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Project Naming

voices from nunavut

Personal account of Mathewsie Ashevak

Project Naming
by Mathewsie Ashevak, February 2004

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"I will start by introducing myself. My name is Mathewsie Ashevak, and I am from Kinngait, Nunavut. During my Christmas break, I brought home about four dozen pictures to Kinngait. I learned most of the names of the individuals while interviewing my grandmother, Kenojuak Ashevak, my step-grandfather, Pauta Saila, and his wife, Petalusie Saila.

It was so exciting showing these Elders the pictures -- it was almost like taking them back to the days when they were young. When I clicked on each picture, I watched their eyes. As they recognized an individual, they would have a big smile on their faces. They acted as if these pictures were taken just yesterday.

Before now, I had not talked much with Elders. This experience was new to me, and I really enjoyed it. Each time they named a person in the picture, it made me want to go back to the time that they remembered. The most interesting thing I heard was how nice it was in the past, when there were few houses and roads . . . walking from one camp to another . . . that's what our Elders were like, working to live.

My step-grandfather, Pauta, lived about 50 miles northwest of Kinngait. His father, Saila, was a camp leader for all people in the area surrounding Kinngait. Saila was also a shaman, which is why Pauta has a special knowledge of shamanism. Pauta discussed how Nurata, his old camp, was nice, and remembered how objects left there by whalers can still be found today.

Petalusie, Pauta's wife, was also very helpful to the Project. She is over 80 years old and needs a guide for assistance, but she remembered the days that I talked about with Pauta.

Interviewing my grandmother was different than interviewing the other Elders I spoke with. I did not picture my grandmother living in the 1960s, which I hear were the hardest days for the Inuit. Kenojuak, who lived about 25 miles east of Kinngait in a camp called Itilliarjuk, gave all the names she remembered.

This opportunity gave me a better understanding of how we should build our territory, Nunavut. It made me realize how much our Elders have lost within their culture, and I will remember how they have been able to work out bigger problems than my own. While looking at the photographs, the Elders were smiling as if they were back in the old days. Pauta saw his father and two sisters, and Kenojuak was able to see her son and husband. When I saw the happiness in their faces, all I could do was smile back at them and be thankful for doing this."

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