"Look, Listen"

by Isabella-Rose Weetaluktuk

Isabella Weetaluktuk is an Inuk artist based in Montreal, currently completing a short doc/speculative fiction film titled "3,000."

Carved out of 0’s and 1’s deep in the www dot realm is a remarkable and unique space. Anyone with access to a computer with internet and decent bandwidth can stream this film collection, for free. Awaiting your viewership is a gourmet feast of collaborative and undeniably Inuk creation.

Welcome to Isuma.tv.

Isuma Igloolik productions and the Arnait film collective occupy an essential part of contemporary Inuit culture. A body of work comprised of fictional, documentary and experimental films. The topics covered across the years leave few stones unturned. However, one topic that recurs and receives lots of love and attention is the relationship of Inuit and animals.

Today, amongst other repercussions of colonialism, Inuit are being persecuted for our relationship with animals, a relationship that has been cultivated for thousands of years. Because of this long lasting bond, clear cultural values have emerged in the way that animals are hunted. I would like to believe that this persecution is simply because of a gap in the understanding that outsiders have of Inuit culture.

Luckily the opportunity to learn is ever present; it is up to each and everyone of us to pursue knowledge and understanding. Isuma has produced comprehensive work that speaks to many different aspects of hunting and Inuit life. Currently the Government of Canada has imposed numerous hunting quotas, which Inuit must abide by or face legal repercussions. Even in the face of court cases, Inuit hunters are celebrated by all those who prosper from their catch. The popular language that is used to shame hunters and people that eat meat centers around cruelty. Cruelty is a subjective term. In my understanding and interpretation of cruelty, the act must be needless and malicious. I have never witnessed any of those qualities in a hunter. Traditional hunter gatherers are typically humble, deferential, and respectful of animals and their habitats. However, it is up to us to decide that for ourselves.

Watch as hunters plan their hunt. Watch as they embark on their journey on the land. Watch as they stalk the animal. Watch as they take aim, shoot, kill. Yes, even watch as the animal struggles and falls. Watch as the flesh is cut. Watch as intestines are braided and each body part paid its own attention. Watch as hunters return home, with a catch and those at home exclaim, Alianait! Alianait! Watch as the meat is shared and enjoyed. Watch as the skin is cleaned and treated. Watch as clothing and homes are created, thanks to nimble hands and animal skins. It’s all there to be seen, because there is nothing to hide. This is Inuit life.

Listen as the story of one family's starvation is recounted by the only survivor. Because without the animals, that is what happens: starvation. In those days before colonisation animals were the primary source of nutrition, their hides sheltered us and their fat kept our homes with a sustaining source for the flame of the qulliq. Today, with the high cost of imported foods, food hunted off the land is necessary for many families to make ends meet.

This interdependent relationship of Inuk and Animal didn’t come easily for our ancestors; it was a struggle. But this struggle of needing to kill animals has shaped us to become the Inuit that we are. Our customs have been created in a three thousand year relationship with land and animals. Yet it is outsiders who don’t understand Inuit ways that tell Inuit how to behave in this landscape, with these animals—Land and animals that we have known so intimately.

The land gives a home to both animal and Inuk. It is this landscape that unites us. Inuit are hunter, gatherers: and nothing else. We are not herders or farmers or cultivators of any description. When thinking strictly of environmental impact, hunter gatherers are much less destructive to the earth's ecosystems as a whole. Inuit lived until recent years, a completely biodegradable, sustainable lifestyle. It is Inuit who are currently trying to protect the northern lands from resource extraction. Trying to fend off seismic testing to prevent the risk of damaging those animals who inhabit the oceans and waterways. We are also seeing holes tearing apart the land which our grandparents and great grandparents walked—land that is essential to the life of the animals, essential to Inuit.

Even the relationship between parents and children has changed. Many circumstances have made passing along knowledge difficult, including the realities of residential schools and the adoption of Christianity. Knowledge that would traditionally be experienced and taught does not have the sames paths to travel as it once did. The waters that youth and elders travel together can be rough. But when we allow ourselves to loosen up and be vulnerable there is a place where these relationships can reach still water. It will be within each other that we find the way to re-open the paths of learning. These paths may look different than the ones our ancestors knew.

Our job at this time is to think critically about the information we are given. To question the shape our world is taking.The collection of films is a gift for the curious. Isuma has produced intriguing work that completely resists telling viewers what to think. It simply asks that you do.

As Inuit, we have everything to be proud of. Brilliant minds and kind souls have shaped us. I’ve taken inspiration from the hunters who repeated again and again that they only hunt what they need. I continue on this life's journey with that in mind, to stay humble and take only what I need.

More from this channel: Channel 51 Igloolik: Celebrating 30 Years of Inuit Video Art