Documentary focuses on NWT man’s ‘fork in the road’
In a new documentary, NWT film-makers Tiffany Ayalik and Caroline Cox follow an Inuvialuit man and his family as they explore self-sufficiency in the Arctic.
Ayalik, who is also a throat-singer in the duo PIQSIQ, and Cox have teamed up before on productions like Wild Kitchen, which focuses on wild food and harvesting.
Okpik: Little Village in the Arctic, their latest work, follows Kylik Kisoun Taylor. After facing financial struggles during the Covid-19 pandemic, he begins building what amounts to a self-sufficient village with his family.
“He was at a fork in the road,” said Ayalik, describing the dilemma Kisoun Taylor faced. “Do I stay in town and get a government job, and work 60 hours a week to afford to keep my house, and never see my family or my kids, and be miserable?
“Or do I move my family out into the bush to this traditional camp, work four or five hours a day, chop my own wood, spend five bucks a day on expenses, and go hunting with my kids to fill my freezer and keep the house warm with firewood?’”
Kisoun Taylor chose the second option and began to build a traditional log cabin. Ayalik said the project turned into an exploration of a village as a “site for cultural and language reclamation,” the building of which brought youth and Elders together.
“We can be introducing using strong language elements into people’s skill development, giving people mentorship, guidance, and practical training on how to build a log cabin, how to use fishnets, how to live out in the bush and actually get paid to do so,” she said.
As Kisoun Taylor – who couldn’t be reached for this article – used the village to teach others how to live off the land, Ayalik and Cox followed along for a year, filming in all four seasons. Their documentary has been released in English and Inuvialuktun, which Ayalik describes as “a very endangered dialect,” saying only one in five Inuvialuit people speak it.
“All of those people who are considered fluent are very much in their 70s and 80s or older,” she said.
“Kylik really feels the need to get more young people speaking the language, so it is important for us to help be a part of providing energy and focus into creating Inuvialuktun language resources.”
The documentary also features short video language tutorials produced with Kisoun Taylor’s daughter, Indigo.
“She’s a young Inuvialuit person who was able to … help encourage younger people to speak Inuvialuktun, and she’s learning as well,” said Ayalik.
The music in Okpik was composed by Diga, Tłı̨chǫ frontman of the band Digawolf. Ayalik said his soundtrack is crucial to the film.
“It was really great to have another northern Indigenous person who’s deeply connected to the North, and infuse an uplifting story through his music,” she said.
Okpik can be viewed on CBC Gem and on CBC Manitoba for those who have access via satellite.