Nooks and Nipi 2

An Inuk comes home through art

Nooks Lindell moved from his home in Arviat, Nunavut, to Ottawa as a child. The subsequent loss of his Inuit identity haunted him into adulthood. Returning to the North, he began rediscovering his culture through art and design — a hobby he parlayed into a growing business

This is part one of Land Crafted: a five-part video series exploring entrepreneurship in northern Canada.

Prominently displayed on the fridge in Nooks Lindell and Emma Kreuger’s kitchen in Arviat, Nunavut, is a hand-drawn poster covered in stickers. It reads “NIPI” followed by the equivalent Inuktitut syllabics, ᓂᐱ. Nipi is their son’s name — and Kreuger and Lindell want him to grow up knowing where he comes from.

It’s a childhood Nooks didn’t have a chance to have himself.

“When I moved to Ottawa I was only seven, so it was a pretty major change,” Lindell recalls. He spent the rest of his childhood there, trying his best to blend in.

“I’m not sure why it was, but it seemed like it wasn’t cool to be Inuk,” he says. “You don’t really see Inuit on TV. … You just want to speak in English and play sports.”

When Nooks returned to the North, it was as a fully assimilated southerner. His Inuktitut was gone, and the essential experiences of an Inuit childhood — learning to hunt, drive a snowmobile, tie a qammutik — had passed him by. He had developed a dependency on alcohol and drugs.

Art, he says, corrected his course.

Hanging out with his brother in his Iqaluit shack one day, Nooks made his first ulu, a traditional Inuit woman’s knife.

“It was so ugly,” he laughs. And it took three days. But he got better. And gradually, art became a way to replace the substances that were driving a wedge between him and his culture.

“When I got sober, we decided to start Hinaani,” he says. Hinaani Design became his outlet, a way to express, explore and celebrate his Inuit identity through art. The shirts, hats, leggings, jewelry, bags and other products all reflect an aspect of being Inuit — from simple words and sayings to representations of traditional Inuit tattoos.

There are barriers to growing the business out of a small hamlet like Arviat, on the western edge of Hudson Bay. The business is based on the internet: it’s an online store and orders are shipped directly from the manufacturer to the customer. But that means a lot of bandwidth, for uploading images, dealing with customers and keeping up with social media. Internet access in Nunavut is some of the most expensive and slowest service in the world, so operating a web-based business is naturally a challenge.

Then there’s the limited market. There are only around 65,000 Inuit in Canada, and incomes among Inuit are significantly lower than the Canadian average — and that’s not even accounting for the high cost of living. But Nooks, Emma and their business partners Paula Ikuutaq Rumbolt and Lori Tagoona are determined to keep their products accessible.

“It has to be affordable because a lot of Inuit don’t make very much money,” Nooks explains. “We don’t have a lot of disposable income.”

Inuit have embraced the brand. The first item to be recognized across the North, and one that’s proudly displayed today on the bodies of Inuit everywhere, was a simple design.

In block letters, it proudly proclaims, “INUK.”

 

This series was made possible with the support of EntrepreNorth; however, the organization did not have editorial input into the videos or articles published on The Narwhal.

Jimmy Thomson is a freelance journalist. He has worked as a CBC videojournalist and has bylines in the Globe and…

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