• Feature

What DO Inuit Use Their Ulus For?

Feb 23, 2022
by Jamesie Fournier

Read by Melodie Sammurtok-Lavallée.

Growing up in the North, you learn about the many cultures who call it home. You have field trips, culture camps and, if you’re lucky, your family comes in when it’s time to learn about Inuit. It can be a little nerve-racking. You never know how the class or the teacher is going to react. 

One year my mother came in and taught us about Inuit customs, food and Inuktitut! She’s a retired Inuktitut language interpreter and my classmates delighted in learning how to write their names in syllabics and how to pronounce a few words. My mother then brought out her ulu and showed us how to carve quaq and maktaaq. It was entertaining to watch my classmates try them for the first time. Their faces made me laugh. Even my younger brother, who was in a different class, stopped by to have some before running back with his cheeks full.

At the end of the unit, we had to complete a test that assessed our comprehension. I figured a test on Inuit would be a breeze and I finished it quickly with confidence. However, when it was returned to me there was no grade. I was shocked. Everyone else’s paper had a bold-red graded mark. I opened the first page of my test and it read, See me after class. 


Zebede Evaluardjuk-Fournier See Me After Class (2021) Coloured pencil crayon

My heart sank. How could this be possible? I had written with such zeal and panache! As I looked through the exam, I saw that I had scored well on every question except one: “What did Inuit use their ulus for?” A simple question to which I had proudly replied, “To cut their pizzas with!” I thought I had smashed that question, yet a large red question mark punctuated my drawing of an ulu and a carved pizza pie. 

When I approached my teacher, she asked about my confusing answer. Without missing a beat, I replied, “Well, I’m Inuk and that’s what we use our ulu for.” She studied me for a moment and then laughed. What my qallunaat teacher had really been asking was what did Inuit traditionally use their uluit for. 

The idea of culture as fluid and dynamic had caught us both off guard. In the end, I was sent on my way with full marks and now every time I hold an ulu, I can’t help but think back on that test and laugh. 

This Feature originally appeared in the Spring 2021 issue of the Inuit Art Quarterly.

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