Inuk Elder Qapik Attagutsiak, 99, along with other Nunavut Inuit were recently honored for their contributions as Hometown Heroes by the Government of Canada.
Attagutsiak played a vital role during WWII by voluntarily gathering animal bones and carcasses, which were then shipped to southern Canada to be made into munitions, aircraft glue and fertilizer.
The commemorative ceremony was held at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que. The event featured a blessing by Elder Simon Brascoupé from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg First Nation, traditional throat singing and drum dancing by Inuit students, military music, the unveiling of a story panel about the Inuit contributions to WWII, as well as the presentation of a large inunnguat (an inuksuk-like figure in the shape of a human) in honour of Attagutsiak covered with drawings made by local school children.
From sewing clothes and stitching, to producing clear windows for iglus out of walrus intestines, to becoming a midwife at the age of 18, Attagutsiak started learning important skills at a young age.
David Akeeagok is the deputy premier of Nunavut and minister of economic development and transportation.
“Attagutsiak is a respected and much-loved Elder in Arctic Bay and throughout the Qikiqtaaluk,” he said in a news release. “It’s my privilege to know and admire her… and all Inuit who helped in the vital, community-level efforts to help our country during WWII.”
Akeeagok says her contributions to the culture and to bridging traditions and bringing together generations of Inuit are remarkable.
Attagutsiak joins a growing list of Canadians who have been recognized for their contributions during the war times.
Parks Canada’s Hometown Heroes was launched in 2015 and is a community-based initiative that honours men and women who defended Canadian values.
To date, more than 140 Canadians from across the country have been recognized.
Jonathan Wilkinson is the minister of environment and climate change, which oversees Parks Canada.
“The story of how Attagutsiak and other Inuit participated in Canada’s war effort has previously not been told,” Minister Wilkinson said. “By sharing the exemplary stories of our Hometown Heroes with Canadians, we express gratitude for their service and create a proud legacy that Canadians will remember and learn from for generations to come.”
Today, as an Elder, she is still devoted to her community. She actively teaches her skills and shares her knowledge to inspire younger generations in Arctic Bay to grasp their natural and cultural heritage.
According to the Government of Canada, Attagutsiak is the last known surviving person who collected bones in the Arctic for the war effort.