When Paul Seesequasis first started tweeting archival photos of communities like Cape Dorset, Nunavut, he didn’t anticipate an instant dialog with locals in his replies.
“That’s my grandmother!” is one comment Seesequasis recounts in the intro to Blanket Toss Under Midnight Sun, his book of day-to-day portraits from eight Indigenous communities, published by Knopf Canada in October.
Seesequasis, a Willow Cree journalist based in Saskatoon, writes that he set out to find images of Indigenous strength, resourcefulness, work, family, and play. While many of the photos he found in Canada’s archives were taken by settler photojournalists and researchers, the process of bringing these images to the people in them began a kind of narrative reclamation. He learned archival notes are often inaccurate, and the outsider lens can be deconstructed in part by the Indigenous stories photos bring to the surface.
Seesequasis’ book came out just as Cape Dorset found itself at the centre of a trauma porn controversy sparked by a New York Times article that some subjects said traded in stereotypes. With the help of social media, Inuit artists pushed back on the narrative, kicking off weeks of discourse and calls for investigation by the Native American Journalists Association.
Cape Dorset’s written history has been shaped by outsiders since it was arbitrarily named by Captain Luke Foxe in 1631. The name comes from a 17th-century earl who never even visited North America, according to Seesequasis, let alone the land that still has his name on art gallery and airport signs.
But the community is pushing back on this narrative, too.
On Monday, the hamlet will vote in a new mayor, and officials say the ballot will include a question about whether Cape Dorset should adopt a traditional Inuit name. Cape Dorset is often called Kinngait, the Inuktitut word for mountains, but the area was previously called Sikusiilaq, after a section of sea water that doesn’t freeze in winter.
Cape Dorset senior administration officer John Hussey confirmed the name change ballot is moving forward, adding advance polls opened Monday, December 9. The vote will mainly decide between the current mayor Timoon Toonoo and candidate Eva Takiasuk, but there’s a chance the community known for birthing a world-celebrated art co-op might ditch its colonial name in the process.
The following photos from Blanket Toss Under Midnight Sun are reprinted with permission from the publisher.