On May 27, Alice Qannik Glenn, Jenny Irene Miller and Ossie Michelin joined by Zoom for a lively conversation on the subject of queer Inuit art.
The online event, introduced by the Inuit Art Foundation’s own Alyson Hardwick, was the first in a series of six live webinars hosted by the IAF and the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska. Their discussion, moderated by Qannik Glenn, was far reaching. Miller and Michelin shared examples of their work, as the three artists chatted about cultural institutions, language, mentorship and the challenges and opportunities that come with the interssectionality of being both queer and Inuit.
Miller says that she used to see mostly challenges with being both queer and Inuit, in particular in colonial spaces where Inuit entered through assimilation. In the past—despite the fact that Inuit continue to transform these spaces—she did not find many of them welcoming as a queer person, but says she’s had the opposite experience with those who matter most to her.
“My family, the community where I'm from and the elders from both Wales, Alaska, where my maternal family roots originate, and Nome, continue to help me, welcome me in and support me. They see me as my whole self, which I think is really important,” said Miller. “I see a lot of opportunity for me to find ways to give back to the communities who have built me up... Every time I get the chance to share my story when space is provided that makes me pretty happy, because hopefully that will make space for other Indigenous queer peoples to take up that space and be who they are, and to inspire dialogue on how to make our communities safe and welcoming for queer peoples.”
Michelin, who is originally from North West River, NL, referred to the double-edged sword of community: “It shows you the good of the community, which is you're part of this place, you're accepted, your roots run deep, your family's there, and everybody has known each other for generations. But then also you're the weird one... It makes you have this really deep empathy I think that I've met in almost every queer Indigenous person.”
Both artists believe things are changing for the better, and both feel, moving forward, mentorship will play an important role. Michelin said artists like himself “have a responsibility to show all these young queer Indigenous youth coming up that we can be part of the community, and still be queer and weird and we can be an artist, and we can do whatever we want without sacrificing part of who we are, because we're many things all at once.”
Listen to the full conversation here.
This interview is excerpted from Queer Inuit Art, a webinar that took place on May 27, 2021 as part of the “Conversation” series hosted on behalf of the Inuit Art Foundation, the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center and their Inuit advisors.