Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI) expanded their commitment to building a Nunavut Heritage Centre to be based in Iqaluit, NU, last week, announcing plans to fund a further $490,000 towards the project in addition to the $5 million already pledged. The proposed centre will house and display artworks and artifacts from the collection of the Government of Nunavut. Following a board meeting in Qamani’tuaq (Baker Lake), NU, NTI committed this further funding to the Inuit Heritage Trust (IHT), which manages the financial side of the project, for pre-construction engineering and design work.
Torsten Diesel, the project manager at IHT charged with overseeing the project, says that the next step is to complete a feasibility study on the building, which he aims to have finished in summer 2021.
The Government of Nunavut collection dates from the 1960s to the present. Unlike every other provincial jurisdiction in Canada, where collections facilities exist inside the province, the bulk of the GN’s collection is currently housed in several institutions in southern Canada.
The collection was previously held at the Prince of Wales Heritage Centre in Yellowknife, NT, where it had been in storage since the creation of Nunavut. In 2015, Nunavut’s Department of Culture and Heritage signed a five-year agreement with the Winnipeg Art Gallery to transfer nearly 8,000 artworks from the GN collection to the WAG’s facilities in Manitoba for storage and display purposes. Many of these works will be on display as part of Qaumajuq, the WAG’s new Inuit art centre, and its inaugural exhibition INUA, this month.
In 2017, more of the GN’s collection left the Prince of Wales Heritage Centre for the South, as approximately 140,000 museum artifacts went to the Canadian Museum of Nature’s collections facility in Gatineau, QC, on another five-year loan agreement. The Canadian Museum of Nature had already housed the GN’s fossil collections since 2003, and in 2012, under a separate agreement, became the territory’s designated holding facility for other archeological collections.
While both moves represented cost savings for Nunavut’s government in terms of storage facilities and the further opportunity to have some of these works out of storage and on display, proponents of a Nunavut-based heritage centre often emphasize that locating the collection in the South provides few opportunities for Nunavummiut who live within the territory to experience the collection, which in large measure is built on the artworks and history of their relatives and ancestors.
“Even though we have very good working relationships with those institutions . . . it’s difficult for Inuit from Nunavut to access the collections, and even more difficult to work actively with those kinds of collections,” says Diesel. Having a Nunavut-based centre is “a piece of the puzzle of cultural healing and reconnecting with Inuit history and traditions.”
The Nunavut Agreement, which established the territory in 1993, specifically calls for the establishment of a northern facility to conserve Inuit art and artifacts. Plans for a heritage centre that would house the art and artifacts from the Government of Nunavut’s collection have been in the works since 2001.
To date, the Trust has raised $10 million of the centre’s estimated price tag of $70–90 million.
There is also an additional $60 million needed for relationship- and in some cases infrastructure-building for the satellite centres envisioned as a key part of the project, which would allow for learning centres across Nunavut to which art, artifacts and educational programming can travel. These satellite centres came out of extensive community consultation, engagement with regional organizations, GN departments and different heritage and tourism facilities.
IHT plans to apply to the federal and provincial governments, as well as others, to get the rest of the project funded.
In 2009, the Government of Nunavut committed $10 million to building the centre, but decided to shelve the plans in 2011 in favour of other infrastructure priorities. At that point, $3 million had already been spent on planning, design and consultation. The remaining $7 million was redistributed among other projects.
The project was revitalized in 2017, when first the Qikiqtani Inuit Association (QIA), shortly followed by NTI, pledged $5 million each towards the project. “It hurts me and a lot of us, to see the beautiful talent and amazing skills of our ancestors are not being exposed to our young people,” said IHT President Eva Aariak to Nunavut News at the time. “It is urgent that we have this facility, to bring back all the artifacts that are stored away in various places in Canada and beyond.”
The increased commitment this month recognizes NTI’s continuing desire to see the Government of Nunavut’s collection back within Nunavut. “We need this centre,” NTI’s Vice President James Eetoolook told Nunatsiaq News.