The Journey of Navarana: from Nunavut to BC

Watercolour by Navarana Tretina Igloliorte | Photo by Navarana Tretina Igloliorte

Navarana Tretina Igloliorte, a filmmaker and artist completing a residency at Griffin Arts Project in Vancouver, draws her primary artistic inspiration from caribou, and her concern for their dwindling population. “We can learn from how everything is interconnected in nature,” she says.

Igloliorte’s journey — from her hometown of Baker Lake, Nunavut to Sheshatshiu, Labrador to Vancouver, BC — has been a whirlwind. Yet despite all the obstacles life has thrown at her, she has maintained unwavering dedication to creating impactful work tied to her roots.

A budding artist in the Arctic

Igloliorte was raised in Baker Lake, Nunavut until the age of 12. Although her family was not of Indigenous background,  she recalls her father’s kindness and humility towards Inuit culture.

“He would give gas for skidoos and fix tvs, radios and other technology for community members,” she remembers. “My bonding moments with my dad was driving out to the dump to unearth hidden treasures that he would later fix.”

Later, despite an initial rough integration in Sheshatshiu where her family had moved to,  Igloliorte was able to meet some friends and explore Innu life on her own. Moments at nutshimit (the bush) were important to her, and a stark comparison to community life.  She was  eventually invited to go to Nutshimit (the bush), live in tents and hunt for a couple of weeks with her friends and their families.  “Lots of stories were told in the canvas tent with a wood stove or on walks to go hunting,” recalls Igloliorte. “The stories intrigued me, how animals were called ‘brother’…some legends are stories but other seemingly supernatural creatures and events are true stories. “

Nutshimit life greatly inspired her, and as she grew into a young woman she was able to merge her love of film with her love of these traditional stories. The lack of theatre productions about them inspired Igloliorte to take initiative; after graduating from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design she bought a video camera and made a video of elder Elizabeth Penashue’s meshkenu (month-long snow trek).

When others saw her work Igloliorte began to be hired throughout the community. “My favourite collaborative projects are based on my ideas as a youth to recreate legends told by elders and acted by the youth in the Sheshatshiu Innu School,” she explains.

Igloliorte grew up in the Baha’I faith, whose beliefs aligned with her work and helped her better understand her childhood stories. She saw that in the Baha’i Faith, the spiritual teachings of different nations and cultures are from the same source, so in a sense they are one in the same.

“The stories and teaching I was learning from friends and their parents seamlessly integrated with the Baha’i teachings, taught in a different way,” says Igloliorte. “Innu people learn this through observation and storytelling to help us work together as humans and humans with the natural world.”

The master spirit

Through her childhood Igloliorte learned that “the Master Spirit of all the animals is the caribou. Innu hang their bones in the trees so the dogs can’t get them as a sign of respect.”

The caribou was integrated with her family as well. “My family loved to eat caribou, because you can feel that it is nourishing and of course delicious. My mom took a sewing course on how to make clothes out of the skins,” she says.

Igloliorte’s sophisticated understanding of caribou ran parallel with her growth as an artist, enabling her to be able to work with a range of people and organizations in the last couple of years. After garnering employment at the Sheshatshiu Social Health, she interviewed elder Pien Penashue, who spoke about human’s relationship with caribou.

One piece of the interview that stood out to Igloliorte was when Penashue talked about the relationship between caribou and dreams. Penashue “would tell his family and they would go and find them in that exact location of his dream, ”she recalls.

As a more mature artist, Igloliorte is able to reflect upon the lives of caribou and create an intersection between her work and interest in caribou. “I started to think about the lives of caribou again because there have been protests in the north against arctic drilling and mining on how it affects the natural world, including the caribou,” she says.

She started asking questions such as how caribou move together and what humans can learn from their togetherness, and credits Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass for her approach. According to Igloliorte, Kimmerer writes about “the many ways for us to have a reciprocal relationship with the land and learn from its example.”

Expanding artistic expression

Igloliorte moved to Vancouver in 2015 and began experimenting with different forms of art. She recalls meeting “some beautiful friends, some of whom are artist[s] and have gained more exposure to movement-based practice and performance art.”

In 2017, Igloliorte was awarded the Canada Council for the Arts grant. This allowed her to collaborate with performance artists Peter Morin and Ayumi Goto, inspiring her to explore another facet of art. When visiting Labrador to film elders with youth, she did an interpretive dance during the Winter Solstice.

Igloliorte believes this type of growth allowed her to refine her skillset to become a better artist. “When I do work with the Innu First nations I am given a measure of  creative freedom. So how I film, edit and collaborate is up to me,” she explains.

Keeping in contact with filmmakers, photo-based friends and other artists is an informal way of exchanging ideas and skill sharing, according to Igloliorte. “All of the learning builds on each other,” she says.

Not liking the recent completely virtual pandemic world, Igloliorte recently decided to learn how to paint. After rolling out giant laser cuttings on mylar made a couple of years ago with the intent to project video through them, she immediately saw how they would work as stencils. Using watercolor paint and gouache with a sponge on the large stencils of caribou, she began painting details of lichen, mosses and berries on them.

It was this type of exploration that inspired her to do her residency at Griffin Arts Project. “I was motivated to do the residency at Griffin Arts Project to have a chance to have a change of space and to work in a large space to see what would happen,” says Igloliorte. “Luckily it’s working and my creativity is flourishing there.”

Stemming injustice

Igloliorte is also very attuned to society’s growing injustice in terms of racism and sexism. She compares it to an infected boil that has grown larger and larger, popped, and the puss is now oozing out. “How do we remedy the infection?” she asks. “It requires us to find out what the hidden causes are, what are the imbalances in the body that caused it, then apply the balm for the wound externally and internally.”

Igloliorte believes that visual documentation is the reason why people cannot deny that horrifying racism and injustices exist, and believes that there is a movement away from apathy towards an awareness and acknowledgment of injustices.  “People are no longer ignoring racism, sexism, we are no longer tolerating the misdeeds of people in power,” she asserts. “We are reaching a tipping point towards unity, though the road to this is long and treacherous.”

Apathy is starting to not be an option, according to Igloliorte, who believes that people on the sidelines are joining the movement to not be left behind. “The long vision is that all of us will look towards each other as brother and sister…including the animals and the plants,” she says. “How do I as a mom, as an artist, as a friend work towards this great goal that will take many generations to achieve?”

Igloliorte hopes to continue community and artistic collaborations. She has a solo show planned for the summer of 2022 at the Grenfell Art Gallery in Newfoundland.

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