Hundreds of individuals from neighbouring communities – and even from countries as far as Japan – flocked to Inuvik earlier this week as the town celebrated the 62nd annual Muskrat Jamboree.
From April 5 to 8, the Jamboree offered attendees a new set of events and experiences with each passing day. With numerous opportunities to win big in cash prizes, hundreds of people from all walks of life competed in a variety of games at the Jamboree’s river site, including ski-doo racing, harpoon throwing, honey bag hockey, dog sled racing, muskrat skinning and more.
“A lot of it is rooted in tradition. It’s passing on our culture. It’s letting people experience our way of life,” said Jamboree chair Greta Sittichinli. “People don’t know how we’re linked to that rabbit or how the muskrat is important. It’s our land. We’re celebrating who we are as Indigenous people.”
According to Sittichinli, around $20,000 in total cash prizes were distributed to contestants throughout the Jamboree.
“It goes back to the community… They support us. For us, we volunteer and gather this,” she said. “It’s not just for 10 people. There’s a lot of people impacted. It’s not just for one group, it’s for everybody. Roy Ipana used to tell us that there’s always room for everyone.”
The opening ceremonies alone – which were hosted for the first time in the Midnight Sun Complex’s Roy ‘Sugloo’ Ipana Memorial Arena – had more than 300 people in attendance.
“It’s inclusive, it’s collective, it’s community… The work that we do is because we’re serving others,” Sittichinli said. “That’s what our Elders say. When someone comes to visit us, we take care of them, because one day we might be at their community and they’ll take care of us.”
The crowning of the king and queen of this year’s Jamboree also took place during the opening ceremonies. William Day and Ashlyn Hendrick were announced as royalty after the pair raised more than $37,800 during their two-month-long fundraising campaign.
In total, the four couples competing for the crown raised more than $75,000.
“I really commend them. They give up their lives for like eight to nine weeks,” Sittichinli added.
A community feast was hosted at the ceremonies as well, with foods such as ham, turkey, moose, geese, muskrat, rabbit and more dished out to hungry guests. Most of the feast was prepared by volunteers, while some community members contributed meals they had prepared at home.
“It’s reciprocity. When we see our friends come from different communities, we’re happy to see them. It’s the relationships and the reciprocity,” Sittichinli said. “It’s formed on respect. That’s what our culture is about.”
The Jamboree, she continued, is critical to the community as it keeps Gwich’in and Inuvialuit traditions and values alive.
“It makes me feel happy because we’re passing it down and sharing it. Sometimes I see newcomers that want to join,” she said. “We don’t push them away, we welcome them.”
She added that she hopes guests come away from this year’s Jamboree with good memories.
“I hope that their heart is kindled, that they enjoyed themselves. When we go to them, we’re going to have that same feeling,” she said.