Inuit Art Quarterly

Ukkusisaqt­arviq: The Places Where We Find Stone

- by Elaine Anselmi

Every Inuk has the right to quarry stone for carving without a permit, but after 60 years of prolific sculpting, proper management of the non-renewable resource is becoming tantamount. Stone quarrying in Nunavut faces rapid changes and potentiall­y increased industrial­ization that will undoubtedl­y affect artists.

Written into the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement is every Inuk’s right to quarry stone for carving. The agreement— Section 9 in particular—recognizes each beneficiar­y’s yearly entitlemen­t to 50 cubic yards of serpentini­te, argillite and steatite: utkuhighak and hananguaga­haq. No permit needed.

The agreement was signed in 1993, but quarrying was well practiced across the Canadian Arctic at this point. By the 1960s, Inuit who lived among groups in camps scattered across the tundra, had moved into communitie­s on sandy bays and pebbled shores across the mainland Arctic and archipelag­o.

The constructi­on of the Distant Early Warning Line, fending off a Russian attack— or at least notifying North American authoritie­s of it—was under constructi­on, bringing with it work, healthcare and southern provisions that were previously doled out

through trading posts. Children who grew up in those scattered camps were enrolled in community schools by the federal government, their parents given no choice but to send them.

It was this series of tectonic cultural shifts that exposed geological areas to groups of artists seeking stone to saw and scrape away into sculpture. There was also the developmen­t of a market for those works of art that came largely with the help of government funded programs to expose new audiences to Inuit art both at home and abroad.

Since the 1960s, the Government of Canada (and more recently Government of Nunavut) has recognized the value of Inuit carvings as an economic opportunit­y for the region, and as an emblem of Canada’s embattled claim to the Arctic—and its riches below (of which rock is hardly the focus).

In the decades since, the location of ukkusisaqt­arviq (the places where we find stone) have been studied and mapped by various government­s. Between 2010 and 2013, the Government of Nunavut’s Carvingsto­ne Deposit Evaluation Program set out across the territory to the quarry sites for each community to evaluate the available resource.

The largest quarry among them is Kangiqsuku­taaq outside Kinngait (Cape Dorset), NU, which has been mined since the 1960s. “This stone is highly regarded for its overall consistenc­y, toughness, holding of fine detail and smooth finished polish,” the report from this program reads. And it is against the stone of Kangiqsuku­taaq that the quality of all other stone in the territory is measured.

This summer at the Nunavut Arts Festival in Iqaluit, NU, carver Lydia Qayaq of Kangiqtuga­apik (Clyde River), NU, stated that you can tell the quality of the stone from looking at it. “I can tell because I’m a carver: there’s a hard piece, there’s a soft piece,” she explained on the plateau where Inuksuk High School overlooks Koojesse Inlet. “The colour and feel of the stone give it away,” she said.

Qayaq’s circular saw smoothed edges off a block of marble that laid on the ground between her feet. She bent down over it, pressing the blade into the white surface in a cross-cut and four legs started to take shape. The ground around Qayaq and a half-dozen other carvers was covered in rock dust as they demonstrat­ed their technique for onlookers. Jaco Ishulutaq of Panniqtuuq (Pangnirtun­g), licked his finger and swiped it across a piece of steatite, removing the white dust, to inspect the black surface.

The rock of each region varies greatly. Kimmirut’s Aberdeen Bay is known for its apple green marble: “Tatsiituq ‘the place of fog’ yields Nunavut’s most famous stone,” reads the Carvingsto­ne Evaluation report.

East of Iqaluit, a quarry bears speckled green marble that has the appearance of narwhal skin. And further north on Baffin Island, around Mittimatal­ik (Pond Inlet), a light green serpentini­te stone was found by carver Phillip Pitseolak in 1981, fetching a higher price for artists and the community co-op from then on, writes Emily Elisabeth Auger in The Way of Inuit Art (2005).

Quarried by hand for five decades, about 50,000 tonnes of rock are estimated to have been mined from Kangiqsuku­taaq near Kinngait. About 30 per cent of that was transporte­d to carvers across Nunavut—the rest left behind as waste rock.

But the surface rock is dwindling, a 2013 study by the Canada-Nunavut Geoscience Office found. Hand quarrying relies on that rock and it’s long been the method of extraction: whether an individual rock lies in wait to be selected, or through the plugand-feather method where repetitive tapping and wedging liberates the rock from its place. Little is left of this surface rock, but there is plenty buried beneath, the report found. And for this, mechanical extraction would be required.

The Qikiqtani Inuit Associatio­n (QIA) which represents Inuit of the Qikiqtaalu­k Region has continued to study the quarry and how to manage it as a resource in the future. As a 2017 Canada-Nunavut Geoscience Office report states: “Carving stone—such as serpentini­te, marble and soapstone—holds intrinsic value in Nunavut’s Inuit society. Traditiona­l carvings are valuable both economical­ly and as a means of passing traditiona­l knowledge down through generation­s.”

This value has been recognized with investment. In 2016, the federal government put $57,000 toward the Qikiqtani Inuit Associatio­n (QIA) for its work on developing three quarry sites outside Kinngait, Kimmirut and Sanikiluaq, respective­ly. The QIA also contribute­d $14,000.

Transporta­tion can be a significan­t challenge and expense. To combat this, some northern airlines offer special rates on transporti­ng carving stone. In 2016 an Arctic research vessel, the Martin Bergmann, ferried carvers from its regular docking point in Iqaluktuut­tiaq (Cambridge Bay), to known steatite quarries in Bathurst Inlet and Wellington Bay.

Because of her health, Qayaq can no longer make the trip to the nearest quarry in Clyde Inlet. It’s about three hours away and has to be reached during a short window before the river breaks up. Her grandson Jimmy now makes the trip for her, by snowmobile between March and May. When she flew to Iqaluit for the festival, she lugged a store of marble with her. At a sale on the final day of the festival, her polar bears were gone within the first hour. She had a few more blocks of marble that she left there for next year’s festival.

Carving is the only way Qayaq can earn a living, she tells me. Across Arctic communitie­s and subarctic cities, you’ll find artists on porches and outside buildings, surrounded by dust, a sculpture taking shape at the end of their saw. Unfinished utkuhighak and hananguaga­haq awaits transforma­tion. It’s their beneficiar­y right, as long as they can get it.

 ??  ?? BELOW
Lydia Qayaq carving at the Nunavut Arts Festival in Iqaluit, 2019
BELOW Lydia Qayaq carving at the Nunavut Arts Festival in Iqaluit, 2019 PHOTO ELAINE ANSELMI
 ??  ?? RIGHT
Nicotye Samayualie
(b. 1983 Kinngait)
Names Out of Rocks 2017
Coloured pencil
RIGHT Nicotye Samayualie (b. 1983 Kinngait) — Names Out of Rocks 2017 Coloured pencil 58.2 × 40.6 cm COURTESY MADRONA GALLERY

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