Celebrating the holidays in Montreal, Inuit style

Cooking for 150 people is never easy.

Doing it on a stove with only two working burners makes it even harder. But despite the unexpected setback, Annie Pisuktie wouldn’t want to be anywhere else right now.

“Because I love my people. It makes them so happy, and it also makes me very happy to see my people happy, the Inuit. I do it for the Inuit of Montreal,” said Pisuktie, who is originally from Iqaluit but has lived in Montreal for almost 40 years.

While she might be running things in this kitchen, Pisuktie isn’t alone.

In the hours leading up to the feast there are anywhere from six to eight people furiously helping her prepare this meal in the kitchen of a borrowed church basement.

The organization they are a part of, the Southern Quebec Inuit Association (SQIA), organizes a feast in Montreal about every two months.

It’s a way for Inuit in the city to gather and eat country food.

Although for the holidays, they kick things up a notch. Aside from Inuit country food standards such as arctic char, fermented walrus, and seal, this feast has holiday classics like turkey, mashed potatoes, and few dishes you might not get at other Christmas parties.

“I would have to say caribou. Caribou is like the top, number one for me now, I’m really excited, Annie makes the best caribou stew, ever,” said 25 year old Elizabeth Irqumia-Steinberg.

Irqumia-Steinberg has lived in Montreal her whole life and the Inuk woman is grateful to have a venue to be with other Inuit.

“I get reconnected with my culture, with my background and with family members and I feel at home when I’m taking part,” said Irquima-Steinberg, who volunteers with the SQIA.

According to Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK), the organization that represents Inuit in Canada, the Inuit population has grown by almost 30 per cent since 2006, almost three times the national average.

But the Inuit population outside of their ancestral homelands (the four regions that are known together as Inuit Nunagat) has grown even more, by 62 per cent.

This is in part because many Inuit are moving to urban centres such as Montreal, Ottawa and Edmonton to escape housing shortages or to pursue employment and education.

Making gathering like this feast all the more important.

“Where we feel at home with our culture, with our family, with our friends, and the children, watching all the kids play, it’s the best thing,” added Irqumia-Steinberg.

Being six months pregnant, Irqumia-Steinberg is looking forward to coming to these feasts once her child is born.

Not only as a way for them to meet other Inuit, but as an opportunity to try delicacies such as Annie Pisuktie’s caribou stew.

Although getting the secret ingredient for her stew out of Pisuktie might take some time.

When queried by APTN News, she played coy.

“TLC,” said Pisuktie, with a wide smile on her face “Tender loving care.”

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