Image Source: findingtruenorth.ca
Stephen Agluvak Puskas is the Montreal based, Inuk filmmaker and artist who created the short film Ukiuktaqtumi, which means in the north in Inuktitut, that celebrates the diversity of Inuit and is told from an Inuit perspective. The film is a response to Of the North, which was made from Youtube videos that depict Inuit through a narrow racist lens compiled by Quebec filmmaker Dominic Gagnon- who himself has never even been to the North.
“I wanted to have a counter argument that would actually show what self-representation looks like,” said Puskas. “I hope audiences take away the difference how we, the Inuit, would like to represent ourselves.”
The film came to fruition after Puskas was approached to create it by organizers at the Inuit Studies Conference, shortly after Of the North made its controversial debut. “They invited me to the conference to give a talk about Nipivut-the Inuit community radio show I help [produce],” he explained. “Since I have a background in film as well, they suggested I should make a film as a response to that and I agreed.”
Of the North first gained notoriety when Inuk throat singer, Tanya Tagaq, criticized the Montreal International Documentary Film Festival (RIDM) for screening the film which also used her music without her permission. While critics labelled the film has highly racist, it was still screened around the world in Kosovo, Great Britain and Switzerland, proving how little programmers understand or respect Indigenous arts protocols and the potential negative impact of non-Indigenous peoples telling Indigenous stories.
In Ukiuktaqtumi, Puskas weaves together personal family moments such as a mother learning that her daughter is going to adopt a baby while showcasing the connection Inuit have to their land with a family picking blueberries with their father. We also get insight into different community gatherings and the diverse types of drumming in Inuit communities. “I got videos from Alaska to Labrador, across the Arctic of North America, that showcase the diversity of the Inuit,” explained Puskas. “As Inuit, when we watch it, we will see the diversity because we will see different ways that we drum depending on region. Whereas someone who may not be as knowledgeable as Inuit might just see us all as just drumming.”
Ukiuktaqtumi also sends a powerful message about diversity with respect to Inuit cultures in the North and what Indigenous self-representation looks like. This is the perfect example of why the best way to learn about Indigenous cultures is to listen to someone or learn from resources from said culture, not some whitewashed, colonized version written by someone who fails to understand the nuances about Indigenous societies. Dominic Gagnon’s film was just another example of why it’s problematic when white people produce content about Indigenous cultures with minimal knowledge and understanding. These authors/creators fail to recognize the diversity and write about Indigenous and Inuit cultures as a homogenous group. It’s time for that to change. When seeking out learning experiences about Indigenous cultures, ask yourself this one question: who else would know more about their culture and way of life than someone who lives it?
Stephen Agluvak Puskas is an Inuk visual artist and radio producer living in Montreal, QC, originally from Yellowknife, NWT. Puskas recently finished working as a project manager for Nunalijjuaq, and as a producer for Montreal’s first and only Inuit radio show, Nipivut. Puskas volunteers on a number of committees representing Inuit in the Montreal area, and with other Inuit organizations across Canada. He speaks regularly at schools and other public venues to raise cultural awareness about Inuit and other Indigenous Peoples.