'From one warrior nation to another': Maori take part in cultural exchange in Iqaluit

A unique cultural exchange took place last week in Iqaluit, as representatives from the Maori people of New Zealand came to Nunavut to share their traditions and culture with Inuit.

3 Maori were in Iqaluit this past week, sharing their customs and culture and learning from Inuit

Ray Totorewa says that he hopes his trip to Iqaluit is the first of many, and the start of a relationship between the Maori and Inuit people. (Travis Burke/CBC)

A unique cultural exchange took place last week in Iqaluit, as Maori representatives from New Zealand came to Nunavut to share their traditions and culture with Inuit.

The exchange, organized by Inuit singer Louee Arreak, saw three Maori warriors come to Iqaluit for a week of learning by both sides. The Maori performed a traditional haka and gave a presentation at Nunavut Arctic College and to local schools, and spent time listening to stories from Inuit elders and seeing what life is like in the territory.

Ray Totorewa, from New Zealand, said the exchange was important "from one warrior nation to another warrior nation, Inuit to Maori, Indigenous to Indigenous.

Three Maori perform a traditional haka at Nunavut Arctic College in Iqaluit. The Maori were in Iqaluit this week sharing their culture and learning from locals. (Travis Burke/CBC)

"Just to spark up — re-spark up again — the courage of the warrior that resides already here in the people of the land."

Totorewa was invited to Iqaluit after meeting Arreak at a youth workshop in Kangiqsujuaq, Nunavik. He said that his group hopes to inspire confidence in Inuit to continue to take back their own traditional identity.

​However, his group's biggest motivator is to learn from the locals, he said.

Totorewa said that, figuratively, his group came to Iqaluit with three baskets — the first one filled with dances, songs, and chants, and the second filled with their own traditional knowledge.

However, the third basket is empty, ready to be filled with Inuit knowledge, he said, and it's this one that sits in the forefront of their discussions with locals.

"When you have that [mentality], you change your posture in terms of engaging with other people," he said, "because we have so much to learn.

"We are interested to know what makes an Inuit an Inuit? How did you be become so strong be able to navigate in the snow, and live in the environment? So we would love to take that back home with us, to fill the empty thing that we have that we brought."

Totorewa said he hopes the exchange trip will represent the start of a partnership between Inuit and Maori, and he hopes his trip to Iqaluit "is the first of many."

"In terms of something that we can perhaps do, deposit here in the people, I think would be perhaps a newfound confidence in themselves," he said. "We are looking at it as blowing on the embers, you know. There are embers that are sort of glowing. 

"We just want to blow on those embers. And that is a very important thing because it's already there. It's nothing new."

With files from Travis Burke