The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

Rockefeller Mini-Grants Program Recap: 18th Annual Inuit Studies Conference

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Starting this fall, we began to offer Rocky Mini-Grants as a way to support students and student organizations who took initiative to extend their learning outside of the classroom.  The funding decisions and other program logistics are provided by our Rockefeller Center Student Program Assistants.

This report was submitted by Meghan A. Topkok '13 as part of her grant documentation requirements.

Inuvialuit artist, Abraham Anghik Ruben, has a special exhibit of sculptures at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC, as an extension of the 18th Annual Iñuit Studies Conference. This work is carved from whale bone, cedar and soapstone and entitled, Life to Ancient Voices; it is an exploration of Iñuit identity, spirituality and the stories of Iñuit oral tradition.

The conference I attended was the 18th Annual Inuit Studies Conference in Washington, DC, at the National Museum of the American Indian. The conference draws together scholars and Inuit representatives to share research results in the fields of archaeology, anthropology, linguistics, political governance, environmental science, health, education, and culture.

Attending the 18th Annual Inuit Studies Conference was nothing short of inspiring. Through this four day conference I was not only able to re-connect with former co-workers, professors, and scholars to understand their latest research, but also able to form new connections with individuals throughout the circumpolar north – from Russia to Greenland. The work that many Inuit are doing in their home communities to preserve our oral tradition, song and dance, language, and culture was in particular the most touching, and motivational for me. Whether this was through film, social media, research projects initiated by individuals in the community, etc., it was incredibly powerful to see that despite centuries of forced assimilation, we are still a strong people and our traditional knowledge is still alive within us. No matter what region of the north we hail from, we all face problems of identity – the challenges of not knowing our culture well enough, of being judged both by our own people and by outsiders over whether we look “Inuit” or not, and the sometimes overwhelming sense of helplessness we feel when we don’t know our language or feel trapped within our often economically depressed communities.  But this conference has shown that we are not alone in our struggle to preserve our culture while still trying to succeed in a Western world. Our common struggles unite us.

For me, this was one of the most powerful messages I gained through this conference. It is truly empowering to see that in many ways our way of life is still flourishing, and still being taught to younger generations. Our people have become academic scholars, as well as leaders in law, economics, language revitalization, education, environmental issues, artists and our traditional ways. As a young scholar, this conference has been a source of renewed hope and motivation to complete my education so that I can use what I have learned to continue fostering this growth and cultural revitalization.

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