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Evening course promotes literacy through storytelling

Karen Mackenzie
Northern News Services
Published Monday, April 28, 2008

SANIKILUAQ - A group of Sanikiluarmiut is breathing new life into a very old story, with the help of local elders and a handful of puppets.

Participants in the Story Sack evening program at the local Arctic College are working to immortalize the legend of Kingngaaluk in Inuktitut.

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This puppet is one of a handful created by a Nunavut Arctic College evening class in Sanikiluaq to bring a local legend to life. - photo courtesy of Deborah Thomas

The story has been told around the community for many generations, according to instructor Annie Cookie.

"My grandmother's sister who is alive, that story was even before she was born," she said. "It's a very old story of the big mountain near the community, which when we grew up, we saw every day."

At the class' request her great aunt Louisa Ippak, along with Annie Tookalook, came and retold the legend in Inuktitut.

"There was a man, a wife and his child, and the man was easily angry. Those are the main puppets we are making," said Cookie.

In the story, the wife grows tired of being bullied and runs to the top of Kingngaaluk with her baby in her amauti.

"The husband grabs her, but they all fall down the mountain into the lake at the bottom, and the husband hits his head on a rock," recounts Cookie. "And then people, maybe neighbours, later see a big white whale with a baby on its back."

The tale will be tweaked a bit in order to reduce the violence, but the puppet play will tell it as close as possible to the original, according to Cookie.

The puppets themselves are hand-sculpted and painted, and dressed in hand-sewn seal skin parkas with fur trims.

"I saw a notice on a bulletin board, liked to sew, so decided to give it a try," said student Lucy Tookalook.

"I never tried making a puppet before. I like to make the little parkas and the amautiik."

The program, which is funded by the Government of Nunavut's Department of Education, was introduced into the territory by of the Nunavut Literacy Council to build and develop Inuktitut literacy.

"The idea is to get together and maintain an environment that is predominantly Inuktitut, to retell the legend in Inuktitut in a way that it can be preserved in its original language," said Deborah Thomas, an adult educator at the college.

As with other communities which have participated in the past - like Cape Dorset and Arctic Bay - story boards, puppets and props, a recording and syllabic transcription will be placed in a sack or trunk so other groups in the community can retell it in the future.

The group has been attending classes every Monday and Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m. for the past month.