In 2016, PI/KHS began laying the foundation to develop a new centre dedicated to the documentation, revitalization and mobilization of Inuiunnait knowledge. This centre will forefront the collective identity of Inuinnait, a regional group of Inuit located primarily in the communities of Cambridge Bay, Kugluktuk, Gjoa Haven and Ulukhaktok. It will entail the creation of facilities, digital resources and human networks specifically designed to provide Inuinnait with the resources and common focus required to ensure the survival of their unique culture, heritage and language.
In 2017, we drafted a set of principles that would guide the construction of our building. These included:
1. Architectural Flexibility
Contemporary architecture in the Arctic tends towards the monolithic. Buildings are often conceived and designed to accommodate activities and spatial concepts that are not found in Inuit culture. How can we create a building that will allow Inuit to continually shape its use? Can a building's architecture be made flexible enough to move with Inuit culture, changing and adapting to new needs and conditions? We want to create a building that is modular, scalable, and whose architecture ultimately does not determine the culture it houses. We want a design that can be replicated across the Arctic, to serve a variety of different communities and purposes.
2. Cultural Compatibility
We want to create a building whose architecture not only supports, but also encourages, community engagement with cultural activities. We seek to combine building techniques perfected by Inuit over millennia with contemporary innovations in materials and technology. In designing our new centre, we will ensure that Inuit community members, architects, and researchers are involved at every stage of the process to ensure the building is fully suited to both its social and physical environment.
3. Environmentally Sustainable Building
We recognize that the Canadian Arctic is undergoing a profound and irreversible shift due to climate change. We understand that it is our responsibility to minimize our own impact on the environment, and to maintain the balance between humans and land long upheld by our ancestors. We want to create a building that targets net-zero or net-zero ready standards to maintain this balance. We want the materials and energy for this building to be ones that are sustainably harvested from the earth.
CONCEPT AND STRATEGIC DOCUMENTS
We recognized early that our proposed facility would entail more than a new building. Our vision for a dedicated Inuinnait research centre required us to begin defining what Inuinnait research looked like and how it would take place. Over 2017 and 2018 our staff assembled two key documents designed to guide our project into the future. Created in-house by our own staff, these resources were key to helping us develop our own understanding and vision for the foundations of Inuinnait research and how a new facility can help us get there.
OUR VISION FOR AN INUINNAIT KNOWLEDGE CENTRE
This project will build facilities custom designed by Inuit for the specific purpose of Inuit cultural survival and revival. It will offer culturally-anchored services and resources not otherwise available in the community of Cambridge Bay, which encourage and strengthen local peoples’ economic and educational pursuit of traditional practices and ways of life. It will also support neighbouring Inuinnait communities in their pursuit of cultural programs and research. Many of these communities have less capacity than our own, so our new facility will provide ongoing staff training and organizational development workshops for their cultural centres. It will position itself as the centre of a collective, but distributed, network of language experts and cultural specialists and support their ongoing interaction through the development and maintenance of customized digital platforms and technologies (including our Inuit-specific collection management system, on-line dictionary, cultural learning portal, and distributed conferencing system) that facilitate and streamline interaction and knowledge documentation across the region.
This project will help our organization ensure that it remains a leader in supporting and promoting the Inuinnaqtun language. The new facilities will prioritize use of Inuinnaqtun in all public facing signage and programming, which is key to supporting and revitalizing a traditional language with less than 600 speakers remaining. The building will house the Inuinnait archives, which is the largest digitized repository for that spoken language, and promote its audio, visual and textural resources in the creation of curricula and related content.
Our organization and building program is driven by the involvement of community and regional Elders, and in doing so helps to restore their traditional role as teachers, counsellors, and carriers of their culture’s continuity. Our Board of Elders and Elders-in-Residence program are designed to both ensure their involvement at every level of the new building project, and align the project with their understanding and needs of a culturally-supportive space. Many of our programs emphasize the bridging of Elders and youth for purposes of knowledge transfer, a relationship which has been significantly diminished in formal education systems.
The new building’s programming is also designed to recognize and respond to the needs of other community members. We specialize in assisting local women through Elder mentorship and training programs—in parenting, language, and life skills— that provide safe and empowering spaces for them to share their own life experiences and knowledge. Much of our programming is geared towards supporting more vulnerable community groups. The new building will continue to host activities for local management programs, new parenting programs, and after school programming (which traditionally hosts upwards of 40-60 children per day). We are specifically designing our building to cater to our range of clientele’s physical and accessibility needs—from ensuring that features such as windows to countertops and cupboards can be reached by Elders, to making the space easily navigable for the visually impaired.