The new executive director of Tunngasugit, an Inuit-specific resource centre in Winnipeg, is ready to help Inuit in the Manitoba capital.
“I love that I am an Inuk working in an Inuit organization, working for Inuit,” said Nikki Komaksiutiksak.
Komaksiutiksak is originally from Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut, and is fluent in Inuktitut. She helped co-found Tunngasugit in 2017, and took over as its executive director this week.
Komaksiutiksak has lived in Winnipeg for 30 years and said the organization was started to help people navigate barriers associated with relocating, but also to create a community among Inuit living in the city.
Tunngasugit opened its resource centre in May 2019. The centre offers a number of services for Inuit like assistance with health and social services, cultural access and educational programming as well as a food hamper program, laundry, and long distance calls up North.
“[We wanted] a common place for Inuit to gather, to have country food, which would be caribou,seal, fish, walrus, whale, and to be able to mix and mingle with other Inuit that had the same common life experiences living in Winnipeg and be able to help each other out,” said Komaksiutiksak.
The 2016 census counted just over 200 Inuit living in Winnipeg, although Komaksiutiksak estimates there are well over 600 Inuit who live in the city.
“Pre-COVID, when he had our resource centre open, on our drop-in days we would have a new Inuk walk in the door and say, ‘I’ve been living here for 15 years’ or ‘I’ve been living here for 30 years’ . . . So I could only imagine that there are a lot more Inuit than 200 living in Winnipeg,” she said.
Jocelyn Piirainen moved to Winnipeg from Ottawa a year and a half ago to become the assistant curator of Inuit Art at the Winnipeg Art Gallery and had a hard time connecting with people because of the demands of her job.
Piirainen, who is originally from Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, found out that Tunngasugit had just opened and was hosting community events.
“I moved here by myself pretty much without really knowing a whole lot of other people. It was nice to connect with other Inuit and to have familiarity and to share that connection,” said Piirainen.
Last summer, Piirainen was approached by Komaksiutiksak to join Tunngasugit’s board of directors. The board has worked toward having all-Inuit representation and Piirainen said it’s important to have Inuit-specific programming in southern cities like Winnipeg.
“It just brings a closer connection to the other Inuit and even family as well,” said Piirainen.