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PUBLISHER Inuvialuit Communications Society EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Stewart Burnett


HEAD DESIGNER Vanessa Hunter EDITORIAL TEAM WRITER/PHOTOGRAPHER Stewart Burnett COPY EDITOR Casey Lessard INUVIALUKTUN TRANSLATOR Albert Elias CONTRIBUTORS Sheree McLeod, Topsy Banksland, Billy Goose, Charles Arnold SPECIAL THANKS TO Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, Ulukhaktok Western Drummers and Dancers, Inuvik Drummers and Dancers, Aklavik Delta Drummers and Dancers, Paulatuk Moonlight Drummers and Dancers, Kangikyoangmiot Drummers and Dancers, Debbie Gordon-Ruben, Saliqmiut Drummers and Dancers, Tuktoyaktuk Drummers and Dancers BUSINESS OFFICE Inuvialuit Communications Society 292 MacKenzie Rd PO Box 1704 Inuvik, NT X0E 0T0 MANAGER Dez Loreen OFFICE ADMINISTRATOR Roseanne Rogers BOARD OF DIRECTORS PRESIDENT, INUVIK Lucy Kuptana VICE PRESIDENT, TUKTOYAKTUK Debbie Raddi TREASURER, ULUKHAKTOK Joseph Haluksit AKLAVIK DIRECTOR Colin Gordon PAULATUK DIRECTOR Denise Wolki SACHS HARBOUR DIRECTOR Jean Harry

ON THE COVER Inuvialuit artist Sheree McLeod designed our commemorative front and back cover for this issue, depicting drum dancers under the Northern Lights.

Dorian Kuneluk and I do a little jiggling in Ulukhaktok. Photo by Billy Goose.

As Mary K. Okheena puts it, every culture has a drum. Music and dance are some of the oldest ways humans have expressed themselves. But music is more than entertainment: it parallels our own existence. We find music beautiful when the vocals, instruments and sounds combine in such a way to seem just right, the melodies perfect and everything in flow. This isn’t limited to music, but is the sense of alignment that we seek in all aspects of our lives. When you are doing the right thing, living the right way, achieving what you want to and existing according to your principles, you find yourself in alignment with the universe. That is where we get our sense of meaning. You feel the strength of that alignment, which is so necessary to hold a person up, the same way the foundation of a bridge holds it up. When our world is out of alignment, it is like a bungled song and gives you the same reaction as nails on a chalkboard. It is our bridge collapsing into the sea. This is where despair, depression and negativity breed. This is why our cultural and traditional foundation is so important: it is the support off which we can build. This issue is all about drum dancing, in celebration of the 35th anniversary of the Inuvialuit Final Agreement. We talked to drummers and dancers across the region to find out why they love the cultural tradition, and it’s hard not to be moved when you hear how drum dance can speak to a person’s heart. We go much deeper into the subject throughout this magazine, but for now, we would like to thank the drum dance groups and Inuvialuit Regional Corporation for making this issue happen.

CONTENT Unless otherwise specified, writing and photography in this issue is by Stewart Burnett.

SUBSCRIPTIONS E-mail subscription inquiries to or phone +1 (867) 777 2320 FUNDING MADE POSSIBLE BY Inuvialuit Regional Corporation GNWT (Education, Culture and Employment) GET SOCIAL Follow us on Facebook and Instagram for live event coverage and photography that doesn’t make the magazine!

Regretfully, not everyone in each group has been captured in this issue. Not every name of every person who has been instrumental in preserving the culture has been mentioned. It is impossible to be fully complete, as much of a bother as that is to my obsessive tendencies. Certainly, no one was purposefully left out. Scheduling and the logistics of putting out a magazine in under three months are the limits to our scope. For anyone missed, we thank you for your involvement with this art form and hope you continue it. To watch a drum dance is beautiful enough. I can only imagine the sense of alignment when you sing with your ancestors.

QUYANAINNI THANK YOU, Stewart Burnett Editor-in-Chief

TUSAAYAKSAT MEANS “STORIES AND VOICES THAT NEED TO BE HEARD.” WE CELEBRATE INUVIALUIT PEOPLE, CULTURE AND HERITAGE. OUR MISSION: To empower, celebrate, communicate, heal and bond. To bring you the best coverage of our news, vibrant culture and perspectives.
































Sarah Mangelana and Andrew Gordon can be seen performing in this photo from the Inuvialuit Cultural Resource Centre archives.



in Inuvialuit culture, and one can only speculate how far back the tradition stretches. Songs reflect the traditional ways of the Inuvialuit people, from their relationship to the land and hunting, to the legends and values that guide their spirit. It was a celebratory tradition, but outsiders didn’t see it that way at first. Since the era of Canadian colonialism, residential school and the silencing of Indigenous cultures, many traditions were demonized and began to fall by the wayside, drum dance included. Nellie Cournoyea recalls the desperate situation Inuvialuit were in during the 1960s. “The elders were really busy trying to keep the visual part of drum dancing going, because they believed that through music and singing there’s a cultural importance,” said Nellie. In 1966, the federal government provided funding to host the Northern Games for a seven-year period. The revival of drum dancing came through this programming support. “Sometimes on the part of cultural issues, people think it can just automatically keep going, but it’s like anything else: it requires serious support and respect,” said Nellie. The Mackenzie Delta Drummers and Dancers formed in the 1960s. This was the first ‘formal’ Inuvialuit drum dance group of the modern era. Nellie explains that communities had their own groups, but they would gather together as the Mackenzie Delta Drummers and Dancers to perform. Close ties to Alaska helped keep the drum dancing culture alive. The group was made of Inuvialuit across the settlement region, but primarily from Inuvik, Tuktoyaktuk and Aklavik. There are too many people to remember, but the main

leaders were coordinator Billy Day, Tommy and Sarah Kalinek, Tommy Goose, Kenneth and Rosie Peeloolook, Alice Simon, Raddi Kuiksak, Amos Paul, Mark Noksana and Bessie Wolki. Other prominent members were Emmanuel Felix, Freeman Kimiksana, Cora Kimiksana, Alex Gordon, Hope Gordon, Kathleen Hansen, Jean Arey, Sarah Mangelana, Emma Feichtinger, Ralph Kimiksana, Kelly Ovayuak, David Nasogaluak, Tom Kimiksana, Sarah Tingmiak, Jimmy Memogana, Agnes Nanogak Goose, Alexandria Elias, Norman (Shepherd) Felix, Sam Anikina, Danny A. Gordon and Georgianne Gordon. In the late 1980s, the Mackenzie Delta Drummers and Dancers split into three regional groups. This spawned the groups in Aklavik, Tuktoyaktuk and Inuvik. Ulukhaktok’s western-style group also sprang from this, with Jimmy Memogana and Agnes Nanogak Goose helping lead the way. As more people became interested in drum dancing, the communities were better able to support their own local groups rather than band together under a regional one. Reviving Inuvialuit drum dancing became a pressing issue following the Inuvialuit Final Agreement signing in 1984. With funding to help revitalize the culture, the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation through the Inuvialuit Social Development Program sent elders and young trainees across the communities to hold drum dancing workshops. This quickly sparked and enhanced groups in Paulatuk and Ulukhaktok. Though performers travelled to Sachs Harbour in the 1990s and 2000s, they never managed to spark a group, leaving the small community as the only one in the settlement region not to develop a drum dance group, hence their absence in this edition of Tusaayaksat. But that is not to say people from Sachs Harbour haven’t taken part in drum dancing.

Debbie Gordon-Ruben remembers her go-to elders: Alex and Hope Gordon, Jean Arey, Martha and George Harry, Sarah Mangelana and Billy Day. “I would sing,” remembers Debbie. “They would sing and talk to me on the phone or in person and answer every question I had.” Billy Day was her mentor for storytelling and etiquette. He would tell her how to act as an Inuvialuit drum dancing ambassador. “His favourite saying was, ‘Either you are all in or nothing.’ I would tell him I am all in.” For the culture to stay strong, that is exactly what it required: participants giving themselves completely to the songs of their ancestors. A Northern Games committee booklet from 1972 notes an enlightening and monumental moment for Inuvialuit drum dance. Kenneth Peeloolook is reported to have asked Billy Day back in 1966, “What will happen to Eskimo drum dancing after the old-timers have passed away?” Billy’s answer was to pool the resources of Aklavik, Inuvik and Tuktoyaktuk and organize the Mackenzie Delta Drummers and Dancers. Nellie thinks the culture is on something of a plateau at the moment and needs further energy to grow. “Some of the groups want to expand to more advanced, new drumming and dancing songs, so we’re going to have to wake up and give them the support we need,” she said. Inuvialuit elders did not nurture their culture and traditions to see them meekly re-enacted today, or to see them weaken due to personal issues. The ancient drum beats continue, and it’s up to the younger generations to amplify their echo. That is no small task, and every Inuvialuk who has held a note, raised an arm or beat a drum, even if just for a moment, has contributed to this cultural revitalization.


Freda Raddi submitted this photo of her mother, Sarah Mangelana. Freda thanked her and her brother Norman (Shepherd) Felix for all the work they did teaching the youth, and teaching Freda how to be a seamstress.

Alainna Carpenter submitted this photo of she and Sarah Tingmiak dancing to ‘woman’s exercise.’ Alainna recalls being six years old in Grade 1 in 2003 when her class got picked to learn drum dancing. She recalls Sarah pointing to her and saying, ‘I’m going to teach you.’ Alainna felt very shy but proud that she was singled out, and she proceeded to learn the woman’s exercise song. From there, Alainna began attending practices at Ingamo Hall, and Sarah would always invite her onto the dance floor. As she got older, Sarah couldn’t come and dance with Alainna, so she’d sit with her mother, Robin, arms crossed while judging Alainna’s moves and telling Robin, “Ha! Just like me,” with the biggest smile.

Jennifer Pitt submitted this photo of her mother, Gloria Gordon, drum dancing years ago. She can’t remember when or where it was taken, but she loves how happy and free Gloria looks in this picture. “My mom was a proud Inuvialuit woman, and I wish I could have learned to drum dance with her before she passed away in 2006,” said Jennifer.

Inuvialuit drummers and dancers perform at the Inuit Circumpolar Council meeting in Sisimiut, Greenland, 1989. Visible are Alex Gordon, Mark Noksana, Amos Paul, Kathleen Hansen and Sarah Tingmiak. Photo from the Inuvialuit Cultural Resource Centre archives.

Alex Gordon participates in a drum dance. Photo from the Inuvialuit Cultural Resource Centre archives.



Drummers and Dancers Abel Tingmiak still remembers the call he got from Debbie Gordon-Ruben and Leonard Harry in 1989. The two had been calling just about everyone on the Inuvik beneficiary list to come out and practise drum dancing in order to start up a group for the town. The first people they called were Martha and George Harry, Jean Arey, Tom Kimiksana, Sarah Tingmiak and Billy Day. Abel has since become an icon in the culture. He was also the person to bring in Brian Rogers, better known as Nungkii, in 1992. Brian was only 21 when he went to his first practice at the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation building. “Both sides of my grandparents drum dance,” said Nungkii. “That’s why I hear the drum dance all the time. It’s like your heartbeat, a place of belonging.” For member Patricia Rogers, the sentiment is similar.

“Drum dancing is special to me because it was passed down from generation to generation,” she said. “Once you hear the drums and the songs, you can feel the warmth from elders.” Nungkii’s uncle, Norman Felix, was part of the Mackenzie Delta Drummers and Dancers and one of the people who encouraged the formation of the Inuvik, Tuktoyaktuk and Aklavik groups. “Some of the songs are old, really old,” said Nungkii. “They’re telling a story of what happened.” They usually spawned as a way to celebrate good times. “Drum dance will look after you,” said Nungkii. “When you have a bad day at work, you’re feeling ugly, then you drum dance and it’s like nothing happened. It takes care of you.” But you also have to be wary of the mindset you bring into the practice. “You’ve got to watch out when you’re drum dancing,” said Nungkii. “Drum dance could work with you or it could work against you. You always have to be in that middle line.” Today, the Inuvik group is the largest in the settlement region. It often has more than 30 people come out to performances, from children and youth to elders. Because Inuvik is the hub of the region, many people from other communities have come here to live and perform with the group as well. Thanks to the passion of elders, drum dance has come back strong in Inuvik.

Kendra Elanik


Back row, left to right: Lesli Kisoun, Felicia Elanik, Kendra Elanik, Rhyan-Joy Wolki, Ataya Wolki, Ethel-Jean Gruben, Olivia Inglangasak holding daughter Payton, Lorna Elias, Donna Wolki, Billie Lennie, Jayda Kogiak, Alecia Lennie holding niece Skyler, Vanessa Rogers, Marlo Kasook holding daughter Letty Kasook, Patricia Rogers, Alainna Gruben, Sarah McNabb, Alayna Wolki, Jade Inuaslurak, Hester Inuaslurak, Brianna Wolki. Front row, from left: Scott Kasook, Churchill Wolki Jr., Patrick (Dang) Gruben, Jimmy Kalinek, Edward Kogiak, Brian Nungkii Rogers, Hans Lennie, Kevin Allen, William Allen, Abel Tingmiak, Zayden Kogiak.


Jade and Hester Inuaslurak

Vanessa Rogers

Edward Kogiak

Abel Tingmiak and Hans Lennie

Kevin and William Allen

Alecia Lennie


Felicia Elanik I’ve been drum dancing my whole life, since I can remember. My family has been doing it for years. I love it because I can enjoy and embrace my culture. It’s a stress relief for me and I love how I can teach other people my culture.

Billie Lennie Drum dancing is special to me because it is keeping the traditions alive for my grandchildren. To be a part of something that instils a sense of unique identity and belonging is satisfying. It’s a healthy way to express joy, and all ages enjoy participating. I have learned so much history through drum dancing, as well as the language, so I am thankful for the group to include me. We have so much fun learning new songs and teaching others that I hope my grandchildren will continue on.

Lesli Kisoun It’s our culture. We learned about it when we were young. My mom did, and so did my greatgrandfather. It’s important to us because we’ll hand it down to future generations.

Churchill Wolki JR. It’s part of my culture and my tradition. It makes me feel at peace. It’s relaxing.

Alecia Lennie Drum dancing is part of my culture and where I’m from. It’s a great way to practise my culture with my young niece. She’s two, and then I’ve got another who’s one. It’s awesome to see my family being connected through drum dancing. We’re all busy throughout the day and throughout the week, but we always come together to drum dance. It’s Inuvialuit pride.

Kevin Allen That’s the way our forefathers, grandfathers and elders before us had entertainment. It’s passing on tradition from forever, and we hope to continue it. It’s special to me because we’re going to pass on the songs and dances that were taught to us and taught to them.


Edward Kogiak I just want to keep the culture alive for the young, keep it going for generations and generations as our grandfathers of the past kept it going for us.

lorna elias Drum dancing is special to me because it’s my culture. It was taught to me by my grandmother and my parents.

kendra Elanik Drum dance is my culture. I like to show the kids and the people our culture. It’s been brought down from generation to generation.

ataya Wolki It’s been part of my family’s culture for many years. I’ve been doing it for so long and I love to take part in it.

marlo kasook It’s a part of us. It’s part of the Inuvialuit culture. I feel the pride and the joy and the calmness it brings me.

jimmy Kalinek Drum dancing connects us to our elders and also to the older group to teach us, and for the rest of us to carry on and teach the younger generations our songs, dance and stories.


hans lennie It’s our culture. We’re just passing it on from the elders that gave it to us. I’ve got my children and grandchildren here, and we’re just passing it on.

Abel Tingmiak Drum dancing has been handed down from generation to generation. You can’t live without it.

Olivia Inglangasak It’s a stress reliever for me. It makes me happy to see my kids doing the same thing.

Olivia Inglangasak and Lesli Kisoun

Jayda, Edward and Zayden Kogiak

Vanessa Rogers

Hester Inuaslurak


Ethel Jean-Gruben and Lorna Elias

Jayda Kogiak

Lillian Elias

Jade Inuaslurak

Billie Lennie with daughters Alecia Lennie and Olivia Inglangasak and granddaughters Skyler and Payton

Rhyan-Joy, Alayna and Churchill Wolki Jr.

Brian Rogers

Churchill Wolki Jr. and Jimmy Kalinek



ON JULY 14, 1892, THE HUDSON’S BAY Company’s ship Wrigley arrived at Fort McPherson, the northernmost stop on its annual voyage down the Mackenzie River to resupply the HBC’s trading posts and pick up furs. Waiting on shore were Inuvialuit who had travelled there from the coast and, as was their usual practice, they held a drum dance to celebrate the arrival of the ship. What made this celebration of particular interest was that two of the passengers on the Wrigley took pictures, providing us with the earliest known photographs of an Inuvialuit drum dance.

The Hudson’s Bay Company established Fort McPherson on the lower Peel River, near the head of the Mackenzie River Delta, in 1840. This had long been traditional Gwich’in territory, and for the first few years only Gwich’in traded there. By the late 1840s, however, Inuvialuit also began to visit the post. Impressed by the size of the buildings, they called Fort McPherson Igluqpait (‘big houses’). The Inuvialuit who traded at Fort McPherson travelled there from their villages at the mouth of the Mackenzie River in large flotillas of qayaqs


The Wrigley on its annual trip to resupply Hudson’s Bay Company’s Mackenzie District trading posts in 1906 (Vilhjalmur Stefansson/Dartmouth College Library).

An Inuvialuit camp at Fort McPherson in 1901. Umiaqs and qayaqs can be seen, and there is a drum rim to the right of the tent behind the boy in the photograph (C.W. Mathers/Provincial Archives of Alberta).

The three dancers, left to right, are Toweachiuk, Arnigasak and possibly Takochikina. Seen behind Arnigasak’s right hand is her husband, Kokhlik, with a drum. Arnigasak and another woman behind her left hand are wearing dresses made of calico. All others are wearing skin clothing (James McDougall/Hudson’s Bay Company Archives).

and umiaqs, covering a distance of more than 300 kilometres in about 10 days. They timed their journey to coincide with the expected arrival of the new supplies at the post, but in 1892, the Wrigley was late and many Inuvialuit had already left to prepare for the summer beluga whale hunt in the Mackenzie River estuary. Only about 30 men, women and children remained behind.

more expensive cameras that used glass plates, and made photography available to the general public. McDougall and Taylor were some of the first travellers to the North who used this new technology.

Five photographs of the 1892 drum dance at Fort McPherson are known to exist. Each shows dancers in the foreground and drummers and others, some who were probably singing, in the background. Neither The two passengers on the Wrigley who McDougall nor Taylor provided names of the people memorialized the drum dance in photographs were in their photographs, but tentative identifications have James McDougall, an employee of the Hudson’s Bay been made of a few of the individuals from other Company who was inspecting the company’s trading sources. Spellings used here appear as they were posts along the Mackenzie River, and Elizabeth Taylor, written in early documents. an American travel writer. Both carried Kodak film cameras that had become commercially available just Three photographs taken by James McDougall, which four years before. These small, portable cameras were are now in the collections of the Hudson’s Bay Archives a welcome alternative to the larger, cumbersome and at the Manitoba Museum, show the most details.


Arnigasak is now in the background, and another woman has joined dancers Takochikina, who is out in front, and Toweachiuk, seen behind his right hand (James McDougall/Hudson’s Bay Company Archives).

Two pictures of drum dancing that were taken by Elizabeth Taylor are in her personal album of photographs from her trip, which is now at the Minnesota Historical Society. They were taken from a different angle than McDougall’s photographs, but appear to show the same drum dance. In addition to bringing back photographs, Elizabeth Taylor also purchased a number of items from some of the Inuvialuit, including a drum that may be one of those shown in these five photographs.The drum and other souvenirs of her visit to Fort McPherson are now in the collections of the American Museum of Natural History, in New York.

Takochikina, with his back to the camera, and the same unidentified woman seen in the previous photograph, are dancing while facing each other, and Toweachiuk is facing toward the camera (James McDougall/Hudson’s Bay Company Archives).

The photographs taken by McDougall and Taylor are mute, but they evoke the power of an ancient drum dancing tradition that continues today. Although the actual songs may be unknown, those who are familiar with Inuvialuit drum dances can imagine the rhythmic beating of the drums and the motions of the dancers as they act out the words as they are sung. The author wishes to acknowledge the assistance of Dr. William Vanest in accessing Elizabeth Taylor’s photographs and identifying of some of the individuals shown in the photographs featured here.

(Elizabeth Taylor/Minnesota Historical Society)

(Inuvialuit drum/American Museum of Natural History)

(Elizabeth Taylor/Minnesota Historical Society)


Rebecca Ruben


Dancers On the silty, mineral-rich grounds that inspire its name – ‘Paulatuuq’ or ‘place of coal’ – the Paulatuk Moonlight Drummers and Dancers celebrate a cultural tradition that was nearly lost. For many years in the second half of last century, drum dancing was scarce in the community, as the impact of residential school and rapid cultural change forced priorities to shift. But in the 1990s, a concerted effort to bring the tradition back inspired many locals. Michael Green, who now leads the Paulatuk Moonlight Drummers and Dancers, remembers his introduction to the art at the opening ceremony for the establishment of Tuktut Nogait National Park in 1996. He then began a group with a few friends in 1998, using anything they could find as material – cardboard boxes for drums, pencils and rulers for sticks.

Elizabeth Kuptana, his Inuvialuktun teacher at the time, loaned Michael a videotape of drum dancing so he could learn from it. His aunt Irene Ruben and uncle Pat Ruben welcomed the group into their home to have a space to practise. They also gave the group drums and a songbook. Only one year after that, the Paulatuk Moonlight Drummers and Dancers were on the road, thanks to Irene, for their first international performance in Barrow, Alaska. Since then, they’ve been around the world showcasing their tradition. Today, they mostly perform at cultural celebrations like Inuvialuit Final Agreement Day. On a cold spring Paulatuk evening, they danced under the glow of the setting sun and talked about why the tradition is so important to them.

There were maybe 30 to 40 people from Tuktoyaktuk, Inuvik and Aklavik who came to our community for the opening of the Tuktut Nogait National Park. When these drummers and dancers performed, it was the first time I’d ever seen it. From there, I became interested and began the group with a few friends of mine. When I sing and drum and dance, I forget everything. Once I get into the drum dancing, everything is gone from my mind. Drumming, dancing, making people dance, making people who watch us happy, not only them but myself – my spirit lifts up when I sing and drum with all the dancers. Makes you feel alive. My uncle Marcus Ruben Sr. loaned me a cassette tape that had his father singing a few songs in Inuvialuktun. When I heard that tape a few years ago, I recognized a couple of the songs that my great-grandfather Angik Ruben sang and I sing today. This recording was done in 1955. It’s pretty awesome. Our group has 10 to 20 people at any given time. Because of working, going out on the land and everything we have to do to survive, drum dancing slowed down for a few years, but now we’re trying to pick it back up and revive it. All of our groups share the same songs, right across from Alaska. They are universal. But each group has a different way of dancing and singing. The way we do our motions is a little bit different from Aklavik, but we’re pretty close with Tuktoyaktuk and Inuvik. Drum dancing has been passed down to us, and now that we’re getting into the middle-aged group, it’s our turn to pass it onto the next generation.




When I used to live in Inuvik with my parents, we would practise drum dancing every night at the school. But from about 1966 on, we didn’t carry it on for many years. I only learned one special dance. I dance it here once in a while. For other people, it’s about pulling boat, but for me, it’s going to pick up wood. Drum dancing is our culture. That’s why it’s special to me. We have to keep it alive for the future kids. They need to know our traditional activities: drum dancing, hunting, fishing and sharing.


Back row, from left: Jill Green, Nicole Green, Jermaine Green, Lottie Cora Thrasher, Michael Green, Rebecca Ruben. Front row, from left: Isabella Thrasher, Mitch Furlong, Nora Ruben.

The school would hire drum dancers to come in and teach us so that we could perform at Christmas or the welcoming of the sun, and from there I stuck with it. I felt like I connected with our language and our culture more. Drum dancing is the closest I feel I can get to our language now. I don’t speak Inuvialuktun, so drum dancing is what’s keeping me close to it.




I was introduced to drum dancing from my brother, the leader of the dance group here, Michael Green. I might have been nine or 10. It’s our tradition. It’s very important. I want to keep it going for the younger generation.


Nora Ruben

Jill Green

Mitch Furlong

Nora Ruben

Jill Green

When I was younger, I used to drum dance with the group with Irene and Pat Ruben. I stopped for a while but picked it back up when the group was teaching at school and my class was in the gym with them. To me, I love the way it makes me feel, just dancing and singing, especially being a part of a group for our culture. The dances are our way of life. It just makes me feel happy when I drum and dance and sing.




Drumming, dancing and singing makes you feel different. It keep you away from all your thoughts and brings you to somewhere else. It’s very important to pass it on to the next generation, because if we don’t, then they’ll forget it and they’ll forget how our ancestors, our grandparents and our parents were living. We want to keep it going, teaching them how to sing and dance the proper way.


VOICES FROM THE PAST // WORDS BY CHARLES ARNOLD THE VOICES OF UNALINA (LENA) AGNAVIAK AND Laura Shukaiyuk are a bit scratchy as they sing “Mackenzie River Dance Song,” but that is to be expected since their song was recorded on a wax cylinder more than 100 years ago by Diamond Jenness, an anthropologist with the Canadian Arctic Expedition. From 1914–1916, Jenness was based at Nulahugiuq (Bernard Harbour), on the mainland side of Dolphin and Union Strait in what is now Nunavut. His main task was to document the culture of the Copper Inuit (Inuinnait) of the area, including their songs. Accompanying Jenness were several people from Siberia, Alaska and the Mackenzie Delta region who were employed by the Canadian Arctic Expedition, including Agnaviak and Shukaiyuk, and Jenness recorded several of their songs as well. In all, 137 songs were pressed into wax cylinders using an ‘Edison recording machine.’

Most of the songs Diamond Jenness recorded were dance songs. Drawing on what he saw during his time in the Arctic, he described two types of drum dances, both of which are still performed today. The most common form of Inuinnait drum dance involved a single performer playing the drum him- or herself while singing and moving from foot to foot in a shuffling or a hopping motion. Others might accompany the performer in singing the song, perhaps just joining in on a chorus of ayiiayiis. The slow and steady tempo of the beating drum has been likened to the beating of a heart.

Drawing of a Copper Inuit drum dance, based on an illustration by Silas Palaiyak circa 1915.

Jenness wrote out the words to the songs in phonetics and Silas Palaiyak and Patsy Klengenberg, who were employed by the Canadian Arctic Expedition, translated them into English. The wax cylinders later were sent to Helen Roberts, a classically trained musician who was also an anthropologist, who transcribed them into western musical notation.

Their combined work, published as “Songs of the Copper Eskimos” (Report of the Canadian Arctic Expedition, Vol. XIV. 1925), was an important undertaking, but words and musical notations on paper are not the same as hearing the songs as they were originally sung. Fortunately, most of the fragile wax cylinders have been preserved at the Canadian Museum of History and have been transferred to digital format. You can hear Lena Unalina and Laura Shukaiyuk singing their Mackenzie River Dance Song on the Inuvialuit History Timeline website.

As can be seen in photographs accompanying the article “Drum Dancing at Igluqpait,” elsewhere in this issue of Tusaayaksat, in the Mackenzie Delta Region the primary drum dance form involves several drummers sitting or standing in a row behind the dancers. As described by Jenness, the drummers, and others standing with them, sing while several people dance, often men and women together.

The tempo of the drumming that accompanies these dance songs has been described as ‘lively.’ Jenness remarked that in this type of drum dance the motions of male and female dancers are quite different. Males dance vigorously, while women’s dance movements can’t be described any better than through the words in Lena Unalina’s and Laura Shukaiyuk’s song: My arms they wave high in the air. My hands they flutter behind my back; they wave above my head like the wings of a bird. Let me move my feet, let me dance, let me shrug my shoulders, let me shake my body. My arms let me fold them; let me crouch down. Let me hold my hands under my chin.

Laura Shukaiyuk is on the left in this 1910 photograph. In the middle is Nellie Sinikpiaq, and the man on the right is unidentified (R.M. Anderson/Library and Archives Canada).

“Mackenzie River Dance Song� from a recording by Lena Unalina and Laura Shukaiyuk.

Angivranna, from the Copper River area, was one of the Copper Inuit (Inuinnait) whose songs were recorded by Diamond Jenness (photo by George Wilkins). Unalina (Lena) Agnaviak is on the right in this undated photograph. On the left is Susanna Akouyak (Royal Canadian Mounted Police/Library and Archives Canada).



Anyone who has travelled the Inuvialuit Settlement Region will speak highly of Ulukhaktok. Its people and culture come with a reputation for friendliness and strength. But that kind of internal spirit, in a remote community of 400 people, takes effort to develop and maintain. The Ulukhaktok Western Drummers and Dancers exemplify the history and culture of the people, and they carry on a tradition that stretches back in time across the Western Arctic and into Alaska. But keeping the culture of drum dancing alive was thanks to a small group of Inuvialuit in the late 20th century who couldn’t resist the beat. Sisters Helen Kitekudlak and Mary K. Okheena recounted their families’ experience rejuvenating the Inuvialuit style of drum dancing in Ulukhaktok. To pass time together in the early 1980s, Agnes Nanogak Goose and Jimmy Memogana, Helen’s father, began trying to remember the old Inuvialuit drum dance songs and would sing together. Jimmy made a makeshift drum, and the two got more into it when they could hear the beat.

Dorian Kuneluk, David Ekpakohak, Troy Kataoyak, Lucas Kitekudlak

From there, they wanted to reconnect with other people in the Delta, as the culture of drum dance had become weak and rarely seen. A group of Delta drummers and dancers visited Ulukhaktok in the ‘80s and spread some of the historical songs of hunting and happiness. That spurred more people in the remote Arctic community to become interested, and the group started to form.


“Our families used to visit each other a lot,” said Helen. “I remember them always having tea before bedtime. My parents’ house happened to be a popular place to gather before bed.” One night, they started to sing, and before long, everyone joined in. It suddenly became the way to spend quiet nights in Ulukhaktok, and so the Ulukhaktok Western Drummers and Dancers came to be.

Most of the group’s songs are ancient, with their exact origins difficult to trace. The Inuvialuit style of drum dance dictates that the women don’t move their feet while doing their graceful arm movements, and the men drum from behind.

with the movements and little jumps, which I’d copy.” In the early 2000s, the group faced internal struggle, with some members wanting to change dances or songs. This can be considered disrespectful, as the songs are meant to be performed in honour of the originators, and in the same style as the people who created them. A new generation began to grow into the Ulukhaktok Western Drummers and Dancers, and among them was Karen Kitekudlak, daughter of Helen. She took the reins of the group and united the members going forward. Justin Memogana now leads the group and Bree Memogana is the lead female singer and dancer. Today, the Inuvialuit style of drum dance is alive and well in Ulukhaktok, connecting current and future generations to those who are long lost, but never forgotten.

Hunting inspired many songs, as people would celebrate their catches through music and dance. All of the Ulukhaktok songs are meant to uplift and be cheerful. Some tell stories of hunting, but all are positive. Some have no words – just “ayayas” – while others have words corresponding to movements. Mary had learned the central style before the western Inuvialuit style of drum dance. They differ in the beats, length of songs, subject matter and how they are performed. “My mom loved the beat,” recalls Mary, whose mother was primarily a central-style dancer. “After we did some (western-style) songs with my dad, my mom would join in and she would start singing and I’d start drumming following her, and then she’d start laughing and say, ‘Not like that. You have to go sexy.’ Then she’d grab the drum from me and show me how it’s done


MARY K. OKHEENA Above photos by Topsy Banksland


Back row, from left: Dorian Kuneluk, David Ekpakohak, Troy Kataoyak, Lucas Kitekudlak, Billy Goose. Front row, from left: Karen Kitekudlak, Susie Memogana, Mistina Ekpakohak, Bree Memogana.


Bree Memogana

Mistina Ekpakohak in front of Dorian Kuneluk, David Ekpakohak, Lucas Kitekudlak and Billy Goose

Karen Kitekudlak

Dorian Kuneluk, David Ekpakohak and Troy Kataoyak

Mistina Ekpakohak

Billy Goose and Susie Memogana



Memogana I’m carrying on what my grandparents passed down. I started around 1995 when they were doing it at the learning centre here. We started off with practices once a week, and from there I kept going. Sometimes, it feels heavy on my shoulders, and then once I start drum dancing and towards the end, it feels like a big weight has been lifted off. It’s a stress reliever for me. Hopefully it carries on as the generations go on.

Kitekudlak My great-grandfather used to always drum dance, and there are not many people drum dancing anymore. It’s a great tradition. It makes me happy and feel free. All the stresses go away.




Once in a while, when you have a crappy week at work or this and that, drum dancing helps alleviate all the stress. You don’t need to keep it bottled up inside. It’s a connection to the past.

Mistina Ekpakohak Drum dancing is my culture. My grandparents used to dance. It makes me feel better.



Ekpakohak My culture means everything to me. It means a lot to pass it down generation to generation. When I drum dance, I feel so lifted and happy. It feels really good on the inside.


Memogana Drum dancing got me out of my dark place. After my daduk and my mom passed away after each other, and then my nanuk passing away, I was in a really dark place. That’s when I quit showing up to the practices for so long, just doing my own thing and being bad. Justin (Memogana) made me go back up. He said, “You’re not quitting.” So I went up and caught back on right away. I was at the point where I was starting to forget everything, the songs, the dances. And then I’ve just kept going from there.



Everything about drum dancing just feels right. Even before we perform, I get so nervous. I have a ball in my throat and I start sweating, especially if we are performing for dignitaries or cruise ships. But as soon as that first drum beat, that first note comes out, it just feels so right. It creates balance.


Goose The group was starting to die down a while ago, and the thought of that was bringing me down. My nanuk, Agnes Goose, whom I’m named after, was one of the dancers here, so I’d love to keep the culture going. It takes my mind off the things that worry me throughout the world. There are so many things that make me worry, like how we’re going to adapt to travelling and time on the land because of global warming. Drum dancing makes me feel warm inside and cared for.


On the way to our drum dancing excursion on the land with the Ulukhaktok Western Drummers and Dancers, Dorian Kuneluk’s skidoo caught fire and couldn’t be put out. It burned to the ground, but that didn’t seem to dampen his mood. “It was really sad, but I just kept smiling,” said Dorian. “It’s replaceable. It isn’t hard to buy a new one. It was scary at first but when I got off the skidoo, I just kept smiling and laughed, made jokes about it. It’s all good.” After making sure the fire was out and everyone was okay, he hopped on a different sled and we rode out to Martha’s Lake to fish, hunt and dance. Drum dancing always lifts his spirit. “It makes me happy every time I’m down. Every time I’m mad, I always go drum dance. It makes my heart feel better, takes all the pain away.”

Spirit of the Song

Always Ready for an Impromptu Goose Hunt

Hunters by nature, the Ulukhaktok Western Drummers and Dancers came prepared on their drum dance outing. Dorian Kuneluk first spotted a small flock of geese on the ride out. When the group reached Martha’s Lake, David Ekpakohak started calling them, and the flock circled overhead. The hunters grabbed their guns, while the rest of the group crouched, watched and smiled. Though no geese were hit, the event was a sign of the real start of spring, and was one of the first geese visits to Ulukhaktok of the season. In the Arctic, there’s never a wrong time to hunt geese.


FROM A BLENDED COMMUNITY COME BLENDED TRADITIONS AND CULTURE. With close connections to the Copper Inuit of the Kugluktuk region of Nunavut, Ulukhaktok is home to more than one style of Inuit tradition and drum dance, as Inuit from both the west and central regions of the Arctic call the 400-person community home. The Kangikyoangmiot Drummers and Dancers represent the central style and traditions of drum dance. Differing from the western style, here viewers will see the men dancing with the drums along with the women, while the songs last much longer and can be several pages in length. The drums are larger, while the sticks are shorter and stubbier. Each song is rich in the history of the Copper Inuit, who lived off the land of Prince Albert Sound. Songs range in subject matter, from animals to healing and the seasons, and there are several types of dances. Freestyle dances always follow immediately after a drum song, and the dancer always follows the direction of the sun when dancing with the drum. More than one person can compose a song, and people can add verses to older pieces. Drum songs come in two parts, with the soft and slow beginning, and then gaining excitement and speed in the main verse. Traditionally, drum dancing would follow hunts, whether they were successful or not. No part of the animal, from bone marrow to tendons, would be wasted after a successful hunt. The catch would be distributed throughout the community and a celebration would take place. Sometimes, different camps and hunters would join to celebrate and challenge each other through clothing and songs. The celebrations are always meant to give thankfulness for what they have caught, and the music and movements come from a place of happiness and storytelling. For Crystal Anne Kuneyuna, the group helps keep her connected to the generations in her family, as she often dances with her aunt Emily Kudlak and great-aunt Agnes Kuptana. “I have been observing this tradition since I was three years old,” she said. “I only started to drum dance in public when I was an adult. I started to drum dance with the Kangikyoangmiot Drummers and Dancers when my uncle Adam Kudlak gave me my first drum.” Through intermarriage, Copper Inuit and Inuvialuit have combined to build a strong, culturally rich community in Ulukhaktok, where dancers often perform both of their lineages’ style of dances.




From left to right: Celine Joss, Emily Kudlak, Kate Inuktalik, Louise Negiyok, Alice Omingmak, Agnes Kuptana, Mollie Oliktoak, Mary Kudlak, Delia Akoaksion, Tony Alanak, Mary Akoaksion, Eileen Akoaksion, Fred Akoaksion, Hailey Akoaksion, TrudyAnne Kagak Akoaksion.




I started by watching and having my parents bring me to the drum dances. It carries on our culture. It makes me feel strong.



It keeps our culture going. It brings out a different kind of inspiration when we start singing and drum dancing. It makes me feel… I can’t describe it. It sends out emotions and brings back strength to keep yourself going and support the family.

Mary and Delia Akoaksion



When the coffee shop used to be a few houses down, we used to watch our elders drumming and dancing there. That’s when I wanted to join and I started practising the songs in my head. I feel like I’m lifting up from where I was that day and it brings a whole sense of comfort. You can feel the comfort in your mind, body and spirit. It’s good healing to be around your elders, beat the drum and sing the songs of our ancestors from years back. Drum dancing is part of us. It’s how we grew up in our culture and traditional life. I would like to pass it on to our younger generation, for them to carry it on.


Drum dancing is important to me because it has old words in Inuinnaqtun that are no longer used. It takes you to a place where Copper Inuit travelled on the land, tells you what was hunted and describes places using what is there. It takes you to a time and place where our ancestors gathered.



I grew up with the drummers and dancers and song makers. That’s who I learned from. I never went to school for it. I learned the songs from hearing them, from my grandparents and other people. When they got success on their hunt or don’t get any, they make songs out of it. No matter if you don’t get anything when you go out, you’re still happy and go home and tell stories. That’s what the songs come from. Drum dancing is healing. When you go out on the land, when you sing, your ancestors and loved ones are just behind your ear singing with you, you can feel their breath. Our ancestors tell us to be thankful and happy with what we have. When I lost my husband, I was crying and lonely out there, and I said to myself if my mom and my grandmother could make a song, I too could make a song, because that’s what heals me. I’ve got about six verses and one more coming up.

58 Kate Inuktalik

Fred Akoaksion

Celine Joss

Celine Joss

Mary Akoaksion

TrudyAnne Kagak Akoaksion

Fred Akoaksion

TrudyAnne Kagak Akoaksion, Louise Negiyok, Emily Kudlak, Alice Omingmak


Susie Malgokak

Fred Akoaksion

Louise Negiyok

Emily Kudlak

Hailey Akoaksion


OMINGMAK I was hurting inside and when I started dancing, it slowly went away. I kept it up and learned some songs from my dad, and I’d go to every drum dance so I could learn more. Now my arms are not too good anymore, so I don’t drum dance, but I can sing. It eases my mind and helps me a lot.



My grandmother was a great drummer, dancer, storyteller and artist. I got to travel and hunt with my grandfather, who was always singing the songs. No matter if it was a blizzard or if he’s making tools or fixing up his sleds or doing other things so they can travel, he’s always singing in the language. It was in my mind all the time hearing these songs and the stories they’d tell us in the evenings, how they’d survive, how they hunted, how there were days they struggled for animals when it was a bad year. It makes you feel so lively. You feel the healing. You feel your ancestors among you because you can feel their presence. People get so happy, and when you’re done, you feel so blessed.





e works a full-time job, comes home and works another full-time job, but the payoff is worth the effort for Edward Kogiak and his newfound drum-making business. “I got into drum dancing after my late grandfather Danny A. Gordon passed away, and I’ve been into it ever since,” said Edward, originally from Aklavik but now living in Inuvik. “Keeping the culture alive is what I enjoy about it. I like to drum dance with my family, and my son is really into it too. He turns seven this August and has been in quite a few of our shows. When he was first

born, he would sleep through the whole practices, wouldn’t get up from any of the beats of the drums.” Edward could see the culture of drum dancing struggling to stay strong, and he had always wanted to learn how to make drums, so he contacted Brian Rogers, who had also taught him how to drum dance. “He played a big part in my life, teaching me,” said Edward. Brian taught him how to make drums, but it took a lot of trial and error for Edward to get them right.


“When I first started, I made my drums too long, so they didn’t fit the jig. Or I’d make them too short, so they didn’t join together. I also made them too thin. Over time, I came to the conclusion of how long I’ve got to make them, the width and the depth. Now, I feel I’ve got it perfect, where I make them all the same now.” The process takes several steps, but most of the time is waiting. First, he has to get the materials to make the jigs, which takes him three or four days to complete. Then he gets the material for the drums – he prefers maple wood – and cuts them into strips, followed by soaking for five days. One rim takes five days to make. He soaks them for 24 hours, then steams for one hour, bends them, lets them dry for 24 hours, glues them together and lets them sit another 24 hours. Then he makes the handles and grooves and lets that dry for another 24 hours before putting on the material. He does everything in his house, with his makeshift steamer taking up about a third of his kitchen and his drums-in-process using up half his living room, but he hopes to get a proper shop in the future. Edward started a Facebook page for his newfound company in late 2018 and in just over half a year had made 60 drums. “I just recently finished a big order of 15 drums for the music school,” he said. “This one I’m working on is 18 drums, and then I’ve got another 21 to do by August.” On big orders, he gives a wholesale price to clients, and he especially cuts down the price when it comes to youth drums. “My men’s drums sell for quite a bit higher than my youth and kid’s drums,” he said. “I put those ones down to as minimum profit as I can so I can get them into drum dancing, get them into the culture and keep the culture alive. The cost basically pays for my material, not my time, but it’s because I want to keep the culture alive.” His work can be found on Facebook under the page E.Kogiak Drums.


William Tyrrell

With Aklavik’s town motto of “never say die,” it’s not surprising the community has managed to maintain and continue its cultural practices. The Aklavik Delta Drummers and Dancers are one of the three groups that formed out of the regional Mackenzie Delta Drummers and Dancers in 1989. They represent a community of mixed heritage, both Inuvialuit and Gwich’in, and in their gatherings, the close family ties are evident. In Aklavik, it is always about family, friends and love for one another.



The group’s songs are usually about the land, animals or how people travelled. The words and actions that go with the songs explain how the people fed themselves, travelled, hunted and survived. Carol Elanik, one of the members, shows off her full traditional outfit while explaining that drum dance makes her feel happy. Today, the culture of drum dance is strong in Aklavik, and the group has had many opportunities to travel outside of the region for performances, such as at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.


DEAN AREY Drum dance is special to me because I grew up with it in school. I was taught by the late Alex Gordon, Danny A. Gordon, Hope Gordon, Kathleen Hansen – all our elders that have passed on – the way of my Inuvialuit culture. When you see the dancers move, it makes you want to drum harder.

ANDREW GORDON SR. In 1989, our Inuvialuit drum dancing was dying off. We had the opportunity to learn from our elders that have passed on, and now we know a total of about 30 drum dance motions and songs. When we dance, we’re proud because we know that our elders who have passed on are with us in spirit. It’s good to see our young people dancing when we sing and drum. It makes us feel really proud to be Inuvialuit.

SHAYLA AREY Drum dancing is special to me because it is part of our culture and tradition. I started in 2002.

FREDA ALUNIK I always followed Angus when he went to Aklavik practices, but I always sat on the side. One time, one of the ladies said to come sit with us, so I went up and that’s how I started in drum dance. I’ve seen drumming and dancing since I was a girl all the time, especially in Peffer’s Cafe. Everybody used to be there drumming and dancing.

ANGUS WAYNE ALUNIK I started with the Aklavik group in the late ‘90s. I used to play guitar with Andrew Gordon and he would call me to go to Alaska with him. Later on, I started picking up the drum and playing with them. I’ve been with the group since. I used to watch it when I was a young kid, and then Andrew got me into it again. I don’t really dance, but I do the drumming, and it makes me feel really good.


Edwin Gordon

Jimmy John Meyook

William Tyrrell and Edwin Gordon

Kendall Archie

Mary Ruth Meyook

Ella Archie

Ross-Martin Pascal


JESSI PASCAL This is history. It’s what my grandparents did. Being able to sing together as a family and friends with our group here makes me feel very connected. It’s an awesome time, especially when I’m dancing and singing with the people I love.

ELLA ARCHIE Drum dancing is special to me because my nanuk Sarah Meyook used to drum dance and I want to keep the culture alive. I got my daughter Kendall into it as well. I feel really good when I drum dance.

JANETA PASCAL Drum dancing is special to me because it’s fun, it’s something we grew up with and it’s good to hang out with our family and friends drumming, dancing and singing. I think culture is important. I want my son to grow up in the same environment I did. He seems to enjoy it so far. He’s only a year and a half old.


William Tyrrell

Tisha Koe

Carol Elanik

Faith Gordon

Karen Benoit


Back row, left to right: Joseph Tyrrell, William Tyrrell, Jessi Pascal, Shayla Arey, Karen Benoit, Carol Elanik, Edwin Gordon, Andrew Gordon Sr., Dean Arey, Tisha Koe, Jimmy John Meyook, Faith Gordon, Ella Archie, Kendall Archie. Front row, from left: Mary Ruth Meyook, Janeta Pascal, Ross‑Martin Pascal.



You that we are towing along Ah, ya ah e ya Big whale, big whale Stir up the sea with your tail E ya ah e ya Give us fair weather today So we arrive safe and sound on shore. E ya ah e ya Tug – tug along hard E ya ah e ya Row – Row The boats touched the shore and our Inuk sprang out of his hiding place and ran to them, shouting, “Ah, ah!”

MANY INUIT SONGS RELATE EVENTS OR EMOTIONS experienced in daily life. But traditionally, songs were also composed and performed to be used as incantations. Bob Cockney told the following story of whale hunters who calmed the wind with a song: In those days an Inuk who was skirting the shore noticed skin boats, umiaqs, towing something along. They were coming in to land. He hid near the shore. It was a fine, calm day, and as they got closer he heard the rowers singing. An old man was at the helm. They were towing a whale and the old man was singing a magic song. Hidden close to shore the Eskimo learned the song and forever remembered it.

An illustration by an unknown Inuvialuk of a bowhead whale hunt, circa 1865 (National Museum of American History, MacFarlane Collection).

The oarsmen had pushed back their hoods and rolled up their sleeves. Frightened, without lowering their sleeves or pulling up their hood, they flew away – they flew away – they were seaswallows. But because they had forgotten to raise their hoods and lower their sleeves, they were transformed from swallows into little seagulls. Ever since that day, the Abvarmeut (Avvarmiut), the Baillie people, have used this song whenever they have harpooned a whale. (Bob Cockney, I, Nuligak, 1966, p. 70-71)


Women’s dance mittens, circa 1865 (MacFarlane Collection, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution).

INCLUDED IN A COLLECTION OF CLOTHING, TOOLS and other items purchased from Inuvialuit who traded at the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Fort Anderson post in the 1860s, and now held at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., is a pair of caribou skin mittens – but not ordinary ones.

The people who traded at Fort Anderson during its brief (1861-65) operation spent most of the year in the Liverpool Bay area, several hundred kilometres to the north. It is perhaps unlikely that mittens as special as these appear to be were taken on the long journey to the trading post specifically to sell.

They have no separate thumbs, and sewn to the back and at the top are tassels made of fur strips that have been dyed red. The cuffs are decorated with shorn white and dark bands of skin and a strip of leather that also has been dyed red. They are trimmed with wolverine fur. When they were purchased, they were simply listed as ‘a pair of women’s dance mittens.’ We are left to imagine the rest of their story.

Instead, it is easier to imagine that they were proudly worn by their owner to draw attention to her hand movements while participating in a drum dance to celebrate a successful trading trip, and that they caught the eye of the fur trader who was told by his superiors at the Hudson’s Bay Company to be on the lookout for cultural objects for the newly opened Smithsonian Institution.





All Inuvialuit drum dance groups show a range of participants, from elders to middle-agers and youth. Some performers bring their toddlers or young children as well, and they are always a hit with the audience. Dolly Carpenter’s two-year-old son Nelson became a social media star after Tusaayaksat photographed him performing at the celebration for Dawn Anderson’s appointment to the Senate of Canada this spring. His foot-stomping pictures reached more than 70,000 people on our Facebook page, with many people commenting on the passion the young boy showed. For Dolly, that attention was shocking. “It was unexpected,” she said. “It made my heart happy. I told him about it and he got all happy and excited.” Nelson first showed interest in drum dancing at just eight months old. When he was a year old, he started to dance. “He gets the hang of it pretty fast,” said Dolly. “He’ll watch the boys and then dance himself.” It didn’t take much nudging to get him to bang on his drum for photos, while Dolly danced to his beat in the Tuktoyaktuk streets. Dolly first found drum dancing when she was 13. “There were younger girls drum dancing, so I tagged along,” she said. “Because my boy is interested too, I’m pushing myself forward to learn more songs and dances.” The tradition is special to Dolly because of its connections with her family. “I want to be able to pass it on to my boy,” she said. “I don’t know much about drum dancing. I know a few songs and dances. But I’m going to try to get more into it for my boy. He’s at the age where he wants to be a dancer.” In Paulatuk, we photographed the young Mitch Furlong with his drum; in Aklavik, it was Ross-Martin Pascal; in Inuvik, Payton and Skyler Inglangasak stole the show; or in Ulukhaktok, Delia Akoaksion couldn’t have looked better in her Mother Hubbard parka. But not only are the young participants photogenic and cute – they are the future elders. By immersing them into the culture, parents today are ensuring their offspring keep it strong for generations to come.


REVIVED BY A GROUP OF TEENS after the tradition began to slip following the passing of elders, the Saliqmiut Drummers and Dancers are now some of the most passionate and energetic culture carriers of the Western Arctic. Group leader Joe Nasogaluak would always play drum dance music in his home while his children grew up. He remembers his three boys – Larsen, Henson and Joe III – listening to it and gathering together with other Tuktoyaktuk peers in their house to practise. “One day we were sitting down and we could hear them pretty clear and they sounded real good, so I went to see them,” said Joe. “They were a little off-beat but they sounded good. From there, it caught my attention again, so I coached them. They did whatever they could to find and learn the songs, and to this day I’m still just coaching them.” When watching the Saliqmiut group perform, one notices the professionalism. The members strive to faithfully and powerfully carry on their tradition, with none being shy to lend their whole voice or body to the song. Crisp white is the signature style of most of their clothing, along with a range of colourful amautis or covers. The coastal people take their tradition seriously. Still, they aren’t afraid to build upon their history. Members outspokenly plan to create new songs and put their own signature on tradition. As Joe explains, respecting the culture doesn’t mean doing the same thing every time.


Larsen Nasogaluak


Clorese nogasak I had peers two years older than me who wanted me to join drum dance, so that’s when I started learning the songs. I was 11 or 12. Now I’m 22 and still going. My great-grandmothers, Sarah Mangelana and Bessie Wolki, were my old generation and now I’m the new. That’s why I wanted to join this, because my grandmothers were drum dancers. Drum dance makes me feel happy. I make the community happy, I make our people happy. That’s the whole reason why I wanted to drum dance.

Brayden Teddy I just liked singing and we got together as a group when we were 12 or 13 years old. I like to keep our culture alive and carry on our tradition. I feel happy performing for our people.

Diane nasogaluak Drum dance has always been with me, ever since growing up around my grandparents. I thought I might as well put it into my kids so they can learn the tradition. I have three boys and two girls. When they were growing up, I always made sure I was playing drum dance music so they learned the songs and the wording.

chantal gruben I started when I was visiting in Paulatuk. I learned a few songs from them and when I came back to Tuk, I decided to continue drum dancing. It’s probably been 10 years now since I’ve been drum dancing. So many of my past generations have been drum dancing. My grandfathers and grandmothers used to dance, so it makes me feel connected to them and have that bond. I feel amazing drum dancing. It’s like you set yourself free and follow the beat of the drum. I want to carry the traditions down onto my daughter and teach her from now until whenever she can start drum dancing. She’s not even a month old yet.


Joe Nasogaluak III I followed in my brother’s footsteps. We grew up listening to different groups and practised hours a day. I followed my older brother, Larsen. Before him, it was my sister. Drum dance is our culture. People should be proud about it. I’m trying to encourage kids nowadays to drum dance and be proud of your culture and who you are. When I drum dance, I black out. It’s a beautiful feeling.

Henson Nasogaluak It all started in a drum dance workshop here in Tuk not even 12 years ago. A lot of my family members drum dance. It makes me feel happy and takes a lot of weight off my shoulders.

KArlene Green I grew up around it since I was a newborn, from my aunts and my parents. For me, it’s special because it’s our culture and I don’t want it to die. I feel alive when I drum dance.

Joe Nasogaluak It instilled on me when my father used to sing in his room. He was always singing when he wakes up, before he sleeps or any time of the day. He was a teacher of drum dance songs and a drummer, my mother too. All our life we grew up with drum dance. That’s why today I’m still involved in it. When you’re drum dancing, it all comes down to respect. You grab a drum, you put on your atikluq, it’s like a hockey jersey. Our clothing is white, because my father always used white for hunting. My father said you have to create your own identity, and I didn’t know what it meant at the time. But in this area, we’re the Saliqmiut, we’re the coastal people, and that’s what he meant. Drum dance is like our language. You hear people saying the same word with different meanings in different places. I don’t want it to be like that. I want it tone-for-tone in the same way it was brought up for all of us. Looking at these young people, you get a warm feeling when they’re dancing and singing. It’s a wonderful feeling, knowing at least for now it’s not finishing. What we need to do now is have our own songs and carry it on. In all things, you need to move on. Add to what’s there, but at the same time keep the culture and don’t change it. When we were growing up, women couldn’t grab a drum, but in this day and age we have to move on. We’re all equal. In our group, I have the young girls grab a drum because we’re all equal. We need to move on while keeping the traditions. We need to create our own songs from this area. We can’t always move forward with the same, same, same. It will get stale. We need to add to this. I’m not sure what it is, but we need to add to this.


David Lucas I got started back in school. My teacher Betty Elias taught me how to drum dance and I started learning from our elders, watching them. We have to take over that tradition, that culture. It’s special because of our ancestors. Our tradition here is to drum dance and tell stories about it. All your emotions come out when you start drum dancing.

Larsen Nasogaluak We were just young boys sitting around at my house and we had this crazy idea to try and start singing a song. We didn’t know how it would be and we were kind of out of tune but after about two weeks we started getting in tune and decided to make this group. It makes me feel proud to dance and show off our culture and traditions. Drum dance makes me feel very happy. Feel sexy even.

Sasha Lucas I started drum dancing when I was seven or eight in Paulatuk. It’s our traditional ways we learned from our elders. Drum dance is my happy place.

deedee Nasogaluak My parents got me into drum dancing when I was about one. It’s been in the family for so long and I just really like it.


DeeDee Nasogaluak and Clorese Nogasak

Karlene Green and Clorese Nogasak in front

Chantal Gruben, DeeDee Nasogaluak, Clorese Nogasak, Sasha Lucas

Larsen Nasogaluak

Joe Nasogaluak and Joe Nasogaluak III

Sasha Lucas

DeeDee Nasogaluak, Clorese Nogasak and Sasha Lucas in front

Chantal Gruben, DeeDee Nasogaluak, Clorese Nogasak

Diane Nasogaluak, Eunice Nasogaluak, Chantal Gruben, Larsen Nasogaluak, Joe Nasogaluak III, Henson Nasogaluak, Brayden Teddy

Eunice Nasogaluak and Clorese Nogasak


Back row, from left: Grace Nakimayak, Holly Carpenter, Diane Nasogaluak, Hilary Christine Nasogaluak, Clorese Nogasak, Chantal Gruben, Sasha Lucas, Karlene Green, Eunice Nasogaluak, DeeDee Nasogaluak, Nellie Cournoyea. Front row, from left: Joe Nasogaluak, Larsen Nasogaluak, Joe Nasogaluak III, Henson Nasogaluak, Brayden Teddy, David Lucas.


Back row, from left are Alex Gordon, Tom Kalinek, Raddi Kuiksak and Felix Nuyaviak. In front are Hope Gordon and Sarah Kalinek. Photo courtesy of Josephine Nasogaluak.

Left to right are Eunice Nasogaluak, Shepherd Felix, Emma Feichtinger and Josephine Nasogaluak. Photo courtesy of Josephine Nasogaluak.

Pictured here are members of the group at the Legislative Assembly in Yellowknife. Photo courtesy of Josephine Nasogaluak.



Though the Saliqmiut Drummers and Dancers are prominent at celebrations and public events, they are a younger group than the original Tuktoyaktuk Drummers and Dancers, who have turned mostly dormant as a group in recent years. The original Tuktoyaktuk group spawned from the dissolution of the Mackenzie Delta Drummers and Dancers, but members found their organization wane in the 2010s after the passing of important elders and group leaders. We talked to a few members of the group about their memories and its current status. Eunice Nasogaluak, who performs with both groups, became the coordinator of the Tuktoyaktuk group back in 1992. She remembers practices bringing out 20 to 40 youth at Kitti Hall. “There were quite a few young people learning to dance, and some were learning to sing the songs as well,” she said. She recalls growing up watching the adults drum dance in Aklavik. At the time, children didn’t tend to dance, but as fewer and fewer adults participated, more young people began joining in. “It’s always been in our culture since time immemorial,” said Eunice. “Every nationality has their own dance, and ours are drum dance, Eskimo songs, Inupiat songs. It’s the same all over the circumpolar North. They have the same kind of drum; they just sing different songs.” She loves watching younger people drum dance. “It makes you happy in your heart,” said Eunice. “You know it’s something they practised and took time to learn. That makes you happy, because not everybody does it.” Josephine Nasogaluak remembers the Aklavik performers coming to Tuk to put on a show in the early ‘90s. “From there, I told myself I want to learn the music and the dances,” she said.

Her grandfather, Felix Nuyaviak, was one of the leaders of the Tuktoyaktuk Drummers and Dancers and passed it on to her uncle Shepherd Felix. “I’m really proud to be part of that history,” said Josephine. For her, drum dance is something nobody can take away. Keith Felix Jr. got into drum dance when he was just six years old on Emmanuel Felix Sr.’s birthday. “They were singing their daduk William Mangilaluk’s song,” remembers Keith. “Since then I haven’t stopped drumming, singing and dancing.” It’s special to him because drum dance is the tradition of his ancestors. “It’s a tradition that I want to carry on to the next generation,” he said. “I myself make traditional drums, and I still sing and drum to this day.” Kayla Nuyaviak still has her original drum dance parka. She got serious about the tradition when she turned 13. “(The Tuktoyaktuk Drummers and Dancers) slowed down a lot after our elders … passed on,” said Kayla. “But we still know the songs and I still know how to dance to them. I know it’s going to be with me forever.” For Josephine, the time to reenergize the group is now. “We were giving our time to grieve,” she said. “Now it’s time to move on and get things back on the show again. There are a lot of kids who would like to learn. They love the music, the sound of the drum.” She says the group has to get back up and pick up where it left off. “We can’t just let it die out or get old and watch life go by.”




We all experience life in different ways and with varying capacities. What might seem easy for you could be impossible for another. We are all unique in this world and we especially see this within our smaller communities in the region. I think it’s important to be yourself, as I have said in these letters before. I have spent a long time learning about empathy, caring for others and seeing the world around me in a different way. Growing up, I felt disconnected from my roots, like I never even tried to connect to my Inuvialuit culture. When I heard our magazine was doing a feature on drum dancing, I was eager to see what was coming from it. I have always had a tremendous respect for drumming, and to anyone who keeps that tradition going, I thank you deeply. It is a great feat to keep those songs alive and to honour and respect those elders who sang them decades ago. I remember seeing drum dancing photos of my great-granddad Raddi Kuiksak of Tuktoyaktuk with Shepherd Felix and Felix Nuyaviak, and others too, all holding drums. They looked like royalty. Drumming has always been a very honourable duty that needs a strong

Growing up in Inuvik, watching old episodes of ‘Tamapta,’ drumming was always a part of our lives. It is nice to see even our youngest people carry on those songs and deliver them to a new audience today.

I am excited to see what the future has in store for drumming and dancing in our region. There are a lot of people already involved in keeping the songs going, but they need more people to get involved and carry the weight. Call your friends, tell them to come out and see the groups practise. I am sure they’re always welcoming to new members who want to learn more!

Reading the experiences in this issue gives me a sense of pride in our culture, from a perspective I hadn’t heard before. To see firsthand why these awesome people keep singing and dancing is truly inspiring.

With this momentum, it looks like we are on a path to see a resurgence of drumming and dancing in our region. But that can really only happen with the support of our communities and region as a whole.

voice to sing and lead. It’s a reason I have so much respect for anyone who continues on these rich stories.

Each photo being featured in this issue shows me the great dedication each member of every dance group has. We have people who are of all age ranges, all sharing this knowledge and having fun doing it. Seeing all those people gathered together is heartwarming to me because it shows that the sense of community is still very strong with our people. We all face struggles in our lives and it seems like these drummers and dancers have found a vessel to let out some steam and carry on our traditions. I imagine a lot of sharing and storytelling happens during these meetings as well.


Dez Loreen Manager, Inuvialuit Communications Society

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Tusaayaksat Magazine – Summer 2019  

Tusaayaksat Magazine – Summer 2019