When Ottawa cultural educator Myrna Pokiak walked into the new exhibit she curated — including a replica of a traditional Inuvialuit smokehouse — she felt a sense of home.
“When I walked in here I had to cry a little,” she said to CBC Northbeat host Juanita Taylor, laughing.
For Pokiak, an artist who was born and raised in Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., the exhibit brings back memories of childhood surrounded by aunts, uncles and grandparents on the shores of the Arctic Ocean, where her family and other Inuvialuit families have harvested beluga for centuries.
Pokiak’s show, titled Qilalukkat! Belugas and Inuvialuit: Our Survival Together, opens to the public on Friday at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa.
The show aims to help people understand into the Inuvialuit culture and traditions around whale harvesting, by sharing photo and video footage, historic artifacts, and stories from Pokiak’s family.
Beluga whales are more than just food to Inuvialuit. A harvested whale can offer clues to a northerner about the current environment. As well, the hunt is an adventure that brings many families together, explained Pokiak, who has herself harpooned a whale.
“We have generations of knowledge that have been passed on through families,” said Pokiak, whose uncle brought her three daughters on a beluga harvest this summer and came to see the exhibit along with her father.
“When you get a nod of approval from my dad or my uncle when they walk in here, [and] immediately stop and think, ‘Wow, that is exactly what our summer kitchen looks like,’ it’s very special.”
The exhibit is presented in partnership with the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife, which had a similar show about 10 years ago.
It starts in Ottawa on Friday and will be up for about a year.