The Inuvik Drummers and Dancers kicked off the 2022 Great Northern Arts Festival (GNAF) on Friday night in Inuvik, marking the first time Inuvik locals and folks from across Canada gathered at the Midnight Sun Complex since pre-pandemic.
This year’s festival will run until July 17 with workshops, a gallery, and sales at the Midnight Sun Complex. Workshops include slipper making with Karen Nicloux, beaded keychains or bracelets with Catherine Cockney, and reflection painting with embelishments with Linda Wright. A full list of workshops can be found on the GNAF Facebook page.
There will also be performances every night at Chief Jim Koe Park Pavillon, with performers including Miranda Currie, the Beluga Boys, and the Fort McPherson Jiggers.
Inuvik’s mayor, Clarence Wood, welcomed artists and visitors, saying, “The artistry you will encounter this week has often been passed from generation to generation, shared among friends, taught in workshops, and always crafted with respect and creativity.”
Sharla Greenland, Chief Operating Officer of the Gwich’in Tribal Council, told artists she “looks forward to viewing the amazing pieces in the gallery, taking in the workshops, watching the fashion show, and enjoying the cultural and musical performances throughout the week.”
“Art is such good medicine,” she said. “It’s not only apparent in the energy here tonight but was especially evident throughout the pandemic as we looked to new ways to take care of ourselves.”
Quoting Louis Riel, a Métis leader, Greenland shared her excitement for the 10-day long festival. “He said: ‘My people will sleep for 200 years but when they wake, it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.’”
“Through art, we are strengthening our identity, reclaiming our values, and practicing and raising our voices. This truly excites me.”
Hosted for the first time in 1989, GNAF is the longest running festival of Arctic art and music in North America.
Inuvik local and respected Elder Gerry Kisoun says the festival is important because it “brings together many traditional artists and showcases them doing the work they do best.”
“To see the people gather again, and to spend a week together in art and in friendship is something to look forward to,” he told Cabin Radio.
Linda Wright, a painter originally from Inuvik, travelled from Edmonton to share her art at the festival. She last participated in GNAF in 2001 and is looking forward to expressing her culture once again.
“It’s important to find your way to your culture and this is my way of how I found it because we all kind of grew up without a lot of traditional knowledge,” she told Cabin Radio.
“Learning about traditional knowledge and painting stories and oral history really helped me connect with my culture. I’m hoping to share that with others.”
The opening ceremonies finished with the tradition of “carrying the whalebone”, during which two artists, one from the east and one from the west, or one from the north and one from the south, carry the whalebone into the gallery. The whalebone was originally introduced to GNAf by Ike Angotautuk from Sanirajak, Nunavut, when he used the bone in a carving workshop. The tradition has been part of GNAF since 1997.