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Elders share sewing skills with students
Inuit legends shared in traditional language

Fraser Robb
Special to Northern News Services
Published Monday, December 15, 2014

How do you teach a high school class about traditional skills without making it simply repetitive and mechanical? How can you help young people develop these skills in a way that brings them to life and makes it relevant for them?

Since August, students at Kugaardjuk Ilihakvik have been finding out. The students in Lutgarde Angutingunirk's sewing class have been honing their technique under the guidance of a local elder. Sidonie Nirlungayuk is well known for her expertise in sewing, as well as her understanding of traditional knowledge.

"It was important for me being taught by an elder. She's is experienced and really understands about sewing animal skins," said student Dennis Iyyiraq.

Sheila Nalungiaq said she feels more comfortable speaking in Inuktitut.

"Sidonie always spoke Inuktitut and it got easier to understand."

Kristen Ittimangnak agreed.

"I liked learning how to make pualuq and working with Sidonie has improved my Inuktitut."

But that is not the whole story. Angutingunirk wanted the course to provide students with more than just technical skills, she wanted them to develop a deeper understanding of their heritage too.

To do this, she asked students to select their favourite Inuit legend which they would then illustrate with a wall-hanging. Apart from demonstrating the appropriate stitches and tools for the project, Sidonie would talk with the students and explain the stories they had chosen to depict.

"Now I know how to put the stitch in right and Sidonie was always explaining the stories to us," said Shirley Nartok. "It was really great because most of us are beginners and she (Sidonie) can explain it to us easily and so she doesn't have to tell us so many times. It was fun."

Entering the library where the class was held, one immediately notices the relaxed atmosphere and focused activity as the students worked and listened to Sidonie.

"Sidonie made the stories so real. With the sewing she showed me what to do and how to do it. She is a wonderful teacher, she listens to what we say and we listen to what she says," said Roseanne Amautinuar.

Lutgarde explained her goal was to combine the practical outcomes of the course with the students' interest in Inuit legends and the living wisdom of an elder. She said she hoped that this experience would not only improve their Inuktitut conversational skills, but also give them a greater appreciation of their culture and identity.

Judging by student response it has been a success, and for two students there was an added bonus.

"It's been good having my grandmother helping us," said Shavanna Oogark.

Shania Angutingunirk said it was "really nice spending more time with my grandmother. She taught us a lot."

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