Sonia Gunderson, master’s student at the University of Iowa and recipient of the 2006-07 Stanley Fellowship for graduate student research abroad, said she finally thinks her MAP project is possible. Though the award will only supply a third of the dollars needed to fund her in-depth look at Canada’s native Inuit culture, she is encouraged by the support.
Gunderson’s research of Inuit culture and arts began in the summer of 2000 in the Canadian Artic. She spent five weeks along five Baffin Island communities (Iqualuit, Kimmirut, Cape Dorset, Pangnirtung and Pond Inlet), canoeing, exploring the national parks, visiting the homes of artists, and the learning the history of the Inuit people.
Her visit sparked an interest that Gunderson fed by doing further research and contributing regularly to the Inuit Art Quarterly and above & beyond.
In May 2005, Gunderson returned to the Artic Circle on assignments for both IAQ and A&B. Two of the stories involved a behind-the-scene look at a recent film by creator Zacharias Kunuk. Gunderson spent 10 days with the cast and crew, in and around the remote Iglulik settlement.
“This trip heightened my interest in traditional Inuit life and customs,” Gunderson said. “I came to realize that Inuit throughout Canada consider Iglulik to be the hub of Inuit culture, much as Cape Dorset is regarded as the hub of Inuit art.”
After her experience in Iglulik, Gunderson became interested in its role as an Inuit cultural leader and how the community maintained this role.
Among other things she learned, Gunderson found that it wasn’t until 1983 that Iglulik folded to the pressures of installing satellite television. In fact, according to Gunderson, the isolated Inuit settlement resisted and was the last to succumb to many other influences of colonization, including “traditional education, legal and political systems, Christianity, forced relocation to government-built settlements and a dependence on trade goods.”
When Gunderson returned in March 2006 to follow up on the audience response to Kunuk’s film, she began research for a feature story on the oral history of Inuit people in Iglulik. It was at this time she realized the “cultural crossroads” in which the native people found themselves. With only “a handful of elders who engaged in the traditional lifestyle” and 60 percent of Nunavat, an Inuit territory, below the age of 18, could the native culture survive?
“Will the language, basic Inuit values and hunting-related practices survive and be integrated into contemporary life, or will they be sacrificed on the altar of ‘progress’ or despair?” Gunderson questioned. “And what, if anything, does the example of Iglulik have to offer other Artic communities?”
Gunderson plans to explore these issues in her MAP project. With the help of the UI student government grant recently awarded her, she plans to continue gathering research, possibly writing a book and increasing the awareness of Inuit culture and art.