How one Inuk man's parka connects him to his community

Back home in the North, Stephen Puskas didn't think much about his parka. But when he walked around Montreal, it gave him a sense of a belonging in a community that's spread out across the city.

A parka can be more than a winter jacket — it's a window to Stephen Puskas' identity

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People in this city often ask me what my background is when they meet me.

I'm frequently mistaken for Latino or Chinese. One woman once said that she thought that I was from North Africa.

My ethnic background isn't necessarily visible or evident, except when winter comes.

Up north, I didn't think much more about my parka other than just as a winter coat. My parka is a Kivalliq-style bomber jacket — a simple navy blue, with grey elbow pads and a fur collar from my relatives.

I remember waiting for a metro during my first winter in Montreal when I heard a small voice behind me say, "Qanuikpit?" Which is Inuktitut for "How are you?"

I turned around and standing there was the first Inuk that I would meet since my move to Montreal in 2008. She was short, wearing glasses and her own parka and had a big smile on her face.

Though he moved to Montreal in 2008, "the north is always in me, in a way," Stephen Puskas says. In this picture, Stephen superimposed himself with his home, Yellowknife. (Submitted by Stephen Puskas)

She was on her way home from work. She told me that she immediately recognized me as Inuk when she saw my jacket. We sat together on the metro trading notes: "Where are you from?", "Why did you move here?", "Did you know that there are other Inuit in this city?"

I learned that there's an entire Inuit community in Montreal, which I hadn't been exposed to at the time because I was living in Mile End and working around Côte-des-Neiges. The Inuit community is largely congregated in the southwest and west of downtown.

'My parka has become a part of my identity'

As I started to explore the city more, I started to see more Inuit in the street. Many would see my jacket and acknowledge me. Some would smile and say, "Hi!" while others would approach me. One called out to me, "I know where you're from!"

Inuit culture is subtle – we're not all one homogenous group of people. There are Inuinait, Inuvialuit, Kiviliqmiut, Nunavummiut, Nunavimmiut and many others.

Most people don't know that there are different styles of parkas that tell a story about us. These different styles are regional — they communicate where we're from.

My parka has become a part of my identity when I go out in public — it says that my family is from the western coast of Hudson Bay. It gives me a sense of belonging and connects me with a community that is spread out across the city.

When we're disconnected from our land, our family and friends, our material culture can reinforce our sense of identity and connect us with others in ways that many people may not notice.

Stephen Puskas said other members of the Inuit community approached him in Montreal when they saw his identifiable parka. (Submitted by Stephen Puskas)

Stephen Puskas is an Inuk from Yellowknife, N.W.T., and works to support the Inuit community in Montreal through the radio show Nipivut and as a project manager for Nunalijjuaq, a research project on Montreal Inuit.