What's Your Story

A powerful tool and symbol: Sheila Watt-Cloutier on the ulu knife of Inuit women

How the Inuit women's knife, the ulu, is but one example of Inuit ingenuity.

'The ulu is but one part of that remarkable culture that I come from.'

As part of CBC's What's Your Story campaign, we're asking Canadians to tell us about the one object they would submit to a collection of national treasures: objects that contain the strongest feelings, personal histories and vivid memories of our diverse population. For Canada Reads author Sheila Watt-Cloutier, it's the ulu, a knife used by Inuit women.

"This is not just your typical knife that you pick up at Costco or a store, it is tradition that goes way back," says Sheila Watt-Cloutier, author of The Right to be Cold. The knife she's describing? The ulu — an Inuit woman's knife, and a powerful tool and symbol.

The knife is used to skin animals and to cut and prepare food, activities that Watt-Cloutier associates with dear memories. "It meant that ... we were celebrating the harvest of our hunters," she says.

The knife is also an important symbol for Inuit women (notice Watt-Cloutier's jewellery and the print on her dress), and it is said that when someone passes away, their ulu retains their spirit and energy.

Inuit culture is responsible for many ingenious inventions, says Watt-Cloutier. "The ulu is but one part of that remarkable culture that I come from."

The Right to be Cold is in the running at this year's Canada Reads. Chantal Kreviazuk will be defending Watt-Cloutier's book in the debates that take place March 27 to 30. Catch them on air on CBC Radio One at 11 a.m., live streamed on CBCbooks.ca at 11 a.m. and broadcast on CBC Television at 4 p.m.

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What defines Canada for you? Is there a time that you were proud to be Canadian, or perhaps a time you felt disappointed? Is there a place, person, or event in your life that sums up what being Canadian is to you? Tell us at cbc.ca/whatsyourstory.