Pitsiulak’s last act

by Editorial Board- November 11, 2017

For some time, we’ve been following the progress of Cape Dorset’s Kenojuak Cultural Centre, which last month held a fundraising auction in Toronto to raise a portion of the $3 million in private funding required to complete the centre.

The late artist Tim Pitsiulak, whose works were in demand even before his death last December, contributed to the development of the centre even in death, with five pieces selling at the Feheley Fine Arts auction.

Working in a variety of media, making original pencil drawings and contributing to the annual print collection, Pitsiulak was such a supporter of the centre that he created – specifically for fundraising – a four-foot-by-eight-foot drawing of a caribou stuck in ice. We’ve only seen the digital file of this one but based on the prints of his other work we have seen at various sales, we can only imagine how impressive the huge drawing is in person.

Pitsiulak can rest in peace knowing others share his dreams for the centre, with $100,000 raised that night, including $18,000 from the sale of his drawing.

Cultural industries, especially in Nunavut, are a vital part of each community’s economy. It is no equal to resource development or government but a great many people here are supported by their work in culture.

The Qikiqtani Inuit Association has shown how it values culture, committing $5 million to the fulfilment of a long-held territorial dream of a heritage centre. The territory spends $1 million annually to house 140,000 artefacts at NWT and southern institutions. It’s time for them to come home.

Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. this month matched QIA’s commitment, saying it too would commit $5 million to the $70 million to $90 million project.

If the Kivalliq and Kitikmeot Inuit associations and industries commit funds, it will be impossible for the government to ignore the desire for the centre, which was first considered in 2001. Former premier Eva Aariak, now president of the Inuit Heritage Trust, promised the centre would be built by 2013. Poor finances forced the government to break that promise.

The incoming government needs to prioritize this project – and a performing arts centre, too. The celebration and sharing of culture is critical to its preservation, and the erosion of language and culture is at a critical point in Nunavut.

Nunavut’s infrastructure needs are many, with too little money available to build homes, roads, municipal infrastructure, and upgrade transportation links. But we can’t afford to forget for too long the power of a cultural centre to energize a community.

The Inuit organizations are ready to invest. It’s time for the government to build spaces to celebrate culture before it’s all gone.

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