The 50th Year Anniversary Commemoration of the Arnaqarvik project is most certainly about the art works of the early period of time 1972-1985. It involves collecting, recording, digitizing, and making freely available as many images as possible for the community and those interested to see. However, it is also about recording, documenting and exploring the story behind the story – the legacy of people.
The Arnaqarvik project, from its beginnings and from the ways it has morphed over the past fifty years, has paralleled much change in the community. The project emerged at a time when Inuit in Taloyoak were still viably semi-nomadic. Thus, in its first years Arnaqarvik was a place where people began to see how their land-based skills were ideally suited to a land-based craft economy; people could hunt and live on the land and also use those same skills in a wage economy, filling a void that the fur trade crash of the late 1960s created. Arnaqarvik saw the birth of the first settlement council (later to evolve into a Hamlet) and within the walls of Arnaqarvik women shared their questions about what voting was, and they conveyed what they heard to their husbands returning home with fish, seals, and caribou from trips on the land.
Within the walls of Arnaqarvik the craft women embraced the importance of their voices and then voiced the needs of their families in the newly establishing settlement. Along with award winning crafts and international attention and interest, within these walls women were also sharing their thoughts and questions on how to prepare some of the strange foods that the Hudson Bay Company sold (that they could now buy), how to resolve conflicts with the health and social services systems, who to speak to about such-and-such, and how their lives in this new situation differed so dramatically from that of their parents and – to how they themselves were raised. Inuit in this region had about 15 years to adjust to what the rest of Canada had 200 years to adjust to, in terms of technologies, changing economies and lifestyles. And behind the scenes of the outsized success of this tiny space with limited means was a community of women and their families – determined to engage with the new economy and the arts world on their own terms. Their resilience was that of hundreds of generations. Their vast skills and innovation were born of necessity, isolation and the strength and continuity of their ancestors.
As north meets south in Arnaqarvik, through the dedication and friendship of Arnaoyok and Judy over five decades – along with the friends they drew in at the time and along the way, the work of the community in integrating worlds that are apart – traditional Inuit way and Western technologies and systems – has continued down to grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great great grandchildren. Some of the influences came way too fast, like English-only TV, English dominant school curriculum, pollution, the impacts of climate change, and the weakening of first language Inuktut – the main vehicle of Inuit knowledge transmission in an oral culture. Yet the craft items of the women and men reach out to the generations over the decades with heartfelt precision like letters home: we are resilient, we are engaged, we are here. The threads, the colors, the artistry, the stories, the shapes all speak of the relationships among people, and – whatever new materials, shapes, venues, and practices arise, there is now a record, a visual memory, that bridges the ancient past with the 1970s project, and there is a hopscotching over time to today – a means of reflection and celebration. With this collection of Arnaqarvik works presented in the 50th Year Commemoration, there are threads that weave through the decades to joyously celebrate a people, a community, their vast creativity, and their resourcefulness in a changing world.