On January 30, 2023, the Office of Indigenous Initiatives and the Department of Family Medicine hosted the first event of McGill's Winter Indigenous Speaker's series, inviting Inuk Elder Reepa Evic-Carleton to share her knowledge and stories with members of the McGill and Montreal community. The event was moderated by Inuk Assistant Professor and Special Advisor on Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit, Richard Budgell, and featured a lighting of the qulliq, the traditional Inuit oil lamp. Attendees witnessed a conversation about Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (which translates to “what Inuit have always known to be true”) between the two guests, as well as Inuit values and realities.
Celeste Pedri-Spade (on the left), McGill’s first Associate Provost of Indigenous Initiatives, and Marion Dove, the Chair of the Department of Family Medicine, provided opening remarks—capturing the collaborative spirit of the event.
Source of light and life
Ms. Reepa Evic-Carleton was born in Cumberland Sound, Nunavut, and relocated to the community of Pangnirtung when she was five years old. “Our stories need to be told,” said Evic-Carleton. “Life was not the same after the forced relocation my people went through.”
During the event, Evic-Carleton spoke of the importance of the qulliq, which was not only the main source of light during the winter months in the North, but was also used to cook, melt ice, and dry clothing over. “It really did allow us to survive in a cold, harsh environment,” explained Evic-Carleton. Today, the qulliq also serves a ceremonial purpose, symbolizing tradition and the strength of Inuit women, who traditionally tended to the qulliq.
Listening to Evic-Carleton as she tended to the qulliq, her devotion to helping Inuit—both in the North and in the South—became clear. In the North, her work experience included working for ten years as a Housing Manager in Pangnirtung and one year as Community Social Worker in Child Protection.
In 1989, Evic-Carleton moved to Ottawa where she spent seven years working as a Family Support Worker at Tungasuvvingat Inuit, working closely with the shelter CAS Ottawa and sitting on the AIDS Committee of Ottawa. Evic-Carleton also worked at Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, the national representative organization of Inuit women, coordinating activities around the issue of substance abuse. She then co-founded the Mamisarvik Healing Centre, the first Inuit-specific trauma and addictions treatment centre in Southern Canada. At Mamisarvik, she worked as a therapist and then as the Program Coordinator. In 2017, Evic-Carleton joined the Inuuqatigiit Centre for Inuit Children, Youth, and Families, where she worked as a therapist and facilitated parenting programs and healing circles for mothers.
Reflecting on her lived experiences, Evic-Carleton spoke of the healing role of Elders in her life. She spoke of how their knowledge and stories allowed her “puzzle pieces [to] slowly come back together.” It was a moving statement that not only captured the importance of stories themselves but also the impact of Evic-Carleton and her stories, now an Elder herself.
Inuk Prof. Richard Budgell, who moderated the event, underlined the importance of sharing stories to educate and raise awareness about Inuit realities. “What we’re trying to do at the Department of Family Medicine, and across McGill, is to expand the understanding of Indigenous knowledge,” said Prof. Budgell. “Including Inuit knowledge.”
Photo: Richard Budgell, Assistant Professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Special Advisor on Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit in the Office of Indigenous Initiatives.
Last year, the Department of Family Medicine created a new Indigenous space, dedicated to activities around Indigenous health and community outreach within the health sector, the first of its kind at McGill. With over 100 people registered for this event, however, participants gathered on the third floor, in a different room of the building to accommodate. “We have too many people,” explained Budgell. “The event is too popular to be able to fit everybody into this relatively small space.”
The Department of Family Medicine will be holding more events throughout the year in this new space where Indigenous knowledge keepers, elders, students, and scholars can share their experiences.
The Office of Indigenous Initiatives will also be continuing its Winter Speakers Series, which this event launched, through the months of February and March.