Women in Pangnirtung, Nunavut, learn to build cabins for the community

Eight students are learning how to use power tools, frame and build a 12-foot-by-eight-foot cabin. Their plan is to donate it back to the community.

The cabin could be used as a sewing or skin preparation cabin, or a place for elders to gather, organizers say

Students in Pangnirtung's cabin-building course hold up the completed frame for a cabin wall. From left are Sabeckie Dialla, Rose Tina Alivaktuk, Mena Alivaktuk, Deanne Ishulutaq, Rosie Kilabuk and instructor Alan Kilabuk. (Submitted by Rosie Kilabuk)

When Rosie Kilabuk first found out she was selected to take a cabin-building course in Pangnirtung, Nunavut, she didn't know what to expect.

She'd never built a shack before. The sound of loud, electric tools scared her.

But with careful direction from instructor Alan Kilabuk, she and seven other women have now learned how to frame walls, create studs and use power tools.

Rosie Kilabuk, left, cuts a piece of wood with a circular saw while Rose Tina Alivaktuk holds the wood steady. Kilabuk and Alivaktuk are two of eight women learning how to build cabins in Pangnirtung, Nunavut. (Submitted by Rosie Kilabuk)

"I'm more relaxed now [around tools]," Rosie said, partway through Pangnirtung's two-week-long cabin-building course.

"I've never really seen Inuit women make shacks, but … we're getting good instruction."

Rosie hopes to one day build a new sewing shack for herself. She had to get rid of her old one last year due to mould.

Rosie Kilabuk is one of eight women selected to take a cabin-building course in Pangnirtung, Nunavut. (Submitted by Rosie Kilabuk)

"It went to the dump and I still miss it to this day, so that's the reason why I signed up," she said.

The course, organized by Cathy Lee and Alan Kilabuk, is the first of many Lee hopes to run in the future. Lee said the idea came to her when she was building a new shed for herself.

"Women would pass by and express an interest in learning, and said, 'You know, I really wish I knew how to do that,'" Lee said.

She ran the idea by Alan, who teaches construction in the community. Then, the two of them took their proposal to Pangnirtung's community wellness committee, which agreed to fund it.

Some of the skills students have learned includes how to safely use power tools, and how to frame walls. (Submitted by Rosie Kilabuk)

When they publicly announced the course on Facebook, Lee said well over 30 women over the age of 35 expressed interest in participating.

"I'm so excited that there are so many women who have expressed interest, and just grateful that we received the funding," Lee said.

Women taking part in the course are learning basic construction skills, such as measuring, designing a cabin, and how to safely use tools. They're sourcing materials from Pangnirtung's wood and metals dump — lumber, screws, metal roofing and plexiglass that can be repurposed for doors and windows.

Instructor Alan Kilabuk, top left, shows the class how to measure and cut studs for the cabin walls. Clockwise from left are Kilabuk, Deanne Ishulutaq, Mena Alivaktuk, Sabeckie Dialla and Rosie Kilabuk. (Submitted by Rosie Kilabuk)

The end product will be an eight-foot-by-12-foot cabin, which they will donate back to the community.

Lee said she and Alan will survey the students and do a draw for where the cabin will go once it's finished. She said there are several ideas for where it could end up — it could become a women's sewing or skin preparation cabin, or it could be a place for elders to gather, for instance.

"I think it's very valuable. I think it can help support community wellness," Lee said.


April Hudson


April Hudson is a digital journalist with CBC News in Yellowknife. After a career in print journalism in the N.W.T. and Alberta, she joined CBC North in 2021. You can reach her at

With files from Karen Pikuyak