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Inuit Artist Commemorated

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Canada’s CBC Radio rebroadcast a documentary on January 4 about Elisapee Ishulutaq, a renowned Inuit artist who died on December 9, 2018. The program had first been aired in June 2014 when she was in her late 80s and was appointed to the Order of Canada.

Elisapee Ishulutaq painting on the floor

Elisapee Ishulutaq painting on the floor (Screen captures from the video “Elisapee Ishulutaq” by Patrick Andrew Boivin on Vimeo, Creative Commons license)

As a child in the 1930s, Ishulutaq lived with her parents out on the land in Baffin Island. But when she was in her 40s, she moved into Pangnirtung, a community on the island that has become famous for its art scene, where artists do a worldwide business in the sale of traditional subjects depicted in sculptures, weavings, and prints. Ishulutaq, who loved to draw, helped establish printmaking as a prominent art form in Pangnirtung. According to the CBC, “her art has helped define how the Inuit are seen around the world.”

When David Gutnick from the CBC met with her, she was in her late 80s and mostly confined to a wheelchair which her grandson, Andrew Ishulutaq, pushed her around in. He also interpreted for her since she only spoke Inuktitut. The day they met, however, she was kneeling on the floor holding a paintbrush in her hand.

Ishulutaq’s painting shows scenes from her childhood

Ishulutaq’s painting shows scenes from her childhood

She was singing a song from her childhood, a song about the long, dark winters in an igloo in the North. She sang about children tossing a caribou skin ball for hours to one another, the only light coming from a seal oil lamp. And she spent that recent morning transferring her memories of those times into painted images that would outlast her. She spent over an hour on the floor and painted, as a result, an outline of the walls of an igloo and a girl with a very serious face, a caribou ball suspended above her.

Decades ago, when Canadian authorities decided that the Inuit would no longer be allowed to roam around on the land and had to stay confined to villages, it posed extraordinary hardships on them. Ishulutaq remembered that her father struggled to find enough seal at night to feed his family. They became so desperate that they were forced to eat seal skins. Their dogs were shot to prevent them from continuing to live nomadically. Ms. Ishulutaq had powerful memories to cope with.

Elisapee Ishulutaq

Elisapee Ishulutaq

Sylvia Safdie, a filmmaker, was also present during the CBC visit  that day. She remarked on the deep-set emotions she could perceive in Ishulutaq’s face. The elderly lady has lived through so much, she observed. “It is the way her eyes move, they light up and then they become sad,” she said. She added that the artist does not function in theory. Instead, Safdie said, Ishulutaq functions “from within, and that is the essence of art.”

Ishulutaq suddenly remembered something else and stopped painting. Her memory was of her grandfather and how he used to play the Inuit violin, which nobody plays now. “So many people would be up on their feet, dancing,” she recalled.

 

Zapotec Municipality Manages its Forests

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A news report from December 2010 explained that about 30 years earlier, the Zapotec municipality of Ixtlán de Juárez had gained the right from the Mexican government to manage its forest resources themselves. Before then, outside interests had exploited the forests for their resources without much thought for the future. With the people of the municipality in charge, things were starting to change. The Zapotec were caring for the land. Enterprises run by the town employed 300 people in logging, making wooden furniture, and working in the forest.

Ixtlán de Juarez

Ixtlán de Juarez (Photo by Stephen Lea in Wikimedia, Creative Commons license)

A recent Inter Press Service news report from southern Mexico brings the story up to date. It covers a range of issues involving the forests of the Sierra Juárez, among which it devotes several paragraphs to describing the forest management practices in the Zapotec municipality. Forest managers feel that their strategies can help combat the effects of climate change.

Rogelio Ruiz, a silviculturist in La Trinidad, a community in the municipality, told IPS that native forests are exceptionally effective in mitigating the effects of climate change but they are also impacted by the rise in temperatures, variations in amounts of rainfall, and the spreading of insect pests that the changes bring about.

A worker in a pine tree in Ixtlán de Juárez, Mexico

A worker in a pine tree in Ixtlán de Juárez, Mexico (Photo by Pablo Leautaud on Flickr, Creative Commons license)

People in the ecoregion, the Sierra Juárez, are well aware of the dangers posed by pests. The pine sawflies, which eat the needles on pine trees, are destroying forests in the mountains. Approximately 10,000 hectares of forests in the region are believed to be at risk. Ruiz told the reporter that out of 805 hectares of forest controlled by La Trinidad community, 106 have already been damaged by the pests. He explained that workers applied an aerial fumigation of a bio-pesticide back in September.

In the whole Ixtlán municipality, 600 hectares have been damaged by the insects. Forest managers have been experimenting with different species of pines in the nursery. Sergio Ruiz, a forest advisor for the Santo Tomás Ixtlán Forest Union, explained that they are trying to develop trees that grow faster and are more resistant to pests.

It appears from the details provided by the IPS news story that giving the communities the right to manage their forests was a very wise move by the Mexican government. While forestry professionals might argue about some of the details, the Zapotec treasure their forests and are attempting to do the right things for the natural community that surrounds them.

 




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