Annie Mitsima runs her fingers along the smoothly sawed caribou antler. It will be used as a handle for her first traditional western arctic ulu.
The ulu has been an important staple in Inuit families for centuries.
“I gifted my daughter my late mother’s ulu which was made before the 1960s, so my daughter can pass it on to my granddaughter,” said Mitsima.
“I gifted her [her granddaughter] an ulu when she was 3 years old at Christmas so she could properly know how to use an ulu.”
(Annie Mitsima holds a piece of caribou antler that will eventually become the handle for her ulu. Photo: Charlotte Morritt-Jacobs/APTN)
It’s not only Mitsima’s first time making an ulu, it’s also the kick off of a workshop organized by the Yellowknifemiut Inuit Kattujiqatigiit, a local not-for-profit organization that aims to support Inuit in the capital city through cultural teachings and events.
Darrel Taylor is a member of the organization and the instructor for the workshop. He’s an Inuvialuit carver, originally from Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories and has travelled around the north for his art.
Taylor said he was able to stay close to home when acquiring the know-how in making the female-centric tool.
“One of my sister’s ulus that I had at home, I use it as something to learn with. I saw how she did it, the style and the handle how she inserted it,” Taylor said.
It’s functional and diverse design comes from the patience and care needed to make them.
Taylor guides the students through the loud and dusty process, spending hours instructing participants from low to high grit sandpaper, filing the blade free from black spots and making it razor sharp.
“I’m teaching but also learning from them as they have grown up using them and they know how to make them, how it feels and what more I can do with them. I enjoy it,” he said.
Only a few are able to attend on this night, but for the three participants the one-on-one experience is priceless.
Especially for Mitsima who is a long way from her old stomping grounds of Iqaluit, Nunavut.
“I feel very much at home that I am learning to make an ulu and be amongst other Inuit,” Mitsima said.
(There were only three participants for this session, but interest is growing in the program. Photo: Charlotte Morritt-Jacobs/APTN)
Inuk 360, is a local artist who, like Mitsima has never made an ulu before.
She’s here with her mum.
“There isn’t enough of that [places/activities for Inuit]. For Inuit having a gathering place for us to teach or learn or be together. And enjoy each other and learn from each other. Exactly for that reason I was so excited to come and learn,” Inuk said.
Ulu are also works of art in and of themselves. Both Mitsima and Inuk sport ulu earrings to the workshop. As a master tufter, Inuk said she will use hers for sewing.
“It’s used for cutting pelts, making pelts. That’s what was used. There are different sizes and depending where you come from you are gifted them from loved ones. Ever so special. I have a couple of them I was gifted but I never saw one being made, let alone learning how to make an ulu,” Inuk said.
Participants complete their ulus and tell APTN National News they will pass on their newfound skills to other Inuit.
There around 100 registered members of the Yellowknifemiut Inuit Kattujiqatigiit.
The next Inuit culture night December 7.