BUSINESS AND PRODUCTION
In 1972, most of the employment opportunities in Spence Bay were only available to men and many residents were on Social Assistance. Arnaqarvik became a business venture for the women of the community by turning their skills and creativity into an economic source for them. The women were proud to have their own money and buy things for their families. Arnaqarvik also created an economy for local children, who could collect plants and lichens for dyeing wool in exchange for money. It also provided some income for men who carved caribou antlers for hangings and buttons and buckles for garments.
In the fall of 1972, Arnaqarvik opened as a tentative business in the Department of Fisheries house. At the time, a group of ten women worked with Arnaqarvik creating prototype ideas. The following summer many women and children were involved with collecting plants and lichens for dyes after which a group of 30 women participated in training to produce the successful designs from the previous fall. Many of those designs were created by Arnaoyok Alookee and she became the manager/instructor.
While the initial focus was on producing clothing – mostly coats, Mother Hubbard dresses, and hangings – a small number of women continued with creating new designs through a Canada Council grant obtained to keep fresh ideas flowing into the business. By late 1973, the group received its first major contract to design and produce nearly 400 outfits for the Northwest Territories athletes and dignitaries going to the 1974 Arctic Winter Games in Alaska.
The program also taught local women the skills of entrepreneurship. Eva Strickler had visited Cuba in 1972 and observed how people who worked extra hard were rewarded by getting time off to go to school. Learning was a badge of honour and accomplishment. The Arnaqarvik group applied the same method to their adult education program. With funding and cooperation from businesses in the south Arnaoyok was able to apprentice in the retail trade, interacting with customers and learning the costs of running a business, as well as visiting the duffle manufacturer and fabric distributors, bringing this knowledge and experience back to share through the education program. When new equipment was purchased and delivered to Arnaqarvik, an instructor was included to teach the proper use and care of the machinery. Arnaoyok also taught the other members about money. She cut out 100 paper pennies and explained what a dollar was made of. The students learned that when they got paid the amount they receive might vary due to quality of work or other factors. They learned why a garment or sculpture they had made cost many times the amount in the southern stores than what they were paid and through adult education, the group was able to reduce mistrust of the ‘down-souths’. A Board of Directors was created for Taloyoak Takoyaksak ᑕᓗᕐᖪᐊᖅ ᑕᑯᖬᒃᑦ, and the project became the first non-profit organization with their constitution written in Inuktitut. The organization was legalized in Yellowknife, and when the women knew that Taloyoak Takoyaksak belonged to them, they took appropriate ownership. The women were so concerned about overhead cost (heating and utilities were referred to as “the lights”) that they took their tea breaks with the lights turned off to save money.
As the residents of Spence Bay had gradually moved from the land only within the previous ten years, the last family moving in 1971, it was a huge leap for the residents to understand the ways of the south and business and a source of pride that Arnaqarvik and Arnaoyok were able to help bridge that chasm for a better understanding of their new world.
DOLLS AND PACKING ANIMALS
Arnaqarvik provided Inuit women opportunities to express traditional skills and stories through novel sewing designs. Animal packing dolls were among the most popular products created by Arnaqarvik, and allowed seamstresses an endless source of inspiration and experimentation for production.
The Tusarniqtut Project was initiated by Judy McGrath in 1991 in partnership with Arnaqarvik members Bessie Ashevak, Neeveovak Marqniq and Anouyok Alookee. The project was self-funded and developed as an educational resource to introduce Inuit children to the Netsilingmiut language and traditional Inuit stories