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Inuit Art Quarterly - - CONTENTS - Wanda Nanibush

Janet Ki­gu­siuq

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...

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