A community that had been longing for a public sculpture got one last week from carvers Derrald Taylor Pokiak, Ronald Nuyaviak, John Taylor and Derek Taylor, who spent three months working on a monument to the history of Tuktuyaaqtuuq (Tuktoyaktuk), NT. The four Inuvialuit artists were brought together to form the Tuktoyaktuk Carving Project, with the help of Parks Canada and the Tuktoyaktuk Community Corporation, specifically to create the 5,000 pound marble statue.
Pokiak, the lead carver on the project, worked with town elders to design the monument, which is to honour previous leaders. The statue features a polar bear with the face of the first leader of the community, Manilaluk. According to the elders’ stories, he was a shaman with the ability to shapeshift into a polar bear. Other past leaders Eddie Gruben, Persis Gruben, Thomas Umoak and John Steen were chosen to represent different points in time and to recognize their roles in influencing the shape and culture of the community. “I’m hoping people will recognize the faces,” said Pokiak in a statement to the CBC.
The final statue is shaped like a large cube, with the faces of the leaders carved in relief on each side. On top, a mound with a waving Inuk is flanked by a sled dog and caribou, with other animals like beluga also featured. Both caribou and beluga are used for community sustenance in Tuktuyaaqtuuq, while the sled dogs play a role in hunting and travelling.
Due to pandemic safety precautions, only 50 people were able to attend the unveiling. Nevertheless, the hope is that the statue will make tradition, culture and history more visible to the residents of Tuktuyaaqtuuq, and help them celebrate and feel proud of where they come from. “We’re just in awe with it,” continued Pokiak; “we’re really happy with what we had done."