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History lessons preserved

Chris Woodall
Northern News Services

Holman (May 29/06) - This community's relationship with its past comes alive every time another class of students enters the Innuinaqtun Room of the Helen Kalvak Elihakvik school.

While all around them are the trappings of a museum you might find anywhere, because regular language lessons and cultural programs play out in the room, the walls and cases of ancient spear points, animal skulls and other relics become part of an education about living today.

Students from kindergarten to Grade 9 make regular half-hour trips to the Innuinaqtun Room, said teacher and curator Barb Memogana.

Some days it'll be language lessons.

"Or they might make things as well. There's a lot of hands-on teaching," Memogana said.

When News/North visited, Elsie Klengenberg and elder Alice Mingmak were trying to keep their nine restless charges focused on a cut-out project to make Easter greeting cards.

Meanwhile, Memogana offers a tour of Ulukhaktok's history.

Parkas (atigi), mukluks and other clothing hang on the wall. Made relatively recently in the historic span of things, they remind students that what people wore long ago is still practical to wear today.

"We might use a lot of modern materials, but the styles are still what they were," Memogana said.

One small parka is a one-piece snowsuit. "Children's parkas would be all one-piece until the child reached a certain age or got to a certain size," Memogana said, explaining that growing out of the one-piece was also a sign of the person coming of age.

They could escape the child's parka to wear something only adults had. In the collection are many glass-covered drawers of scrapers, knives, spearheads, arrowheads and other tools.

Some of them are replicas, created to show what people in the area used for hundreds of years, but also made as an exercise to make more clear what it took to make the item and know how it was used, Memogana said.

But a large portion of the items were collected from scouring ancient hunting camps in the nearby Ulukhaktok area, but also from all over Banks Island where people here used to hunt.

"The size of the tip depends on the piece of copper found," Memogana says, describing an arrowhead.

Some examples could go back thousands of years, Memogana says, "but all we really know is that they are really old."

A five-foot-long piece of whale baleen is a case in point. "We found it when they built the airport and dug it up, so it could be 10,000 years old," Memogana said of a site that is several kilometres away from the Amundsen Gulf coast.

There's a shovel made from a shoulder blade of a caribou, a scoop fashioned from a muskox horn where it meets the butt of the skull, and many types of handles made from all shapes of animal bones - all underlining the resourcefulness of the people.

Many animal relics tell of what lives in the area, not just now, but that these animals have always been here.

A large pair of dark brown muskox horns gives an idea of the animal's size.

"The horn turns a very dark colour when it ages," Memogana said. "It's a way to tell if it has been freshly dead, or it's been there for decades, maybe hundreds of years."

Manmade, or made by God, the artifacts all do one thing.

"We try to do as much as we can in here to understand the importance of our culture," Memogana said.