Elders’ Profiles

Martha Flaherty

Martha Flaherty, originally from Inukjuak, Nanavik, was moved with her family to Grise Fiord in 1960 in the Federal Northern Quebec Relocation project. A survivor of three residential school stints, Martha has spent many years coming to terms with the colonial force used on her family. Her National Film Board film, “Martha of the North” in which she was co-producer, has had a profound impact on mainstream and Indigenous audiences.

Martha has worked in the area of cultural rentention and with DIAND, as the President of the national Pauktutiit Inuit Women’s Association, Canadian representative to the international Inuit Circumpolar Conference, and still works as a tourism animatrice and interpreter on summer cruise ship tours to the Arctic through Adventure Canada. However, Martha’s primary life’s work is in translation. She is a highly sought after translator and interpreter at the provincial, territorial and federal levels as well as internationally. She has most recently translated into Inuktut the whole Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women Commission’s final report, a lengthy and very challenging document. Such trusted translation work has developed in Martha a broad and comprehensive view of Indigenous issues in Canada.
Martha is also a highly sought after Inuk artist, who, having learned to sew at her mother’s knee in iglus and tents on the land, now designs and sews outfits of many kinds, and fabricates accessories and other Inuit art items both for sale and for the joy of creating. Martha has also been involved in “A Taste of the Arctic” annual cultural celebrations in Ottawa, and has organized and participated in several fashion shows over the past 20 years. Martha has lived in the Ottawa area for 40 years, and is the wife, mother and grandmother of an Inuk/Cree/English family.

Martha brings to ISARUIT her wide network of contacts, many of whom are specific to the arts world; a multitude of both formal and informal, national and international cross-cultural and cross-gender, cross-generational experiences; many, many years as a member of a highly skilled family of sewing artists; and the knowledge and understanding required to supervise the development of an organization from an Inuit standpoint. Martha is highly committed to the welfare of Inuit women living in Ottawa, and actively promotes the speaking of Inuktitut throughout all generations.

Aigah Attagutsiaq

Aigah Attagutsiaq was born on the land near Ikpiarjuk, North Baffin Island, in Nunavut. She learned to sew from her mother, who is now in her late 90’s. Aigah married a survivor of Residential mal treatment and had to leave the Arctic in the mid 1980’s to find refuge in Ottawa with her children. Having lived through the traumas and trials of dealing with the residue of colonialism, Aigah has worked very hard to heal her family and is now regarded as a spiritual leader in the Inuit community of Ottawa.

Aigah is a qualified Adult educator and counselor who is constantly sought after by Inuit families living in Ottawa, and beyond the South, in Nunavut. She constantly advocates for Inuit women in mainstream society and supports Inuit women, children and men when they come south; she is often the first stop when Inuit families need help.

Having learned traditional Inuit skin preparation and sewing and land skills as a child, Agiah still sews for relaxation and recreation. She specializes in making miniature items out of sealskin, and parkas, purses, and many other traditional and contemporary items. More recently has begun to sew clothing. Aigah is the mother and grandmother of an Inuit family living in Ottawa for more than 30 years.

Aigah brings to ISARUIT Inuit Sewing Project a wide network of contacts; teaching and compassionate care skills; well-seasoned office and organizational skills; excellent board and group process skills; lively written and spoken Inuktitut skills and excellent sealskin-sewing, parka-making and clothing design skills.

Simona Arnatsiaq

Simona Arnatsiaq was born on the land near Igloolik, Nunavut.  She has been living in the Ottawa area for more than 20 years, but travels very extensively in the Canadian Arctic and internationally with her work. Simona is a community consultant advisor specializing in economic development and management training in Northern Inuit communities, and in Ottawa.  Simona holds a certificate in Cooperatives Development from St. Francis Xavier University and continues to advocate for Inuit self-determination and culturally sound programs at all levels of government.  

Simona has been a member of many Boards as a planner, developer and advocate for Inuit, especially Inuit women. Some of organizations she has worked with Nunavut Tourism, Nuanvut Land Claims office, Nunavut Language and Culture Dept, Tunngavik Federation of Nunavut, Iqaluit Community Wellness and Child Protection, Carleton University, the National Parole Board, and the Prime Minister’s Office.   Despite her busy schedule, Simona takes time to be a mother and grandmother to her family, and to design and sew imaginative clothing and craft creations. Having learned to sew from her mother and other relatives, Simona’s work reflects her dedication to an Inuit world view and belief systems and her integration with the land and the animals of Inuit Nunanga.  

Simona brings to ISARUIT a great deal of experience developing and working on boards of emerging organizations, in an Inuit way,  the ability to quickly and accurately assess and evaluate program needs and efficiencies, an excellent sense of fiscal responsibility, and significant experience experience marketing Inuit sewing arts items. Her deep commitment to the Inuit  community of Ottawa has compelled her to be committed to making the ISARUIT Inuit  Sewing Project successful.

Elisapee Burmingham

Elisapee Burmningham was born in the area of Pangnirtung, Baffin Island, in 1940. In 1950, she, her mother and her youngest sibling went to the Sanitarium in Quebec City when they were diagnosed with TB.  Her mother died there two years later, and so Elisapee was sent back to Iqaluit to stay with family members.  Because her mother had passed away when she was 11, Elisapee was unable to go to school, and chose instead to teach herself to sew by watching other community members and trying skills out until she had mastered them. It is sewing that has led Elisapee to various places throughout her life.  

When she was 20, Elisapee had another stay at a Sanitarium for TB, this time in Hamilton Ontario.  Recognizing her good sewing skills, Elisapee was asked to sew pijamas and housecoats for the Tb patients there.  By 1960, she was ready to work on her own healing from trauma and addictions, and while attending the Apex treatment centre, it was again sewing that helped her heal.  This time she began making parkas and other traditional pieces of clothing to make a living.

After some very hard times that left Elisapee a single mother, she married Bob Burmingham and  moved to Dunnville, Ontario where she worked in a boot and shoe factory for one year. After another brief period of sewing in a factory in Iqaluit where the Inuit women were hired to large orders of duffle bags for the army, Elisapee was moved back to Osgoode, Ontario, by the southern factory owner,  where she and other women were hired to sew in an under-garments factory. When this work was no longer good, Elisapee moved to Ottawa and continues to work on sewing projects of all kinds from her home. 

Elisapee has been working tirelessly with Isaruit since January 2020 and has participated in almost all the teaching sessions, the elders’ conferences and the gatherings that Isaruit has presented.  Even with the pandemic, and the celebration of her 80th birthday, Elisapee’s cheerful attitude and swift fingers have not been slowed down. All the of the participants in Isaruit Inuit Arts’ programs greatly appreciate her as a teacher because of her excellent sewing skills, her great sense of humor, her stories, and her energetic and positive approach to all aspects of life. 

Susie Kettler

Susie grew up in Kangiqsualujjuaq, Nunavik.  She loved to play outside and explore the land when she was growing up. Her grandmother and grandfather taught her how to sew her own clothes.

As a young bride of Manfred Kettler, a helicopter pilot,  in the early 70’s she moved to Ontario where she and her husband farmed beefalo and vegetable gardens. Even though she lived in the south,  tended huge vegetable gardens,  and worked as a foster parent and as a hostess at the patient hostel in Montreal, Susie continued to make her two daughters clothes and clothing for others using traditional patterns and materials.

Susie is presently a sewing instructor for Isaruit. She keeps her Inuit culture alive by sewing, knitting and crocheting. Susie lives in Kemptville with her husband.

Mary Alainga

Originally from Iqaluit, Mary Alainga Fraser grew up on the land under the guidance of her mother and father, Simonie Alainga, and like her parents has always been a very active Inuit community member.

She has worked in many positions, as Social Worker, Adult Educator, Counsellor, Cultural Advisor in penal institutions, and as a Parole Board Officer.  Mary has dedicated her life to enlivening Inuit and helping them find out who they are as Inuit, no matter what their circumstances and is a well-loved and highly respected member of the Ottawa Inuit community.

She has lived in the Otttawa area with her husband for the past 20 years.  Mary has held the position of Cultural Advisor to the Isaruit Board and has been pivotal in writing the present Strategic Plan of Isaruit.