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Paulatuk records its past
In celebration of its bicentennial, Arctic community gathers footage to document its history

Elaine Anselmi
Northern News Services
Monday, September 7, 2015

Community members are reliving Paulatuk's history with a video capturing stories, images and moments that charts how the original 1930s mission evolved into the community it is today.

The documentary is part of a celebration of 50 years of community government.

"You would have had to have been there when they were showing the video you could tell the feelings were from the heart when people were cheering and clapping," said Mayor Ray Ruben.

"Seeing their grandfather, father and older family members it was really, really touching."

Although people have hunted and fished in the Paulatuk area for as long as people can remember, it became a settlement when a mission was built there in the 1930s for people who worked along the DEW line, which monitored Canadian airspace during the Cold War.

Paulatuk officially became a settlement in the mid-1960s and became a hamlet in 1987.

Putting a movie together to share Paulatuk's history has been a long-standing interest of Ruben's his father, Garrett, was among those instrumental in putting the community together.

"He was the person meeting with the government, meeting with the commissioner and travelling around to meetings to try to get the government to recognize this place and start building this community," said Ruben.

Back then, Ruben recalls the late elder Billy Day from Inuvik and his family coming up to live in Paulatuk for a year to report back on whether it was a suitable place for a community.

"All I was told from my dad and mom is that the report came out that this place can comfortably sustain a population of about 400 or so," said Ruben.

In the past, he said his grandfather kept diaries that were passed onto his children, telling of his own experiences somewhere down the line those diaries were lost, Ruben said.

"We wanted to document a bit of our history for our kids and grandkids, how we started from a campsite to become a community," Ruben said. "How else than in a video?"

To put together this piece of Paulatuk's history together, Ruben reached out to Jerri Thrasher, a producer with the Inuvialuit Communications Society (ICS). Thrasher now lives in Inuvik, but was born and raised in Paulatuk and still spends her summer holidays back in the community.

"The first part was a lot of research, making sure that I had every family and didn't leave anybody out," Thrasher explained.

"I went into archived videos and wanted to see if we had old photos of Paulatuk, interviews with elders that have passed on now. So, I put all that together first."

From the ICS archives, as well as old photos lent to her by the Inuvialuit Cultural Resource Centre in Inuvik, she was able to illustrate Paulatuk in its early years.

The hamlet also put one person in charge of requesting and collecting photographs from every family in town, and then making digital copies to send over to Thrasher.

While a 10-to-12-minute video was shown at the community's annual jamboree on Aug. 14, Thrasher is still working to pull more archival footage, images and interviews in to fully represent the community.

She said the video shown at the anniversary was a sort of opener, and the extended version likely about twice the length will be copied onto DVD and given to every family. In piecing the project together, Thrasher said she learned a great deal about her own community.

"I learned a lot about the lives of the people that made this place before this place was even built where they lived, where they relocated from, why they came here," she said, calling the experience of sifting through old recordings, photographs and videos a positive one.

"It was great the old interviews with elders, I learned so much," said Thrasher.

"I'm just happy to give back to the town."

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