Born in the Back River area of the Kivalliq region in Nunavut, Janet Kigusiuq (1926-2005) is renowned for her colourful graphic and fabric work. With the encouragement of her famous artist mother, Jessie Oonark, OC, RCA (19061985), Kigusiuq began drawing in 1967, eventually contributing two drawings to the Baker Lake
Print Collection in 1970.
Kigusiuq’s life and memories before moving to Qamani’tuaq (Baker Lake) became the basis for many of her drawings: camp life, hunting and fishing, animal life and mythological beings are all present in her works. The circulation of memory in these works functions as active resistance to the Southernization and colonization of life in the settlements, including enforced residential schooling and conversion to Christianity, as well as the switch to wage-based economies. Her drawings supported her family, who continued to hunt and remember and practice “traditional” spirituality while adapting to the new life in Qamani’tuaq.
Indians Celebrating the Capture of Inuit (1981) differs from many of her drawings in that it depicts the historical relations of Inuit and First Nations. Kigusiuq’s work represents First Nations in full regalia, dancing in what she terms “a celebration”. Meanwhile, two Inuit figures, who have clearly been arrested, look on from the top right-hand corner. These figures are diminutively drawn and are marginally placed next to the central dancers. The artist employs colour to draw attention to signifiers of “Indian-ness” in the headdress, bustle and footwear. This work, created prior to her later abstract turn, displays a strong command of medium and a deep attention to detail. Working here from a flat plane, Kigusiuq’s ability to convey a rich and robust narrative is undeniable. You can feel the insult in the celebration.
I was intrigued by this work, wondering to what event it might refer, and troubled at the thought that we, as First Nations people, would be seen as separate from Inuit in someway. I know historically we were named “Indians” under the Indian Act and that Inuit were not brought under the act until 1939, following a Supreme Court decision amending the meaning of the term under subsection 91(24). First Nations and Inuit are also both considered “Aboriginal” under section 35 of the constitution of 1982, which affirms our Aboriginal and treaty rights. Closer to Kigusiuq’s home, the ruling of the 1979 court case Hamlet of Baker Lake v. Minister of Indian Affairs meant that Inuit also had title to the land and, thus, hunting and fishing rights to the surrounding areas. Subsequently, the community launched a case to stop uranium mining on the upper Thelon River. Did we not stand by them in this fight? Kigusiuq’s striking work is a potent visual reminder of how we can unite in our shared resistance for sovereignty over our land, resources and culture.
Kigusiuq’s striking work is a potent visual reminder of how we can unite in our shared resistance for sovereignty over our land, resources and culture.
Janet Kigusiuq (1926-2005 Qamani’tuaq) Indians Celebrating the Capture of Inuit 1981 Coloured pencil and graphite 56.5 x 76.1 cm Art Gallery of Ontario Gift of Samuel and Esther Sarick Courtesy Sanavik Co-operative Association Limited/ Canadian Arctic...