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Project Naming celebrates 15 years
More than 10,000 photographs digitized, 2,500 'unidentified Eskimos' identified

Michele LeTourneau
Northern News Services
Monday, February 6, 2017

Elder Piita Irniq will celebrate the 15-year success of Project Naming, a project which seeks to identify Inuit in old photograph collections, at Library and Archives Canada in Ottawa March 1 to 3. Irniq had a hand in the creation of the project.

NNSL photo/graphic

A photo from Library and Archives Canada identified through Project Naming shows Napatchie carrying her sister Paujungi in Iqaluit the summer of 1960. - photo courtesy of Rosemary Gilliat Eaton/Library and Archives Canada

In the early 2000s, when he was Nunavut's Commissioner, he decided he'd had enough of the "unidentified Eskimos" in the photographs used by southern Canadians to illustrate their books about Inuit.

"I was getting tired of seeing pictures of Inuit appearing in books from the explorers and their only caption was 'Captain Rae standing next to Crosseyed Jack.' Or 'Martin Frobisher standing next to a group of unidentified Eskimos,'" said Irniq.

So he wrote a letter to Jack Anawak, who was minister of Culture Language Elders and Youth at the time.

Anawak gathered Nunavut Sivuniksavut (NS) instructors Murray Angus and Morley Hanson, who had already been delving into archival images with their students, and the director of what was then called the National Archives.

"Since the 1990s, Angus and Hanson brought their students to Library and Archives Canada (then the National Archives) to search for photos from their communities in the card catalogues in the reference room. Each student could choose a photograph that the college would have printed, which the students brought back to their families during Christmas vacation," said manager of online content for the public services branch of Library and Archives Beth Greenhorn, who has overseen the project almost from the beginning.

Thousands of photographs of Inuit are stored at the archives. The photos are mainly from Canadian government department collections, such as Health Canada and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (in its various guises through the years), but the project had its start with the digitization of 500 photographs taken by Richard Harrington in 1949 to 1950 in Iglulik, Kugluktuk, Padlei and Taloyoak.

"Of these images, about three-quarters of the individuals depicted in the photos were identified. Given the great number of successful identifications with the Harrington images, Library and Archives continued to digitize more photographs from Nunavut every year," said Greenhorn.

Irniq was asked to make a speech at the launch of Project Naming in 2002. He remembers what he said.

"This is a darn good idea. We've got to name Inuit. We've got to spell them right. We've got to identify Inuit, period," said Irniq.

"One of the things I said is, How would you like it if my picture appeared some 50 years from now and the caption reads 'Here Piita Irniq appears with unidentified Prime Minister of Canada.' That's what I said. It's in your newspaper."

According to News/North archives, the paper began participating in 2007, likely at Irniq's urging, by publishing a photo in its pages every week asking readers if they could identify Inuit in them. It continues to do so each week.

Since staff at Library and Archives began digitizing the historical photos, about a quarter of them have new information attached.

"More than 10,000 photographs have been digitized, and individuals, places and events have been identified in approximately 2,500," said Greenhorn.

"Regardless of the way in which individuals are identified, the information is added to the archival records the same way - Library and Archives manually update each record in the database. (We) hope to launch a photo tagging tool in the future."

Irniq will be joined at the 15th anniversary celebration by elder Ann Mikijuk Hanson of Iqaluit, elder Sally Webster, now residing in Ottawa and originally from Qamanti'tuaq, Manitok Thompson and Henry Kudluk, now residing in Ottawa and originally from Coral Harbour, Curtis Kuumuaq Konek of Arviat, Kathleen Ivaluarjuk Merritt of Kangiqliniq, Paula Ikuutaq Rumbolt from Qamanti'tuaq and Deborah Kigjugalik Webster, also now residing in Ottawa and from Qamanti'tuaq.

There will be a strong presence of students attending Nunavut Sivuniksavut. Angus and Hanson will participate, also.

Printed photos will be circulated at the event in the hopes of identifying even more Inuit.

The project has been such a success that the anniversary event will see the launch of an expansion: First Nations and Metis photographs will be included.

"It must be carried on in a much bigger way than before. We should make every effort to name people," said Irniq, adding the practice of using photos with "unidentified Eskimos" continues.

"That is tiring. That is extremely tiring to see and it's offending to me as an Inuk. We've taken measures to correct it. Project Naming allows people to have proper identification, proper names. Because, after all, we're human beings."

There will be a live Facebook feed during the event so that Nunavummiut can take part from a distance.

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