September 22, 2016
Susan Onalik has called St. John’s home for the last nine years. Originally from Makkovik, Nunatsiavut, on Labrador’s North Coast, she says she loves living in the city, even though sometimes she misses her home and her culture.
“I get this way especially during Christmas and Easter,” Onalik laments, “you get this home sick feeling and you long for being out on the land; I think that’s the hardest part.”
That’s why Onalik is so excited that one of the world’s largest celebrations of Inuit and Inuit culture, the 2016 Inuit Studies Conference, is coming to St. John’s. The conference will bring in hundreds of knowledge-bearers, researchers, Elders, students, and others from across the circumpolar world.
The conference will be a chance for Onalik to connect with and celebrate her culture, see old friends, and make new ones.
“There’s going to be a lot of knowledge sharing and a lot to soak in. It’s really going to uplift my spirit for sure!” Onalik says with excitement. “It’s going to really make an impact on Inuit here in St. John’s, and I think for myself personally, I’m going to benefit so much and learn from every minute of it.”
Accompanying the conference will be three major events open to the St. John’s public: the all-Inuit, all-night arts festival, iNuit blanche; the katingavik inuit arts festival, which celebrates contemporary Inuit creativity in all its forms; and SakKijâjuk: Art and Craft from Nunatsiavut, which explores Labrador Inuit culture at The Rooms Provincial Gallery.
“It’s going to show a different side of Inuit to many people here in St. John’s and help them develop a deeper understanding of our culture and who we are,” explains Onalik. “For the Inuit who live here, it will give them something to be excited about, something to be proud about, something they can share with everyone.”
Onalik works as a program coordinator at the St. John’s Native Friendship Centre. She does a lot of work with the local Inuit community, from ulu making courses, to potlucks, to berry picking. She says the Inuit community may appear small at times, but she says it is diverse and vibrant with Inuit from across Canada.
Christopher Sheppard works with Onalik: he is the executive director of the St. John’s Native Friendship Centre. For him the conference presents an opportunity to dispel stereotypes about Inuit, and distinctly mark the Inuit presence in the city.
“The Inuit Studies Conference is important especially for Inuit who live outside the North, to showcase that there are Inuit who live in the more southern cities and outside of Inuit areas,” says Sheppard. “A lot of times we’ve been turned into this romanticized image, people think there are inukshuks everywhere, cultural images of the Inuit in places where they really shouldn’t be. Having an opportunity to show what contemporary Inuit culture really looks like, especially in the more southern location, it’s really important.”
St. John’s is home to many vibrant cultures, and attracts people from around the world. Despite this, Onalik says that Inuit are not the most visible community in the city, but she hopes that the conference and festivals will help change that.
“I hope this interest and excitement around Inuit continues on after the conference is finished, says Onalik. “I’m hoping people will be more educated about Inuit all over Canada, and that people will start asking more questions to us at the Friendship Centre about Inuit. I hope people here in St. John’s will have some more understanding and respect for Inuit.”
Onalik says that she, and many other members of the St. John’s Inuit community will be volunteering at the Inuit Studies Conference and festivals this October.