Over the course of working on this issue, I spoke to several Inuvialuit community members in Tuktoyaktuk and Inuvik. I had different set of questions for each individual that I talked to, but there was always one recurring question: What does it mean to be Inuvialuit?
The best answer that I received was from Nellie Cournoyea. “I don’t know what that question means. It’s our people,” she told me. “It’s hard to talk about what it is to be Inuvialuit. I am. It’s a funny question because we are Inuvialuit. It’s who we are…The values and traditions are important. You practice them but you don’t talk about them. You just go and do it.”
It was here where I realized that for many, to be Inuvialuit is to simply just be. Their values, traditions, lifestyle and culture are not alien or unique to them. For most, this is just how life is and always has been.
As someone who has spent their whole life in Ottawa, a political city that lacks any real sense of Indigenous values or traditions, it was difficult for me to initially understand this concept. As a southerner, the Inuvialuit culture is still very new and extraordinary to me.
I started thinking about various answers to my own question. I reflected on all the conversations that I’ve had with Inuvialuit community members, and all the cultural events that I’ve had the pleasure of attending.
From an outsider’s perspective, to be Inuvialuit is to be proud – proud of your heritage, where you come from and where you are now. It’s to be respectful to all: past and present, Inuvialuit or not. More importantly, it’s about valuing what you have: the land and all of its resources, your family, culture and community.
I’ve realized that this sense of community lies at the heart of the Inuvialuit. The harsh and difficult weather conditions that come with the region’s winter season presents a number of different challenges. I’ve come to understand that one of the major keys to their success in braving such a climate is made possible through working with one another.
Celebrating the Inuvialuit Final Agreement is to celebrate the commitment and the sacrifices that the Inuvialuit had made in fighting to protect what belonged to them. It wasn’t achieved by one single person, but rather by a group of dedicated Inuvialuit who spent years crafting a voice that best represents all Inuvialuit.
The Inuvialuit are strong and resilient together, and they’ve been celebrating their ability to persevere for the past 35 years. It’s only right that they have their own day in which they celebrate how far that they have come.