This film is based on a story I heard in 1980 from an elder woman named Niviatiaq. I was interviewing her and her husband about shamanism in our Amittuq region around Igloolik, and she told me this story of how shamans would make trips to the underworld to heal the sick or find answers about a taboo that had been broken. In our traditional beliefs unexplained illnesses often came from broken taboos, when someone ate a piece of meat they were not allowed to,
disrespected an animal or person, or broke a social rule. This incredible story of journeying to the underworld has stayed in my mind ever since.
Shamanism was a complex spiritual system of taboos, shamans and spirits that provided structure and guidance for Inuit living in one of the world’s harshest environments. We survived sustainably in this environment by passing on our traditions and knowledge through thousands of years of oral tradition. But when Christianity came a hundred years ago, followed by forced settlement, residential schools, and the colonial school system we have now, so much of these oral teachings stopped being told. It was illegal to drum dance or to sing our songs. Our priests told us that shamanism was the work of Satan, so we stopped talking about it. Many people still feel uncomfortable talking about this, but I think now things are starting to change. The world is changing. We know now that God is not on Israel’s side, Christianity is one belief system like any other, so shamanism is becoming freer as a topic now. People of my generation are
becoming the elders now we can talk about these things as we try to re-learn what was hidden for so long.
Our Inuit traditional beliefs tell us that spirits are with us all the time, they are all around us, but most just can’t perceive them. Every object or life form has a spirit and you have to respect them because they are as alive as us, and can harm you if you don’t. 4000 years vs 100 years of Christianity - I don’t believe they could have just disappeared from the land like that.
Animation was the perfect visual medium for this project, working with Taqqut was great because they are Nunavut-based like us. They have Inuk illustrators and producers, make books and children’s television in Inuktitut based off Inuit legends and Inuit authors. They understood the importance of getting things right, details of the tunniit (face tattoos), the proper way to show the dog harnesses on the sled, or the regional patterns on the amauti (women’s parka), everything was considered and brought into the stop motion process. It’s incredible how much work is done behind the scenes - you have to be a patient person to do stop motion!
The freedom of animation opens so many possibilities for telling these kinds of stories in the future because we have so many amazing stories waiting to be told. I see this short film simply as a tool start talking about shamanism again, to invite Inuit, especially children and younger generations, to be proud of our rich spiritual traditions and feel comfortable to explore and ask questions about shamanism. And for non-Inuit audiences to get a glimpse into a spiritual world
that they’re likely never heard about before.