• Feature

The 1983 ICC Jam Still Has Lessons to Teach

Nov 07, 2023
by Mosha Folger

In the summer of 1983, Inuit musicians, theatre groups and other performers from Canada, Kalaallit Nunaat (Greenland) and Alaska descended on my hometown of Iqaluit, NU (what was then called Frobisher Bay, NT). They came together to exchange ideas and to share their individual traditions and skills with each other and the world. As a performer and filmmaker who has kept Inuit societal issues at the forefront of my own work, this meeting of artists, dubbed ICC Jam 1983, has always been an inspiration to me. 

ICC Jam 1983 was held as part of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference’s (ICC; now Inuit Circumpolar Council) third General Assembly. The theme of this conference was: The Arctic – Our Common Responsibility. It was the first time the political conference was held in Canada. Artists and musicians have always been part of the vanguard of political movements and social change, and the inclusion of ICC Jam 1983 at the General Assembly was no accident. Inuit policy and issues are intrinsically tied to Inuit culture, and several of the artists at ICC Jam 1983 would go on to have careers in politics as well. Per Berthelsen, born in Qeqertarsuaq, Kalaallit Nunaat, would be elected to the municipal council in Nuuk, Kalaallit Nunaat, and the Inatsisartut, the national parliament, in 1993, and would go on to found the Demokraatit Party in 2002.

Iqaluit residents were treated to a variety of modern and time-honoured Inuit performances, ranging from live music and theatre to throat singing, and even a traditional qajaq demonstration. The festivities were captured for television by a combination of crews from the Nunatsiakmiut Film Society—a local group that produced a weekly program in Inuktitut, and that was run, at the time, by my late father Edward)—and from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Toronto, ON, studio. A 30-minute television program of highlights from the event was shown as part of Nunatsiakmiut, the film society’s weekly timeslot broadcast on CBC TV’s Northern Service.

My father uploaded the Inuit Circumpolar Jam, in three parts, to his YouTube channel in 2007. I recently watched it again for the first time since 2015—the year I sampled a couple of the artist interviews for hip-hop songs I released. In watching the videos again, I realized I wasn’t the first Folger to sample from the show. I recognized audio sections that my father had used in some of his later video work and in other Nunatsiakmiut Film Society productions from the 1980s. In a Nunatsiakmiut episode called “Daydreams,” one in which my father played a masked spirit/alien, the opening music is traditional Kalaallisut singing and drumming recorded as part of ICC Jam 1983.


Chevak Dancers from Alaska performing at ICC Jam 1983, Iqaluit

An important aspect of the presentations at ICC Jam 1983 were historic Inuit practices. The music and theatre performances were held on the stage in the gym at the Gordon Robertson Education Centre (now the Inuksuk High School), but Kalaaleq kayaker Manasse Mathaussen demonstrated his skills in a sealskin qajaq on a small lake along the road to Niaqunngut (Apex), NU, a small satellite community of Iqaluit that was the original location of the Hudson’s Bay Company store. Wearing his tuilik, a traditional Kalaallisut waterproof jacket, Mathaussen wowed the crowd gathered around the lake with his paddling and qajaq-rolling abilities. On the shore of the lake, singer and drummer Ajako Miteq, the Kalaaleq performer whose music my father used in “Daydreams,” entertained the crowd with his songs and drum dance using a frame drum called a qilaat.

The late Ernest Frankson (1946–2016), born in Tikiġaq (Point Hope), Alaska, was an Iñupiaq storyteller and member of the Point Hope Dancers. He performed a variety of high-energy Iñupiat dance songs at ICC Jam 1983. In one of my favourite sections of the television broadcast, owing to Frankson’s telegenic personality and his descriptions of how people “travelled” as animals, he described the shamanistic origins of some of the songs he performed.

“Some of these songs that we do, we had learned from the animals themselves. . . . A lot of our people in the earlier days travelled out of their bodies and in their travels they are sometimes taken away by the animals, like the walruses or the whales, and they teach us the way they live,” Frankson explained. [1]

“Like a whale taking away one of our people in Point Hope, his name was Katuķ. He continually travelled away, left his body and travelled,” he said. “He was given one of their parkas, he put it on. You know, he was himself, and when he looked at himself, he was a whale. And so they took him for the entire season and taught him the way they live.”


Pouvungnituk Throat Singers Lucy Amarualik, Mary Sivuarapik and Alacie Tullaugaq performing at ICC Jam 1983, Iqaluit

Nunavik throat singers Lucy Amarualik (1934–2005), Mary Sivuarapik and Alacie Tullaugaq, who travelled to Iqaluit from Puvirnituq, Nunavik, QC, performed traditional throat songs at ICC Jam 1983. The trio also went with the television crew to Sylvia Grinnell River, where they were recorded singing in front of the waterfalls that are a major attraction of the territorial park of the same name.

Apart from the performances, the third General Assembly of the ICC recognized the importance of preserving traditions such as throat singing, and the need to protect the integrity of Inuit art as a whole within Canada. In a resolution passed by the ICC during the third General Assembly, they echoed an Inuit Tapirisat of Canada (now Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami) resolution, “calling on the Government of Canada to introduce immediate legislation to protect Inuit cultural heritage and the integrity of Inuit art.” [2] 

Katajjaq, Inuit throat singing, was granted special cultural heritage status by the Government of Quebec in 2014 but, unlike in the United States, Canada has yet to pass legislation protecting artists from inauthentic works being presented as real work from Indigenous artists.


From left: Nunavik musician William Tagoona performing at ICC Jam 1983, Iqaluit; George Kakayuk and the Salluit, Nunavik, QC, band Sugluk performing at ICC Jam 1983, Iqaluit

ICC Jam 1983 featured several collaborations between artists from across Inuit Nunaat, including a song written especially for the event. “The ICC Song,” an upbeat acoustic-guitar song performed by Kalaaleq rocker, teacher and politician Per Berthelsen, accompanied by Nunavik musician William Tagoona, has a melody written by Yup’ik singer-songwriter John Angaiak.

“I have tried to make [Inuktitut] words to it, and I hope you’ll understand some of the words. At least I tried my best,” Berthelsen said before performing the song. [3] Tagoona responded, “Oh, we will, we will,” as the two guitarists launched into the song about the joy of performing for Inuit in Canada.


Point Hope Drummers performing at ICC Jam 1983, Iqaluit

One musician at the event spent nearly 50 years bringing joy to Inuit in Canada and people around the world. The late Charlie Panigoniak, ONu (1946–2019), who was born in what is now the Kivalliq region of Nunavut, started recording music in the early 1970s, and in 2012 was awarded the Order of Nunavut, the territory’s highest honour.

Panigoniak and his long-time partner and collaborator, Lorna Panigoniak, née Tasseor, performed their signature folk-gospel music for an adoring crowd at ICC Jam 1983. During the Nunatsiakmiut episode they are heard collaborating with Norman Ishulutak and Noah Nauyuk, members of the Iqaluit-based band Uvagut. The group plays a rocking rendition of “A New Touch of Fire,” a gospel song written in 1912 by American Methodist hymn-writer Lelia N. Morris. In a bit of television magic, the editors (my father and Mickey Turqtuq) took footage from the event and from rehearsals, as well as from Panigoniak and Tasseor’s duet stage performance, and spliced together a quasi-music video; the footage of Panigoniak and Tasseor cut seamlessly over an audio recording from a rehearsal session.


NIPI Choir from Kalaallit Nunaat performing at ICC Jam 1983, Iqaluit

Uvagut, from the Qikiqtaaluk region of Nunavut, have been a staple of the Iqaluit music scene since they were formed in 1978. Ishulutak, the lead guitarist, and Nauyuk, the band’s bassist, can be heard playing one of their tracks, a melodic electric guitar and bass rock tune, over the beginning of the television broadcast as shots of airplanes and people arriving at the Frobisher Bay Airport (now the Iqaluit International Airport) flash across the screen. Nearly 500 people, including ICC delegates, politicians, media crews, artists and more, arrived at Iqaluit that day, which at the time had a population of about 2,500. 

“With music, and radio and TV, there’s many people who hear it at the same time. And your messages can come out to many people at the same time. And many people can hear it and understand it and talk about it,” Juaaka Lyberth, a musician born in Uummannaq, Kalaallit Nunaat, said in an interview with the television crew. [4]

Inuit unity was one of the prevailing themes of the work presented by the artists at ICC Jam 1983. The Inuit Circumpolar Conference as a whole, and the various performers at the event, were keenly aware of the lack of representation from a significant group of circumpolar Indigenous peoples. At the conference, an empty chair served to remind the delegates and guests of the absence of a Russian delegation. The Soviet government would not allow Siberian Yupik or Chukchi to attend an ICC General Assembly until 1989, and both groups did not become full members until 1992. In their theatre performance, Kalaallisut-Danish group Tûkak Teatret (now Tuukkaq Teatret) included a poignant soliloquy delivered by Kalaaleq actress Makka Kleist.

“A piece of glass is shattered when hit by a stone. A life might be destroyed when hit,” Kleist said. [5] “People at war. I no longer know this world. What do they want? Could life again be free? Yes. People everywhere, people who want peace, let us unite and fight together.”


NIPI Choir from Kalaallit Nunaat performing at ICC Jam 1983, Iqaluit

Forty years later, her words remain a stark reflection of the current international climate given that athletes from the Yamalo-Nenets region of Russia were not permitted to attend the 2023 Arctic Winter Games in Wood Buffalo, AB, due to the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. My oldest daughter, who lives in Toronto, is Nenets. For her family’s sake, for the sake of all circumpolar Indigenous peoples in Russia’s far east, and all Ukrainians and Russians, I hope Kleist’s message is heeded, and that world leaders can unite for peace. 

Mosha Folger is an Inuk writer and editor from Iqaluit. He has also performed poetry, hip-hop, and made short films. He has two beautiful daughters and is currently living in Nanaimo, BC.


[1] “ICC Jam - part 3 - Alaska,” Edward Folger, 1983, video, 9:37, March 23, 2007, youtube.com/watch?v=CIPoFMp_qH0.

[2] “ICC Resolutions – 1983,” Eben Hopson Memorial Archives, accessed August 14, 2023, ebenhopson. com/icc-resolutions-1983.

[3] “ICC Jam - part 1 - Canada,” Edward Folger, 1983, video, 9:28, March 23, 2007, youtube.com/watch?v=oVNNgLeHJVk.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “ICC Jam - part 2 - Greenland,” Edward Folger, 1983, video, 8:08, March 23, 2007, youtube.com/watch?v=TRBGKv913Cs.

This feature was originally published in the Fall 2023 issue of the Inuit Art Quarterly. 

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