Inuit from Nunavut share their culture at a drum dance festival in Greenland


The voices of Inuit singers and drummers soared through the Katuaq Cultural Center in Nuuk, Greenland, last month – sometimes dissolving in laughter, sometimes ringing with harmonies.

For days, the Katuarpalaaq Drum Dance Festival brought together artists from Alaska, Canada and Greenland to share their own unique ways of dancing and singing.

“We still have a lot in common with each other and we still admire each other,” said Sylvia Cloutier, a drum dancer from Kuujjuaq, Nunavik, who has lived for decades in Iqaluit.

“Sometimes it feels like there are very few of us, cultural artists, but when we come together in this kind of event, we know we are many and that we are supported and appreciated.”

The first part of the festival took place from March 21 to 25, before continuing until April 6 in four other communities in Greenland. Cloutier was one of many people from Nunavut who performed.

Arnakkuluk Kleist, CEO of the Katuaq Cultural Center and organizer of the festival, said planning for the festival began in 2019, although the festival itself was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was supposed to happen before, but I guess it was the right time to do it – the weather is perfect and people have arrived, and it’s just wonderful,” she said.

“It’s not often that we get together, and it’s important for us. It’s important for the drum dancers… but also for the people of Greenland to have the chance to discover and rediscover the drum dances.”

Kleist said the goal of the festival was to keep drum dancing alive in Inuit culture and “to infuse new energy into [it].”

“I hope this will be an opportunity for people to get more knowledge about drum dancing. Maybe it will be an opportunity for more people to pick up the drum and start drum dancing,” a- she declared.

Arnakkuluk Kleist is the CEO of the Katuaq Cultural Center and organized the Katuarpalaaq Drum Dance Festival in Nuuk. (Matisse Harvey/Radio Canada)

Sandi Vincent, who lives in Iqaluit, said she started learning drum dancing at Cloutier when she was 15. They prepared a 15-minute show for the festival with drumming and throat singing.

“I think by sharing the drum dance, it gives Inuit a sense of identity, a sense of self [and] a sense of belonging to the culture,” she said.

“Everyone follows a different learning path and occupies a different place in their lives with their language or culture…and it’s important to share our pride as Inuit, to share our language and to share our songs, because we are proud of them.”

“It’s such a beautiful thing”

Jerry Laisa, a drum dancer from Pangnirtung, Nunavut, said he still thinks about how the Inuit were once told not to drum dance.

That little fear is still in the back of his mind, but dancing and drumming connects him to his identity and his roots.

“I love the stories behind these things – the ancient words that go with these songs,” he said.

“The way you use your voice in old songs, it’s only when you’re almost out of breath that the phrase [finishes], and that’s how you know. And then it begins to tell a story of travel, animals, sound. It’s such a beautiful thing.”

Jerry Laisa performed at the Katuarpalaaq Drum Dance Festival in Nuuk, Greenland last month. Laisa, who is from Pangnirtung in Nunavut, says drum dancing gives her a sense of identity. (Matisse Harvey/Radio Canada)

Laisa, 26, has been drum dancing since she was a teenager. The songs teach him how much things have changed in Inuit communities.

“As we move from place to place, we change a bit. Our knowledge also changes a bit – since our history is mostly oral,” he said.

“It’s only by listening to those songs of other people that you get a sense of what it was like. You hear songs of grief, of hunger, and singing those songs, it gives you a sense of identity. .”

Exchange culture

This sense of identity is part of why Keenan Carpenter also drums. Carpenter, who recently moved to Iqaluit from Sachs Harbor in the Northwest Territories, said it’s also important because it’s an outlet for emotion.

It makes him “happy from top to bottom,” he said.

Sharing this part of his culture with Inuit from other parts of the North also allowed him to learn the differences and similarities in the way the Inuit of Greenland or Alaska make and play drums.

Keenan Carpenter, 27, is a drum dancer from Sachs Harbour, Northwest Territories. He says drum dancing makes him “deeply happy”. (Matisse Harvey/Radio Canada)

Carpenter remembers seeing his sister dancing and having fun when he was 11. This is what initially interested him, as well as a little positive motivation from his mother: “I was shy, but she bribed me to do a good thing”, he recalls. .

In Nuuk, Carpenter said he enjoys performing at a cultural center designed for arts like drum dancing. He would like to see something similar built in Nunavut.

“We need a cultural center [for] people to go and be themselves,” he said. “A safe space to go express yourself, create and be a person — to be proud to be Inuit, to be proud to be Inuvialuit, to be proud of whoever you are. “

Sandi Vincent, who lives in Iqaluit, started drum dancing when she was 15 years old. (Matisse Harvey/Radio Canada)

Vincent and Cloutier agree. Cloutier remembers the time she spent in Iqaluit, constantly trying to find places where people could train or perform, whether it was a school gymnasium or the cadet hall.

“We aspire to have that in Nunavut. We have so much talent and so much creativity in Iqaluit, Nunavut, but we’re the only territory that doesn’t have a cultural center or performance space,” said Cloutier.

“We admire Katuaq and what they have done. We also admire Greenland, the people here and how they have an incredible infrastructure to promote culture and live through all the art that exists here.”