Alethea Arnaquq-Baril's film traces the history of Inuit facial tattoos (John Burri)
Nearly all women had them, and were ridiculed if they didn't. Why then do many young Inuit not even know traditional Inuit tattoos existed?
—Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, filmmaker
Inuit face tattoos have been forbidden for a century, and almost forgotten. In her film, Tunnitt: Retracing the Lines of Inuit Tattoos, Alethea Arnaquq-Baril seeks guidance from the elders in reviving the ancient Inuit tradition. Tunniit follows her struggle to find out all she can before she is tattooed herself.
Traveling across the vast Canadian arctic, Alethea discovers that not only were tattoos common, they were ubiquitous across all Inuit lands up to 100 years ago. Nearly all women had them, and were ridiculed if they didn't. Why then do many young Inuit not even know traditional Inuit tattoos existed?
Simply asking these questions stirs up controversy, because the history of the disappearance of Inuit tattoos is inextricably linked to the disappearance of other things, such as shamanism, throat singing and drum dancing. These are touchy subjects in an age where almost all Inuit are now devout Christians, and quick to silence questions about old spirituality.
In this context, Alethea has been asking questions that make many Inuit very uncomfortable. To her surprise, a number of brave elders are willing to break the silence. They witnessed first-hand Canada's quest for arctic sovereignty, and the church's quest to convert Inuit to Christianity. They speak of a cultural upheaval so severe and sudden we are still staggering to recover.
Tunniit is about a woman's quest to reclaim her heritage, and breathe new life into an ancient Inuit practice very nearly lost to history. This story challenges Inuit to rediscover their ancestors' sense of beauty and spirituality.
Tunnitt: Retracing the Lines of Inuit Tattoos screens at 11:30 on January 31 at St. Paul's College at the University of Manitoba.