Newly painted satellite antennas in Inuvik honour different cultures

The Inuvik Satellite Station Facility (ISSF) now looks a little more colourful and cultural, thanks to some artwork that's splashed on some of the antenna dishes.

3 satellites got a makeover this summer; 2 others will be painted next summer

This traditional Gwich'in scene, painted by Ronnie Simon, is shown on the German-owned antenna at the Inuvik Satellite Station Facility in Inuvik, N.W.T. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

The Inuvik Satellite Station Facility (ISSF) in Inuvik, N.W.T., now looks a little more colourful and cultural, thanks to artwork that's splashed on some of the antenna dishes.

"This is something that could and should happen everywhere, honouring the cultures of wherever we can because otherwise we have a white, plain background," said Jiri Raska, the ISSF's station manager.

He says the facility and Natural Resources Canada took inspiration from Geoscience Australia, where a local Indigenous group contributed artwork to a satellite in Alice Springs.

Sheree McLeod designed an Inuvialuit blanket toss scene for the Canadian antenna. She says she was inspired by her great-uncle. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

Raska says there will be an antenna dish painted to represent each Indigenous group in Inuvik — which includes the Gwich'in, Inuvialuit, and Métis — along with a design from students at East Three Secondary School and one from the town.

In total, five antennas will host artwork by the end of next summer; three have been put up this summer.

Raska says the facility hosts satellites from five countries, so it had to get permission from the respective space agencies to paint their antennas.

"Everybody was very excited about it, but certainly wanted to see whether or not the artwork would impact any of the performance of the systems," said Raska.

Artwork from the East Three students, which includes different images to represent each of the communities in Inuvik, is painted on the radome — a dome with an antenna inside.

Jiri Raska, manager of the ISSF, says eventually there will be an antenna dish painted to represent all of the Indigenous groups in Inuvik. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

A traditional Gwich'in scene is displayed on the German antenna, and a traditional Inuvialuit blanket toss is on the Canadian antenna.

Raska says they allowed each of the groups to choose the artist and the scene they wanted.

The Inuvialuit Regional Corporation says although it floated a couple of ideas, it kept going back to the same idea.

"We always came back to the blanket toss because to us, satellite connection is to look forward and see far, " said Peggy Jay, manager of public relations for the IRC.

Students from East Three Secondary School did the artwork for ISSF's radome. (Mackenzie Scott/CBC)

"The meaning of the blanket toss for us was throwing people up in the air is to look far, to look for caribou, to look for whales … that, to us, was a great connection."

Jay says the corporation wanted to choose an Inuvialuit artist who was living in Inuvik and whose work it was familiar with. That led them to Sheree McLeod.

'I'm just really happy about it'

"I was really inspired by my great-uncle Abel Tingmiak because he's well known to be a blanket toss jumper," said McLeod.

"It's really awesome and hearing everybody talking about it, too, I'm just really happy about it."

Designs representing the Métis and the town will be painted on the two remaining dishes next summer. The ISSF hopes to have an official ceremony and unveiling once all of the artwork is completed.

Raksa says although this could become a tourist attraction in the town, the intention is to honour the various cultures in Inuvik as the facility continues to grow.

"I do think, first and foremost, this is something [that creates] more community ownership over the site," he said.

"You've heard of 'Sky's the limit.' Well, here, space is the limit and it's only going in that direction."