Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
On Aug. 5, Okpik: Little Village in the Arctic will premiere on CBC Gem in the Inuvialuktun language and on Aug. 6 in English on CBC Manitoba.
The one-hour documentary follows Kylik Kisoun Taylor as he embarks on a homesteading build in the Beaufort Delta.
“I think it’s a worthwhile story. It’s not a common story being told right now,” said Kisoun Taylor, who has been working on the project for the past three summers.
Kisoun Taylor, 37, a father of two, had been running a tourism business. He lost everything when the pandemic hit and was faced with a tough decision. He could work a regular 60 hour/week job that would only provide enough money to pay bills and essentials for his family, or he could begin a new adventure on his traditional land with his family.
“We started building the village based on ‘we need a place to live’,” he said. “The world is upside down right now and I have no idea if it will right itself again. If the tourism industry did come back, it would be a really great product.
“It’s a mixture of so many different things, but at the end of the day it was COVID-19 that took everything from us… I wanted a different approach for my life and for my family.”
So, Kisoun Taylor began to build traditional housing and way of life by gathering resources from the land.
“We are following Kylik and he has basically decided to leave Inuvik, his home territory and community, to move his family to his traditional hunting and fishing grounds outside of the city,” explained Tiffany Ayalik, co-producer of the Okpik documentary.
“He started an off-grid community. He’s decided to create this experiment out in the bush in the Beaufort Delta in the high Arctic with the aims of creating a site for language revitalization, food sovereignty and security and housing security, because so many people experience housing insecurity in the north.”
Ayalik said the documentary shows Kisoun Taylor harvesting wood from a nearby river, milling his own timber and structuring sod roofs on the cabins or single-family dwellings. They also follow him as he gathers food and shows his family how to fish.
“As the seasons progress, we see the camp begin to pop-up and be built around him,” said Ayalik. “The first home has been completed.”
When Ayalik first heard of Kisoun Taylor’s project it captured her interest. She knows a lot of the Inuit culture is being lost from those living in the North. This is also why she wanted to do the documentary in both English and the traditional language of Inuvialuktun.
“Inuvialuktun is a very endangered language in the Arctic, so to be able to offer something that is a document as well as a living resource that can be listened to and celebrated, and to get people to practice and watch the documentary in Inuvialuktun as well is a really awesome thing,” she said.
It’s a sentiment echoed by Kisoun Taylor.
“I think it’s extremely important that we were able to do that. From my understanding it is the first movie that has ever been done or translated into that language,” he said. “I think it will be really powerful for our community to hear its own members speaking the language.”
In addition to the revitalization of the language, Kisoun Taylor hopes his project and living his traditional way of life will encourage others to do the same.
“I just wanted to sort of show people what is possible... Seeing is believing,” he said, adding it’s important to him to arm his own children with these skills and show others how satisfying a traditional way of life can be.
“I hope it inspires other people. We are starting to realize, I think, how important it is for our people to have intact culture.”
“If my daughter knows how to house herself, feed herself, medicate herself, make a living on the land the way she wants to, she will never have to be controlled by anything. She needs to be grounded in her culture… By having an intact relationship with your community and culture it gives you a lot of confidence to go out in the world and take chances.”
Local Journalism Initiative Reporters are supported by a financial contribution made by the Government of Canada.