Educating and Advocating for Inuit Art Sovereignty

Project Spotlight: Emily Henderson, Theresie Tungilik, and Dalee Sambo Dorough explore the importance of Inuit art sovereignty.

Souveraineté autochtone Création Avenir possible
A purple background featuring three black-and-white photos of the panelists, and event details in white text.

In a conversation moderated by writer Emily Henderson, participants Theresie Tungilik (artist and advisor for the Government of Nunavut in the department of Arts & Traditional Economy) and Dalee Sambo Dorough (International Char of the Inuit Circumpolar Council and expert in international human rights law, international relations, and Alaska Native rights) explore the importance of sovereignty and self-determination in Inuit artistic practices. 

A purple background featuring three black-and-white photos of the panelists, and event details in white text.
Conversations: Activating Inuit Art Sovereignty panel featuring, from left to right: Emily Henderson, Theresie Tungilik, Dalee Sambo Dorough. COURTESY THE ARTISTS.

Credit: This video was originally published by the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center on December 1, 2021. COURTESY THE SMITHSONIAN ARCTIC STUDIES CENTER AND THE INUIT ART FOUNDATION.

Early in the conversation, Theresie Tungilik describes Inuit art sovereignty as: “to be able to have our own Indigenous intellectual property, whether it be tangible or intangible. We do have that right to protect our art, to protect our creations—even our ideas need to be protected…”

She goes on to describe the roots of this notion in Inuit traditions, and how artistic sovereignty has long been underscored by interconnectedness—the mutual reliance of community members upon each other’s skills and creative labour: “Everything that was made into law regarding productions and creations, it was meant to respect the person who came up with the idea first… If we look at yesteryear—the old igloo days—they really had good laws that kept peace with everyone. It showed that there was respect for the creators: the first people who had ideas, the people who were willing to share their wealth of skills with other people… We could only survive as a people by sharing.”

The panellists highlighted the need for greater education on Inuit art sovereignty and explored how educational conversations could be translated into advocacy. As Dalee Sambo Dorough says: “Inuit are… like 0.000001 per cent of the world’s population, but at the same time, we have extraordinary capacity. We have extraordinary ingenuity. We have extraordinary ability to adapt. I think that if we find the roots to organize around these issues of Inuit art sovereignty—especially by the Inuit artists themselves—we can’t go wrong at chipping away at all the barriers and challenges that do exist for us.”

The Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center conducts research on northern lands, environments, cultures, and people using Smithsonian collections and field studies to learn about the history and contemporary peoples of the circumpolar region. The Center works closely with indigenous groups, universities, organizations and government agencies to promote the welfare of northern people and to educate the public about the history, arts, and languages of the North. Its scholars publish papers, monographs, and catalogs and prepare exhibitions and educational programs.