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One hundred years stronger
Inuvik residents celebrate International Women's Day centennial

Kira Curtis
Northern News Services
Published Thursday, March 10, 2011

INUVIK - The hall of the Midnight Sun Complex was bustling with the energy of more than 175 women who came out to celebrate the 100th annual International Women's Day on Tuesday, March 8.

NNSL photo/graphic

From left, Hala Awad Elsed, Rana Boukae and Yasmeen Hannon sport intricate dresses from the Sudan, Syria and Palestine, respectively. - Kira Curtis/NNSL photos

"I invite you to take a chance on yourselves in celebration of your centennial year," said Sandra Suliman as she addressed the colourful crowd of women. "Try something that you haven't done before."

Many of the women in the room were dressed in clothing traditional to them - something their mother or grandmother would have worn.

Peppered throughout were bold colours from Kenya and the Sudan, detailed beading from Banks Island and even elaborate embroidery from the indigenous Saami people of Norway and Sweden - reindeer herders.

"No matter who you are or where you come from, your culture, the language that you speak, women are women," said Inuvik's Shirley Kisoun. She is known to be the first child born in Inuvik, down by the river.

Kisoun was born into two cultures, Inuvialuit and Gwich'in, something that was controversial back then, but she embraces now.

"A long time ago it was a sin to even marry into a different culture," she said, "but today it's not a sin."

She took time to honour her mother and reflected on the strength the women of Inuvik would have mustered half a century ago.

"Sometimes we complain about this and we complain about that, and we forget about our elderly women who have lived many years longer than us," Kisoun said. "We think it's really hard today if a cab takes five minutes, or if nobody's there to pick us up with a truck from Northern and we have to walk."

Laughing at the comparison, she spoke of how her eldest brother was born in the bush and her mother had to walk many miles just to get to a hospital with him.

"She was a very dynamic woman and I had a good life growing up with her," Kisoun recalled.

Today, she explained, Gwich'in and Inuvialuit share foods, cultures and family and many are able to speak each another's language.

An endless buffet of char, roast beef, rolls and salad flowed through the night, followed by a gigantic chocolate cake.

On each table, facing each chair, was a rose. This was to tie in an old Russian tradition where women used to demand bread and a rose from their husbands.

"Bread for the very life of the family and the substance to keep them healthy," Alana Mero explained, "and roses as a sign of love and respect."

A few women took turns providing childcare to free up mothers usually occupied by the little hands and constant questions of their young.

Suliman finished speaking to the room by asking each woman to look around, see all the experience, the beauty and the education around them.

"Contribute, stretch and reach and educate yourselves, whether it be informal or if it's formal," she said. "Invest in your health and wellness and forever be mindful of those near and dear to you, for what you do may encourage another to walk that same path."

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