Inuit cultural showcase offers a rare glimpse into the interior of 100 Wellington

Inuit youth from Nunavut Sivuniksavut (NS) sing a song for the crowd gathered in the foyer of 100 Wellington Street on Saturday, a day-long presentation of the long-closed building as part of Ottawa's Winterlude festival.  (Avanthika Anand/CBC - photo credit)

Inuit youth from Nunavut Sivuniksavut (NS) sing a song for the crowd gathered in the foyer of 100 Wellington Street on Saturday, a day-long presentation of the long-closed building as part of Ottawa’s Winterlude festival. (Avanthika Anand/CBC – photo credit)

In front of dozens of people, Samantha Putumiraqtuq and other Inuit youth filled the marble foyer at 100 Wellington Street on Saturday with the sounds of song and drumbeats.

“Practices like traditional tattooing, singing, [were] taken from us, from our previous generations,” said Putumiraqtuq, one of the cast members of Nunavut Sivuniksavut (NS), a local post-secondary education program specifically for Inuit youth.

“Now we just reclaim it.”

As Putumiraqtuq wrote viewers’ names on labels in Inuktitut, she said she was excited to share her culture with the people who came to the Winterlude showcase.

But that wasn’t all she was excited about: It was also her first opportunity to show the former US Embassy building across from Parliament Hill, also known as the Indigenous Peoples Building.

Avanthika Anand/CBC

Avanthika Anand/CBC

“A significant space for Canada”

The one-day Winterlude event, organized by the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), gave Ottawans a rare opportunity to peek inside the long-closed former embassy building.

Katherine Irngaut, communications manager for the national group representing Inuit across Canada, said she was thrilled to finally share the space, five years after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said it would be dedicated to the Inuit, First Nations and Métis peoples .

“It was wonderful to be able to use this space that serves reconciliation, to celebrate our culture,” she said.

Irngaut called 100 Wellington, which until recently had been vacant for more than two decades, a “significant place for Canada.”

The building is intended for the Metis National Council, the Inuit Tapirit Kanatami and the First Nations Assembly to use as an embassy and cultural center.

But getting there wasn’t easy.

Olivia Stefanovich/CBC

Olivia Stefanovich/CBC

It was due to open nearly three years ago, but those plans were derailed when members of the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation demonstrated outside for nearly two weeks, demanding to become a fourth partner in the project as the property is on Algonquin land.

Eventually, the federal government agreed with the Algonquin Anishinabeg Nation that a separate room should be dedicated to her directly behind.

Because of this dispute, Inuit, First Nations and Métis leaders were unable to gain access to 100 Wellington until last fall. It’s also still unclear when the building will be open to the public again, as the area is slated to be built this fall.

But Saturday was packed with visitors who got their first glimpse of the fabled building while trying out traditional Inuit activities.

Avanthika Anand/CBC

Avanthika Anand/CBC

“Proud to be Inuk”

Basil Macatasnuy, who is from Nunavut and was part of the performing group, said he felt nostalgic as he showed viewers his favorite games: the knuckle hop and the high kick.

Despite being injured during the action, Macatasnuy said he was happy to teach his skills to the visitors.

“I grew up playing these games … it reminds me of being at home with my family,” he said. “I am proud to be Inuk and to show that I am Inuk,” he said.

The event also included screenings of a short film on Inuit history and cultural artifacts, which was an eye-opening experience for Ottawa resident Marina Radeva.

Raneva said on Saturday she learned a lot about the history of the Inuit people and the ongoing impact of colonization on them.

The fact that 100 Wellington St. was dedicated to Indigenous Peoples is a reminder that “reconciliation is not just paper, it’s not just words, it’s real,” she said.

“For us… Canada is the glorious land where everything is perfect,” Raneva said. “But it is not.”

Avanthika Anand/CBC

Avanthika Anand/CBC


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