Inuit women get in touch with their past in Gatineau

Two Inuit women had an opportunity to open the vaults at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau on Thursday as part of a special tour to see and hold artefacts from their communities on the western shore of Hudson Bay.

The Museum of History helps Inuit re-connect with their ancestors - through artefacts.

Manitok Thompson examines a 100-year-old garment at the Canadian Museum of History. (Steve Fischer)

It was an emotional day for two Inuit women at the Canadian Museum of History on Thursday. 

Bernadette Dean from Rankin Inlet and her cousin Manitok Thompson, who lives in Carleton Place, arranged a special tour to see and hold artefacts from communities on the western shore of Hudson Bay, where they both grew up.

The women examined garments that were worn by their ancestors 100 years ago. The cloths are usually kept in storage at the museum, labeled and under plastic wrap.

I have never seen stitching like this.- Manitok Thompson

But, after putting on latex gloves, the women were allowed to remove the wrap and hold the garments.

Thompson, an amateur seamstress herself, checked the seams of ancient leather leggings. She said her sewing machine is no match for what her ancestors did by hand, using a needle made from the bone of a caribou.

"I have never seen stitching like this, with the needles they have now," she said. 

Regular private artifact viewings

Karen Ryan is the Curator of Northern Canada (Steve Fischer)
According to Karen Ryan, the curator for northern Canada, the museum regularly arranges private viewings of artefacts for people who are trying to get in touch with their history.

"For us, it's important for Inuit to come here to see the collections that they want to, so that they can learn more about what we have and how that fits within their society today," Ryan said.

Dean, who spent three years in a residential school, said the tour helped her remember the incredible skills and artistry of her forebearers, despite the often difficult conditions they lived under.

Bernadette Dean arranged to see ancient artifacts from the community where she grew up on the Western shore of Hudson Bay. (Steve Fischer)

"With colonization and residential schools and all this stuff for many years I had questions: who am I and what happened to us Inuit,  she said.

As Manitok Thompson ran her hands across an elaborately beaded parka she added, "The only thing that's missing is my ancestors, walking in here and conversing with us. I've heard a lot of my past but I've never touched what they touched. It means a lot to me."