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Arctic research visit underlines importance of community partnerships

Keeper of the British Museum’s Department of Africa, Oceania and the Maurice Arnatsiaq and the British Museum's Jonathan King about to go fishingAmericas, Jonathan King has returned from a research visit to distribute copies of the Museum publication, Arctic Clothing to members of the community of Igloolik in northern Canada.

The trip was the latest in a number of partnership projects between the British Museum and the Igloolik Elders Society. It was funded through a programme of research and development of Native North American activities, supported by the Eugene V and Clare E Thaw Trust based in Santa Fe, in the United States of America, and the Sosland family.

Jonathan King spent four days in Igloolik presenting copies of the book, which explores the way well-designed clothing enables people in the Arctic to hunt and survive in the world's harshest conditions, to elders, government leaders and friends.

Arctic Clothing was very well received,” he said, adding: “among non-Inuit it is already well-knoCharlene Kappianaq and her grandmother Rachel Uyarasukwn and much appreciated.”

He explained that the visit emphasises the significance of working in partnership with communities around the world. “It is hard to exaggerate how important continuity in research and in personal contacts matters. Research partnerships of this kind provide an international benchmark for local identity.”

Located between Baffin Island and the Canadian mainland, Igloolik is around 1800 miles directly north of the US city of Detroit. With a population of 1,600 it is an  and ancient and important trading community, which since the 1960s became a permanent settlement for  Inuit to receive education, medical and social services.

Today, as part of the self-governing territory of Nunavut, Igloolik is a standard bearer in cultural practice among aboriginal peoples of the Arctic. Its education and administration systems are bilingual, trilingual with French as the second official language.  Isuma, the film making studio run by Zac Kunnuk is located there, while the Elders Society, in co-operation with the Igloolik Research Centre has created  a translated digitised collection of more than 520 interviews with elders, recorded in the hamlet since 1986. 

Both sea and land animals, birds and fish, provide raw materials for the creation of unique forms of highly efficient clothing in the region, from different types of parkas, to trousers, layered footwear, gloves and headwear. Clothing in the Arctic not only protects people but connects them to the environment they live in, and most importantly their world view.

In 2001, the British Museum presented Annuraaq - Arctic Clothing from Igloolik, an exhibition focussing on contemporary work by women from Igloolik, as well as a conference, Arctic Clothing of North America - Alaska, Canada, Greenland. The exhibition was organized in collaboration with the Department of Culture, Language, Elders, and Youth of the Government of Nunavut, and with the Inullariit Elders' Society, Igloolik, and the Igloolik Research Centre of the Research Institute of Nunavut.

Images (from top):

Maurice Arnatsiaq and Jonathan King in Igloolik, 28 November 2007. Photograph by John MacDonald.

Charlene Kappianaq and her grandmother Rachel Uyarasuk, looking at Arctic Clothing, 30 November 2007.