Fierce and fearless in Nunavut

by Michele LeTourneau- December 6, 2018

Each year around this time, Malaya Qaunirq Chapman considers a new motto to motivate herself for the coming 12 months.

“What am I going to do next year? How am I going to one-up myself,” she said.

This is how she rouses her courage.

photo courtesy Vincent Desrosiers
Host of Nunavummi Mamarijavut Malaya Qaunirq Chapman learned how to nammak (carry on her back) the first tuktu (caribou) she ever caught, with the help of Chesterfield Inlet hunter Kevin Issaluk, on season two, shot this past year.

“The first time I decided to place goals for myself and have expectations of myself was the first one – to be fearless,” Qaunirq Chapman said.

That’s when she was living in Los Angeles – where she grew up as a teenager with her adoptive family – as a poor and struggling young adult.

“Depressed, probably. Living a completely different life than I am now. The possibilities of doing anything here, if you want to do something, it’s there. You just have to make it happen. The things I’ve done since I’ve moved here are things I thought I would never do. But there are opportunities that I’m confronted with, and I’m like, ‘Sure, why not? I’ll try that.'”

One example is taking on the role of executive producer of the film written by her adoptive mother in a fictionalized account of their meeting in Pangnirtung when Qaunirq Chapman was 11. The making of the film – from problem-solving on the set in Iqaluit to doing the film-festival rounds – provided her the opportunity to observe and learn about the film industry.

Qaunirq Chapman also appeared on Qanurli?, and this year wrote and directed an episode.

“We finished the last season. It’s our last one. Right now they’re going through editing,” she said.

The year 2018 will be a tough act to follow – she had two mottos. “If not me, somebody else will, and I will not have that,” and  “Life is messy, but it’s good.”

These mottos served her well, because, in addition, Qaunirq Chapman starred in a film, yet to be released, hosted Nunavummi Mamarijavut (the food we love in Nunavut) which aired a first season, shot a second season, and is picked up for a third. Oh, and she fell in love for the first time.

But her personal highlight?  She shot her first caribou, through the heart, butchered it, packed it, and learned how to nammak (carry it on her back). This she did with the help of Chesterfield Inlet hunter Kevin Issaluk.

“It was shocking,” she said, pulling out a photo in which she has the look of pure bliss.

“Yes! It was the best feeling of my life, ever. A rite of passage. So happy. It was such of proud time of my life.”

She thought of her great-grandmother, who raised her as a child, and her great-grandfather.

“And how proud they would have been and how in Inuit culture, your first catch should be given to all these important people in your life. I really wanted to give to them,” said Qaunirq Chapman.

The TV host also successfully hunted her first seal with Arctic Bay’s Samson Ejangiaq.

photo courtesy Brett Rogers
Arctic Bay hunter Samson Ejangiaq leads host of Nunavummi Mamarijavut Malaya Qaunirq Chapman through a seal hunt on season two, during which she caught her first seal.

The 30-year-old travels to communities, hunts with hunters, cooks with the best cooks, and visits with Elders.

“The people that I’m learning from, the hard-core expert Inuit – the hunters, the sewers, the cookers – their knowledge of the land and hunting and preparing and cooking … it’s amazing. It’s incredible. This is not something that they learned in university or a book. It’s learned by observing, which is what I got to do,” said Qaunirq Chapman.

“I’m living my best life. Learning how to hunt from the experts of the community, and cooking with the experts of the community, that are passionate about food, and sharing and being together around food – which is really the best thing in life.”

Producer Sylvia Cloutier thought up Nunavummi Mamarijavut, and together the women brought it to life.

Simultaneously cast as the lead in Restless River – a new film directed by Marie Helen Cousineau, with Madeline Ivalu – Qaunirq Chapman filmed in Kuujjuaq in March and again in August.

To do better than last year is always the young performer’s driver.

“But this is the time of year I start thinking about next year. What the heck am I going to get myself into next year? I don’t know what I’m going to do next week,” said Qaunirq Chapman.

“Right now I’m hoping to get more films. That was the first time I’ve starred in a movie. After that I decided that’s all I want to do. And that’s where I met the love of my life. He was my co-star.”

She says she’s moving to Kuujjuaq, where her love lives.

“That’s a scary one,” she says with a growl and a laugh.

But the young woman, who has struggled, who experienced poverty, abuse and sexual abuse, and not had anything at times but love, has forged a strong relationship with herself .

“I give credit to my naja, my great-grandmother, I call her my naja, and my mum … I give them a lot of credit for who I am. It ends with me, the trauma. It wasn’t easy beginnings. It was tough. But I will never, ever go through that again, because it ends with me.”

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