On June 5th, 2020, more than 200 protestors took to the street in Iqaluit, NU, to protest police brutality and racial injustice, one in a series of protests that took place across the world following the death of George Floyd, who was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis on May 25,2020. In the wake of the protests, Jessica Kotierk, Manager and Curator of the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum, sent out a call via social media asking for donations of signs and other ephemera from protestors.
A not-for-profit organization established to preserve and promote local culture and art, the majority of objects on display in the museum are Inuit artifacts and contemporary art. However, Kotierk recognized that this moment in history would be something the museum needed to document. “From my point of view, it was [the largest] gathering in Iqaluit in recent history,” said Kotierk. “When the demonstration was done, I felt from my position in the museum [that] something just happened that needed to be recorded. As a local history and culture organization, I think we need to be aware of what’s going on.”
“There is a long history of demonstrating and gathering in Iqaluit,” notes Kotierk, who is working to determine whether this is the most well attended protest in the town’s history—another protest in the 90s was potentially larger, but is not well-documented in the museum’s collection. “We have a strong collection of documents, archival photographs and transcripts, but there are gaps in the area of community history from the recent past, particularly art pieces to do with particular subject matter.” Through signs from this protest and other ephemera, Kotierk will begin to close some of these gaps.
One of the other central aims in this collection effort is to facilitate a future exhibition on Iqaluit’s history. “Having signs of action that happened in town that people can remember can follow through with [other moments of action] that happened,” said Kotierk. “They all happen collectively,” she continued, envisioning this protest as part of a continuum that includes other moments of resistance in Iqaluit, but this time with an object record that “can support and ignite discussion” among viewers.
Thus far, the museum has had several signs donated, including one that supersizes an illustration by artist Dayle Kubluitok, which features the slogan “Black Lives Matter” and three raised fists—a black one surrounded on both sides by hands with tuniit (traditional tattoos), representing the Black and Inuit communities standing in solidarity—superimposed over a map of Nunavut. Other signs, many of which are made of black and red paint on cardboard, bear messages like “SKIN COLOUR IS NOT REASONABLE SUSPICION,” “CANADA IS RACIST,” and “BE NICE TO BLACK PEOPLE. THEY WANT TO LIVE IN THE WORLD.”
Although Kotierk’s ask was for donations the Monday immediately following the protest, she continues to field inquiries from attendees about when they can drop off signs. “The intention is appreciated from what I see,” said Kotierk about the community's response, which has been widely circulated on social media.