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Inuit conference will bring traditional art and music to St. John’s


This October the city of St. John’s will be playing host to a three-day celebration of Inuit art, culture and knowledge.

Sean Lyall, Nunatsiavut Minister of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, said the Inuit Studies conference and the two Inuit cultural festivals will showcase both the partnership between his government and researchers and the unique art of the Labrador Inuit.

The 2016 Inuit Studies conference, co-hosted by Memorial University and the Nunatsiavut government, will bring researchers, storytellers, Elders, and artists together to explore the diverse and unique culture.

The conference will run concurrent to two festivals, the katingavik Inuit arts festival and iNuit Blanche, St. John’s first all-Inuit, all-night art crawl.

The katingavik festival will be a three-day celebration of Inuit film, music and visual arts. iNuit Blanche will feature more than 25 performers spread throughout downtown St. John’s.

The theme of this year’s festival is Inuit traditions, with a focus on Inuit inclusion and Inuit ways of knowing. This is the second time Memorial has hosted the conference and it has been held in in Quebec City, the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. and Iqaluit, to name a few.

“(It’s held) anywhere where there’s a great deal of interest in Inuit culture,” said Dr. Tom Gordon, conference organizer. “But in those 40 years it’s never been hosted by an indigenous government. It has always been a university or research institute. For us, what we’re really proud of, is it a full on collaboration with the Nunatsiavut government.”

Gordon said what them means for the university is that it shows they equally value traditional knowledge and academic research. Those two things have lived in separate worlds, he said, and one has been considered to be superior to the other.

“That’s changing organically. In a way this event is a celebration of that, how traditional knowledge and scholarly research work together,” he said.

Gordon said the festivals would also highlight another important aspect of Inuit culture.

“You express your culture through the stories you tell, through the songs you sing, how you put on your boots,” he said. “All of those things are expressions of culture and if you want to understand Inuit culture you need to explore its roots.”

Sean Lyall, Nunatsiavut Minister of Culture, Recreation and Tourism, said he believes the partnership is a sign of the times.

“It’s important that we combine traditional knowledge and scientific research,” he said. “Times are definitely changing and it’s important that research done in the north has all key players involved. What’s most important is the Inuit have lived in the land, they know the land, and have a very good understanding of the environment.”

He said the festivals will really highlight Inuit culture as well and expose more people to what’s going on in the north.

“It’s very exciting, the art exhibition and iNuit Blanc and all the audio visual components and the artists themselves,” Lyall said. “We have probably the largest contingent of Labrador Inuit artists that will be congregating in the city. When it comes to Labrador Inuit art, it’s very unique. It will help get that word out there that it’s very high quality and very expressive.”

The conference will also be opened and closed with two major events. The first will be the opening of SakKijajuk: Inuit Fine Art and Crafts from Nunatsiavut at The Rooms on October 7, and the conference will be closed following a performance by Inuit musician Tanya Tagaq, who combines traditional Inuit throat singing and more modern stylings.

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