From the very beginning the atmosphere at the craft shop was open, trusting, safe and supportive. As a group, the women spoke out to save the craft shop, lobbied for getting the old school once the new one was built and through discussions around health and social services concerns and issues, they initiated changes in both areas. They even had an unusual influence on a federal election outcome. A fellow from Inuvik, Wally Firth, was running but didn’t have the funds to visit the communities so he sent a flyer in the mail to everyone explaining he was born in the Arctic, had hunted, fished, and trapped, and had worked for the Hudson Bay and really felt he could represent the NWT well. The women were impressed that ‘he is one of us’ and wondered how they could help Wally get elected. We talked about the power of communication, talking with friends, neighbours, relatives, going on local radio, writing notes to other communities. Their efforts resulted in Spence Bay voting 98% for NDP Wally Firth despite the Liberal candidate, while canvassing for votes distributing crates of oranges throughout the town.
Many people who trained at Arnaqarvik or were influenced by being with their mothers while they were working for Arnaqarvik, did go on to work for the government or other organizations. Rather than being protective about keeping their trained personnel, the Arnaqarvik team felt that what they were doing was for the good of the whole community, and that all skills are valuable and transferable – that the craft shop training would elevate confidence and knowledge for the community as a whole. They were proud whenever any of their women or young girls achieved a position with another organization or the government, developed their own craft business, or went on to teach at the school. One, Leona Aglukkaq, was elected as an MP representing Nunavut and became Canada’s first female aboriginal Minister of Health and later Minister for the Environment. Leona’s mother, Nilaulaaq, was one of the founding members of craft shop; Leona was a little girl clinging to her mother’s amauti that carried her baby brother Willy.
The craft shop did stop for a time after 1986, but the skilled women and portfolio of designs were revived again in 1995 through the creation of Taluq Designs. During that closure period the copyright to their Packing Animals had been transferred by territorial government to a craft shop in Holman Island (now Ulukhaqtuuq). With the renewal of Taluq Designs the women wrote a letter to the women in Holman requesting the copyright be returned, they agreed – adding they were relieved – and Taluq Designs has since added to the Packing Animals series.
“My husband doesn’t mind if I go different places for my work. Some of the women here have trouble with their husbands if they go out to work. It’s better if they can work at home when there are still babies around. The women are afraid to lose Judy because most of the women really like what they do and are making more money than their husbands. Some women buy skidoos from the money they make sewing. If they make things properly, we will buy it. In this community they wanted to do handicrafts for a long time but had nobody to help them.”
- Arnaoyok Alookee