The Next Chapter

Why Heather Igloliorte wanted to celebrate the art of the Labrador Inuit

The academic and art historican talks to Shelagh Rogers about her book, SakKijâjuk: Art and Craft from Nunatsiavut.
Heather Igloliorte is the author of SakKijâjuk. (ARH Photography, Goose Lane)

This interview originally aired on Oct. 1, 2018.

Heather Igloliorte is an Inuk academic from Nunatsiavut. With a PhD in art history in Canada, she wanted to highlight the historical contributions from artists the northern coastal area of Labrador. 

These creators have traditionally used stone and wood for carving — but these contributions have not been formally documented by historians. Igloliorte spoke with Shelagh Rogers about her book SakKijâjuk.

Highlighting the art of the Labrador Inuit 

"I am Inuk on my father's side. On my mother's side, I'm a Newfoundlander. I grew up in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. In researching the art, I realized that there was not much documented material out there. I was completely surprised because when I was growing up everyone was an artist or made things.

"I couldn't understand why and I could not find the answer why. I realized it was a much bigger project and that's why I did a PhD."

Confederation oversight

"In 1949 — the same year that Newfoundland and Labrador joined Confederation — a young artist named James Houston started traveling throughout the Canadian Arctic and started what would become what we think of today as the Inuit modern art industry. He was paid to travel throughout the North by the federal government in collaboration with the Canadian guild crafts and Hudson's Bay Company. He traveled from community to community across what was then the Northwest Territories.

"In the first versions of the terms of union, we had considerations for Indigenous peoples written in for our province. But in the final version they took it out. They took out all discussion of Indigenous peoples. It's just not mentioned. That's had long-lasting and severe consequences for Indigenous peoples in our province. For the Inuit, we were left out of all federal jurisdiction. Houston travelled throughout the northern region and when he got to the edge of Quebec, it was like we were invisible to him."

Making hidden art visible

"Art has been produced in our regions since time immemorial. Because we are the people whose territory faces Europe, we've had a very long history of contact. We were the first to be contacted by the first Vikings, French, Basque, Dutch and British. We have ivory miniatures that people may be familiar with and it's really just this recent history that has been hidden from the world's view." 

Heather Igloliorte's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

SakKijâjuk: Art and Craft of the the Labrador Inuit