Teaching culture, tradition in Baker Lake

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A program teaching youth how to prepare meat and sew sealskin mitts is meeting with early success, while helping to improve and nurture the cultural and traditional skills of its participants.

The program is funded through the Baker Lake Health and Wellness Committee, instructed by elder Patsy Kaayak and focused on youth 12 to 17 years of age.

Program co-organizer Annie Killulark said when the program first launched this past year, many people in the community were impressed with it because of its uniqueness.

She said she’s been living in Baker Lake for the past 10 years and there’s been no program of its kind held for the youth of the community during that time.

Youth participating in a meat preperation and sewing program make a parachute out of a tarp to play some games that add a little fun to each day of the program out on the land near Baker Lake in June of 2019.
Photo courtesy of Annie Killulark

“The parents were really impressed with our efforts in this program, which saw us have 14 youth participate in the first year and 12 more this year,” said Killulark.

“People were asking for more of it after our first year was completed, so we secured additional funding to hold another one this year.

“We owe a big thank you to the Health and Wellness Committee for supporting this program, and to Arctic Fuel for giving us a big van at no cost, which we’ve been using to transport the kids back and forth to the cabin.”

The program begins when the snow starts to melt in Baker and it becomes warm enough for the participants to work outside on caribou meat.

That could be anywhere from the end of May to the end of June.

The youth begin the program at their instructor’s cabin, about two kilometres outside the community.

Killulark said the youth don’t have to spend too much time working on the meat, so it’s not long before they’re sewing sealskin while waiting for the meat to dry.

She said the youth will spend at least a couple of weeks learning the valuable traditional skill.

Participants Summer Oovayuk, back, and from left, Janine Seeteenak, Lorenza Mautaritnaaq and Talluk Niuqtuq have taken part in both meat preperation and sewing programs and are becoming experts in those skills in Baker Lake this past month.
Photo courtesy of Annie Killulark

“They also cook caribou heads and feet outside and invite their parents to come out and see the progress they’re making in the program.

“To me, personally, doing programs like this with caribou preparation and sewing sealskin with an elder is very productive, and when kids learn these skills, they stick with them.

“You just have to make the program a little fun to get them out and to stick with it.”

Killulark said, in her experience, when youth get involved with programs that teach meat preparation, sealskin sewing, hide tanning or kamiik making, they tend to keep with what they’ve learned and maybe even go onto other skills.

She said it’s important for programs such as this to teach Inuit youth how to sew for themselves, instead of buying expensive clothes somewhere.

“They learn how to make themselves mitts to keep their hands warm during the winter, which, in turn, helps them to be more independent.

“Our young girls are more into a program that teaches meat preparation and sewing, but we also have a couple of young boys taking part.

“If they don’t want to sew during the program, we have them chopping-up wood to have ready for a bonfire or for when they’re cooking caribou meat outside.

“This has been a very positive experience. I have not received any negative feedback whatsoever from anyone, and the kids are excited to go up to the cabin every day.”