While offering tourists an authentic Arctic experience is a benefit, the main goal for Tuktuyaaqtuuq’s upcoming arts and culture centre is for Inuvialuit to honour their own people.
“The project really is for the community and for the Inuvialuit to celebrate who we are,” says Annie Steen, the project’s leader.
The proposed design would be 20,000 square feet and include a 150-person great hall, rooms for workshops, a museum to hold archives, a small café, accommodations and 10 offices.
Steen says attaching revenue-generating facilities makes the centre unique and is expected to be self-sustaining after about five years.
The project has been five years in the making between developing a community strategic plan, pursuing the centre, and doing a feasibility study and concept design.
Gathering place for teaching
“We’ve faced many challenges and knowing our stories and knowing how we began in Tuk is really important for the history, for our youth to know where they come from, to be proud of where we come from and how resilient we are,” says Steen.
For the Saliqmiut Heritage Society, which is behind the centre, the goal is to share history through workshops and events, something that is difficult to do right now due to a lack of space in the community.
Steen says to hold those kinds of sessions, they would need to displace other groups. That lack of infrastructure makes it hard to share the richness of the culture, says Steen.
Once the new centre is built, “We can have the Elders come in and tell their story of how we used to live,” she says. Sharing knowledge of traditional hunting and fishing areas, which she hopes will entice a new generation of harvesters.
The centre will also be able to house travelling exhibits and teaching sessions with the goal of growing the arts across the Inuvialuit region.
Ultimately, that could lead community members living off their art — something that was lost through colonization, says Steen.
“A lot of us lean towards getting a job at the oil company … so we weren’t really pushed to learn our culture and heritage, because it wasn’t economical for us to pay the bills to do that,” she says.
The expectation is there will also be immediate economic benefits for jobs during construction, increased tourism, and about seven new full-time positions one the centre is open.
‘Here long after I’m gone’
For that to happen, Steen is now working to secure $20 million for construction and early operating costs with the goal of opening in 2024.
She’s cast a wide net of possible funders, from the federal and territorial governments, to the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, to various banks.
“We’re just in starting mode, but the reception is remarkable,” she says.
“(The centre) is going to be here long after I’m gone and all the funders are gone, and all our Elders and everyone else, so building this facility we’re creating a legacy and not every day in Canada, you see and hear about heritage centres being built, so it’s quite an exciting project for our community.”
The heritage society has two open houses planned for July 20 and 21 in Tuk to share more information about the project with community members.