museum was “how do we get the collections back to beneficiaries?”

Although that isn’t possible yet, he’s happy some objects are coming home.

As well as the dog whip and the ulu, the objects also include sled runners and traditional fishing equipment.

“A lot of people have been really excited about the dog whip because they remember family members having big dog teams and using dog whips,” said Rebecca Goodwin, a PhD candidate at the University of Western Ontario and a team member with the Inuvialuit Living History Project.

‘Now we are bringing things north’

Goodwin says the team first brought a bunch of artifacts to Inuvik during the Great Northern Arts Festival, and have been bringing the objects to various communities, like Aklavik and Tuktoyaktuk. She hopes to bring them to Sachs Harbour as well.

“We can’t keep bringing people down all the time, it’s not the best way to do it,” said Goodwin. “So now we are bringing things north.”

Goodwin says she has talked to about 10 elders so far about the artifacts and replicas, so she can get a better understanding of their uses.

It’s really important [for] young people to learn about our history and our language.– Albert Elias

She and the objects will be leaving the area soon, but there will be a gathering at the end of September in Inuvik where elders will hold workshops to tell stories.

Goodwin and her team hope to contribute their knowledge to the Inuvialuit Living History Project’s website, so others can be educated.

“I’m here to learn, which has been really wonderful,” she said.

“The ultimate goal is just to make the cultural heritage, the material objects, like the artifacts and replicas, available to people and useful to people.”

For Elias, who is now 76, he hopes the project will have an influence on the education system in the North.

“It’s really important [for] young people to learn about our history and our language.”

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