Nunavut drumming group finds new way to get together, despite physical distancing

A drumming group in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, has found a new way to host its weekly drum dance, which has been going on for more than a decade.

The group is called Huqqullaaqatigiit, which means people who sing and dance together — and they aren’t letting physical distancing get in the way of them doing just that.

Julia Ogina is hosting the gathering over Facebook Live on Tuesday night, amid restrictions around in-person gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ogina is encouraging people to join in and follow along with the virtual event by sharing song sheets on the group’s page in advance.

She is even delivering song books to people’s homes if they request them, dropping them off in plastic bags and hanging them on doorknobs.

Julia Ogina is arranging the event online tonight, in hopes of continuing the weekly tradition that has been going on for more than ten years. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

Preserving language

She isn’t quite sure how the connections made through drum dance will translate into the social media sphere. At the same time, she said the energy at the in-person gatherings can also be unpredictable.

“I’m not sure what the energy is going to be like, and that’s how it is with all our drum dance. There’s times we get together and there’s times when any one of us needs to share or needs to unload … sometimes we just start off by talking.”

Ogina said the group began more than a decade ago with a small number of people. Sometimes it would be as few as four people there and they would sing anyway. But eventually they realized there was a greater need to get more people involved in the group.

“Over the years, working with language and with culture and with the elders and we kept hearing, you know, our language is dying. And you could hear in between their lines … there’s no hope.”

Their songs and stories were passed on to them orally, so the group decided to adapt the way they taught the songs by writing them out, so that more people could get involved and learn.

In 2018, the group worked on a project called Huqqullaarutit Unipkaangit — Stories Told Through Drum-Dance Songs. It was aimed at helping preserve the region’s dialects, including Inuinnaqtun.  (Kate Kyle/ CBC)

Finding connection over distance

In 2018, the group worked on a project called Huqqullaarutit Unipkaangit — Stories Told Through Drum-Dance Songs. It was launched by the Kitikmeot Inuit Association and aimed at helping preserve the region’s dialects, including Inuinnaqtun. 

Since launching the project, Ogina said many more people have gotten involved and they have hosted drum dances that have drawn up to 40 people.

But the interest in the event on Tuesday night isn’t just local. She said they have been getting song requests from other communities in Nunavut, and some of her friends in the south have expressed interest, too.

In a time of being physically distant, it seems they have found a new way to connect.

“You don’t realize how much you could do until something like this hits you, how strong you really are.”

A small group gathers every week or so to practise the old songs. (Kate Kyle/CBC)

Read more at CBC.ca

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