The Circumpolar Ethnology Imaging Project (CEIP), now in its third year, has successfully digitized nearly 50% of the vast Arctic and Subarctic ethnological collections in the Department of Anthropology at the National Museum of Natural History. Starting this month, we are photographing objects from Nunavut, the largest and northernmost Territory of Canada. Throughout this process, we have the privilege of collaborating with the Government of Nunavut to publicize and promote this portion of our work, and make these collections more accessible to the people of Nunavut and beyond. Each week while we are working through these collections, we will highlight an object from Nunavut. To kick off this collaboration, Krista Ulujuk Zawadski, Curator of Inuit Art for the Government of Nunavut, discusses why collections digitization efforts, such as the CEIP, are so important for the Inuit community in Nunavut and across the Arctic. Posts will be made available in Inuktitut, Innuinaqtun, English, and French both directly on this blog and through the Government of Nunavut’s social media platforms.
– Haley Bryant (Digitization Technician) & Emily Cain (Digitization Specialist)
Connecting people across the vast Arctic has always been a challenge. Despite a vast geographical expanse, Inuit have stayed connected through oral traditions, language, and cultural customs and more contemporarily through media and technology. Taking advantage of technology and media today we are able to bond people across the Arctic and throughout the globe, but by a much faster means and a more comprehensive manner than previously. Where, in the past, Inuit shared news and stories through oral traditions such as those shared in a qaggiq (a large iglu where drum dances and stories occurred), today we continue to share the same type of news and oral histories through different mediums. Where, in the past, Inuit traveled across the land on foot, with dog teams, and boats and qajait (singular: qajaq) to connect with other families and peoples, today we travel through air and through the internet, fostering a language of images and symbols in the context of the digital.
Digitization is a significant step in connecting people, complementing the already existent connections that have been maintained through generations of oral traditions and histories, but now also reaching people beyond the Arctic. Where there are significant challenges in accessing museums and museum collections from the Arctic, especially in Nunavut where there is no large museum, digitization bridges a gap, allowing Inuit – and others around the world – to have access digitally to our own Inuit cultural heritage, often connecting us with belongings that may still remain in our living memory through our oral traditions. Re-connecting with belongings that may have been made by one’s own great-grandparent is a thrilling and emotionally intense moment when accessing collections and is an integral hope in the links digitization seeks to strengthen.
The role of the Government of Nunavut’s Department of Culture and Heritage in the process of digitization is to promote the work of the Smithsonian Institution’s significant movement in fostering connections between people and the belongings in its collections. Our department believes it is important to inform Nunavummiut (people of Nunavut) that belongings from Nunavut are now available to view online, which will benefit all Nunavummiut by enriching the traditional knowledge we already hold as Inuit. As the Curator of Inuit Art, I have personally experienced the power of accessing museum collections and felt the emotion of being near my ancestors through belongings and am excited to see Inuit belongings become available to many through digitization.
– Krista Ulujuk Zawadski, Curator of Inuit Art, Government of Nunavut