Managing and Protecting Inuit Cultural Heritage in Nunavut

Special Initiative — Managing and Protecting Inuit Cultural Heritage in Nunavut

Established in 1994, the Inuit Heritage Trust (IHT) has a mandate to preserve, enrich, and protect Inuit cultural heritage and identity as embodied in Nunavut’s archaeological sites, ethnographic resources and traditional place names.

The Trust pursues its mandate through a variety of projects, including archaeological training (field schools, mentorship) targeted to Inuit individuals, the documentation and promotion of traditional place names (mapping and seeking formal recognition of Inuit place names), and education initiatives (e.g., teaching resources) designed to increase understanding of Inuit cultural heritage. More broadly, the Trust has an important role in a number of Nunavut-wide heritage projects, including coordination of the Nunavut Heritage Network and development of a Nunavut Heritage Sector Strategy, both of which focus on strengthening heritage management in the territory.

The Trust’s mandate to preserve, enrich, and protect Inuit cultural heritage makes it a natural fit as an IPinCH partnering organization and there has been increased communication and cooperation between IHT and IPinCH over the last few years.

In early 2013, George Nicholas, Catherine Bell, and Brian Egan traveled to Yellowknife to meet with IHT Trustees and staff to begin discussions about how IPinCH may work more closely with the Trust on some of its important cultural heritage work. This was followed by the participation of Trust staff members Ralph Kownak (Heritage Manager) and Torsten Diesel (Projects Manager) in the IPinCH-sponsored Cultural Commodification, Indigenous Peoples and Self-Determination workshop held in Vancouver in May 2013.

These meetings have been vital to building a good working relationship between IHT and IPinCH, increasing understanding of mutual concerns and of the different kinds of expertise and experience that each party brings to the partnership.

While the precise nature of the collaboration between IHT and IPinCH remains to be defined, both organizations have a strong interest in continuing to explore joint work. Tentative plans are for a small workshop in Nunavut in early 2014 to discuss further collaborations. A planning committee has been formed that includes IHT's Ralph Kownak and Torsten Diesel, and IPinCHers Natasha Lyons, Stephen Loring, Sue Rowley, and George Nicholas

Photo: In mid-March, George Nicholas, IPinCH Project Director (center), and Brian Egan, IPinCH Project Coordinator (right), travelled to Yellowknife in the Northwest Territories (where it was -30 degrees!), to meet with members of the Inuit Heritage Trust to discuss a future workshop to develop a comprehensive heritage management plan for the Inuit.

Research Themes

Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) methods engage communities in all aspects of the research process. 

Illustration by Eric Simons

“Commodification” means transforming something into a product for commercial purposes, an item to be bought and sold in the market. Intangible cultural heritage is frequently used in the commercial sector, incorporated into company names, branding, logos, and products. Tangible cultural heritage may also be commodified, such as in the case of artworks intended to be sold commercially. 

Commodification Workshop

When Indigenous cultural heritage is turned into commodities, issues of appropriation are inevitably raised, along with debates surrounding identity, property, and sovereignty.

George Nicholas
American Anthropological Association Conference, Session: Reversing the Legacy of Colonialism in Heritage Research (Montreal, Quebec)