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'Grab the knowledge with your hands': Igloolik elder still teaching at 82

Atuat Akittirq travels around Nunavut teaching traditional knowledge. Her determination was slowed down — but not stopped — by an incident back in January that affected her lungs.

Atuat Akittirq won't let breathing issues stop her from sharing her traditional knowledge

Atuat Akittirq is an 82-year-old elder from Igloolik, Nunavut who has a passion for teaching her culture. (CBC)

Low on oxygen? No problem.

Atuat Akittirq is a determined elder from Igloolik, Nunavut, who travels across the territory to teach Inuit traditional knowledge.

But she has issues with breathing and needs the help of an oxygen machine.

"It's just the oxygen in her blood becomes a little bit too low," said David Akittirq, Atuat's grandson, who's been assisting her during her trips.

At the age of 82, her determination was only slowed down — not stopped — by an incident back in January that affected her lungs.

Atuat was in Clyde River, Nunavut preparing to teach another course when she became sick and was medevaced to Iqaluit in January. (CBC)

Atuat was in Clyde River, Nunavut, preparing to teach another course. She became sick and was medevaced to Iqaluit.

"She didn't need an oxygen tank back then. After she got medevaced, she needed one ever since," said David.

But Atuat came back to Clyde River, this time with a machine to help her breathe, and began teaching again in February.

I cannot teach youth what I created myself. However, I can teach what I was taught growing up.- Atuat Akittirq

It was also David's first time taking a course taught by his grandmother.

"I learned a lot about my roots," said David. "Whenever I ask her about something, she puts in a lot of details that I've never heard of."

The course left a deep impression on David.

"Ever since that course... I told myself I'll help her out in whatever way she needs," said David.

Younger generations 'need to learn'

"Grab the knowledge with your hands," said Atuat in Inuktitut, to her class in Iqaluit earlier this month.

"There are younger generations that need to learn."

Atuat said the biggest lesson she tries to teach is traditional parenting skills.

'I cannot teach youth what I created myself. However, I can teach what I was taught growing up,' says Akittirq. (CBC)

"It starts from a unborn child formed in a mother's womb. The child knows through bloodstreams and thought of the surroundings, even in the mother's womb," she said.

Atuat, who began her teaching journey in 2001, says she didn't create her course material.

"I cannot teach youth what I created myself. However, I can teach what I was taught growing up — I was told if I see an elder in need of help, whether it be assisting them with carrying bags or delivering them water, to always respect and help them."

After Iqaluit, Atuat will be off to the community of Arviat in August.

But after that, she says she'd like to take some time to spend with family.

With files from Toby Otak

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