Alootook Ipellie

Alootook Ipellie is the most widely published Inuk author in English, who has written numerous essays, poems, and short stories. His literary and visual works are reflections of Inuit life at a time of social and cultural upheaval in Canada's Arctic during the late 20th century.

A leading contributor to Inuit culture over the past three decades, Ipellie was born in a hunting camp on Baffin Island in 1951. He lived through a time when the traditional nomadic lifestyle of his ancestors was being replaced by life in southern-style settlements. Although he and his family continued with seasonal forays onto the land for game, their principal residence was in the settlement of Iqaluit, the largest community (and since April 2001, the capital) in what is now Nunavut, Canada. Ipellie was the grandson of noted Inuk carver Ennutsiak, who shared many traditional stories with the young artist during fishing trips. The southern educational system demanded that young people who completed primary school in the North move to larger (usually southern) communities for their secondary schooling. Thus, Ipellie's early formal education in Iqaluit was succeeded by schooling at Ottawa's High School of Commerce, where he first developed his interest in drawing. Although he returned to Iqaluit briefly to serve as an announcer-producer for CBC North, Ottawa became his creative base.

In the early 1970s, the newly formed, Ottawa-based Inuit Tapirisat Canada (presently Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami or ITK) published an English and Inuktitut newsletter that featured some of Ipellie's poems and one of his drawings. Late in 1973, he was hired as a reporter-journalist for the Inuit Tapirisat Canada's Inuit Monthly magazine, whose readers were primarily Inuit or those with an interest in the North. Ipellie had the opportunity to execute an ink drawing cover for Inuit Monthly, and in 1974 began his ongoing, satirical "Ice Box" cartoon strip, which ran until 1982. Although Ipellie witnessed the work of southern cartoonists, his characters were based upon the contemporary Inuit life in the changing Arctic he knew intimately. Later, from 1993 to 1997, he authored another comic strip featuring the characters "Nuna and Vut" that appeared in Iqaluit's newspaper, Nunatsiaq News, which served the eastern Canadian Arctic's largest community.

Early poems such as "Hot to Warm and Cool to Cold" (North, 1971) and "A Picture" (Tukisivisksat, 1973) and later works such as "A Summer Day" and "The Water Moved an Instant Before" (Inuit Today, 1981) were minimalist responses to nature. "The Dancing Sun" (Inuit Monthly, 1974) and "Art and Poetry" (North, 1975) reflected elements of Inuit tradition. "We are Cold" (Inuit Today, 1978), "How Noisy They Seem" (Paper Stays Put, 1980), and "Walking Both Sides of an Invisible Border" (An Anthology of Canadian Native Literature in English,

1992, 1998) reflected social problems in a new Arctic influenced by the values of the South. Concurrently, Ipellie's poetry grew darker, and his nonfiction became more strident if not didactic in dealing with contemporary problems in the North. As an essayist and editor at Inuit Today from 1979 to 1982, Ipellie raised difficult, contemporary social issues. From 1996 to 1997, he authored a regular column "Ipellie's Shadow" in the Nunatsiaq News in which he voiced a variety of opinions on daily life.

Among non-Inuit, Ipellie has become best known as a writer of short fiction. His stories have appeared in northern publications such as Inuit Today and Inukshuk and also in southern periodicals such as The Beaver and anthologies such as Paper Stays Put (1980), Northern Voices: Inuit Writing in English (1988, 1997), and An Anthology of Canadian Native Literature in English (1992, 1998). He also served as coordinator of the Baffin Writers' Project (1989-1992) and editor of Kivioq: Inuit Fiction Magazine (1990, 1992), thus lending his knowledge and experience to new writers in the North. Perhaps his most notable short fiction is among the 20 stories contained in Arctic Dreams and Nightmares (1992), which marked Ipellie as the first Canadian Inuk to produce an entire collection of short stories in English. This collection emerged as the most controversial thus far, in that he employed magical plot situations to combine traditional Inuit myths and legends with contemporary people and events from the South. With stories such as "When God Sings the Blues," "After Brigitte Bardot," and "Summit With Sedna," Ipellie imaginatively created a fictional world inhabited by such familiar Inuit beings as the Sea Goddess Sedna, shamans, and walruses. While some of the images within Arctic Dreams and Nightmares have been described as disturbing, especially for Inuit traditionalists, the text has been acclaimed by several southern Canadian critics.

Ipellie's drawings and cartoons have been exhibited at shows in Ottawa (1989,1993) and Saskatoon (1997) in Canada, as well as in Norway (1992), Greenland (1983, 1985, 1988), and in 2001 at St Lawrence University in Canton, New York, in the United States.

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