Meet the women working to revitalize Inuit throat singing in Labrador 

Inuit throat singing was traditionally a game filled with laughter, and Jennie Williams is working to make sure the tradition continues 

Jennie Williams and Amena Harlick-Shaw are working to share traditional Inuit throat singing

Two women smile at the camera in front of a mural of a wood house.
Jennie Williams, left, and Amena Harlick-Shaw are working to revitalize Inuit throat singing by teaching workshops and supporting new groups. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

Amena Harlick-Shaw didn't know much about her Inuit culture growing up.

As an adult, though, the St. John's woman took a throat singing residency workshop. Three years later, Harlick-Shaw is now teaching Inuit throat singing to teenagers, seniors and everyone in between. 

"It's very healing. I really feel like I've become myself since I've learned how to throat sing," Harlick-Shaw said. "The most beautiful thing that I've been able to witness in my life."

Harlick-Shaw and Happy Valley-Goose Bay filmmaker Jennie Williams are working to revitalize throat singing in St. John's and Labrador.

The two taught their most recent workshop last weekend at the Labrador Friendship Centre. 

LISTEN | Jennie Williams and Amena Harlick-Shaw sing at their most recent workshop in Labrador: 
Instructors Jennie Williams and Amena Harlick-Shaw were in Happy Valley-Goose Bay teaching mothers and daughters traditional Inuit throat singing. Take a listen to hear from them and participants.

The traditional game 

Inuit throat singing is traditionally a game between two people, Williams said — and that's why there's usually laughter at the end. 

There's a leader and a follower. The leader begins and the follower cuts in with the same sound, Williams explains. The leader needs to trip up the follower and cause them to say the wrong sound or mix up the pace, while the follower needs to follow until the leader gets tongue-tied. 

Two women laugh while sitting at a table. A colourful mural shows a log house and igloo behind them.
Williams and Harlick are teaching traditional Inuit throat singing in Happy Valley-Goose Bay in March. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

"You're going back and forth and and then when you hear people laughing at the end, it's like one person won," Williams said. "It's relaxing and you get together with your friends and you're doing something cultural. You know it's good in so many ways."

Kimberly Russell attended the workshop with her daughter Kayla. 

"It's really special to me and something that I hope we can practise and carry on with after this workshop is done."

A woman stands holding her very pregnant belly in a green shirt.
Kimberly Russell, who grew up in William's Harbour, didn't hear much throat singing as a child and wants that to change for her soon-to-be born daughter. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

Growing up as an Inuk girl, said the William's Harbour woman, she didn't hear throat singing often, only on television, and she was always interested in learning more. Russell hopes the six women can form a throat singing group and continue the tradition. 

"It feels so special and so deep," said Russell, who is due to have another daughter soon. "It just feels so empowering just to be here and just listening to the two songs that the ladies just performed, it's almost … breathtaking."

A group of seven women stand in a line and smile at the camera.
While the workshop was open to any Inuit women, the participants ended up being all mothers and daughters. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

The workshop was open for any Inuit women to register, and it ended up being three pairs of mothers and daughters ranging in age from 15 to 67. 

"I really hope in the future that we can see more people taking up Inuit throat singing and we can bring it back to Labrador and do performances," said community outreach worker Jill Elson.

"Who knows, maybe the next Labrador Winter games, we'll be performing up on stage."

A mother and daughter smile at the camera. The mother is wearing a white shirt while the daughter is wearing a blue graphic tshirt.
Jill Elson and her daughter Hope took part in the workshop. (Heidi Atter/CBC)

Elson said she hopes to hold more workshops and get children and teenagers involved.

Williams said this month was the first time she was able to teach in her hometown. 

"It's really important in Labrador because there's not a whole lot of people throat singing and there's a lot in other places in the North. But Labrador it seems like there's like less," Williams said. "I'm really hoping that this workshop will encourage more people."

Williams's dream is that the workshops will lead to more groups and eventually performances. 

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Heidi Atter

Mobile Journalist

Heidi Atter is a journalist working in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador. She has worked as a reporter, videojournalist, mobile journalist, web writer, associate producer, show director, Current Affairs host and radio technician. Heidi has worked in Regina, Edmonton, Wainwright, and in Adazi, Latvia. Story ideas? Email