The Kuukyuak Program was designed to bring elders, residential school survivors and Inuinnait youth back to their ancestral home of Kuukyuak (Perry River) to document the abandoned community and re-learn the land’s skills, knowledge and stories.
The Kuukyuak Region
Kuukyuak—also known as Perry River—is a region on the Queen Maud Gulf mainland where many Inuinnait resided before transitioning into permanent settlements during the 1950s. For generations, the area has served as both a permanent camp and site for seasonal resource acquisition; a fact attested to by an abundance of archaeological features and recorded oral histories from local Elders. Much of the population in the contemporary communities of Cambridge Bay and Gjoa Haven are direct descendents of these original Perry River inhabitants and maintain strong connections to the area despite having never been there in person. Kuukyuak continues to play an important role in the cultural history of Inuinnait.
In August of 2015, a team of 16 individuals with ties to the traditional outpost camp of Perry River (or Kuukyuak) travelled to the location by boat. It was an emotional trip, with participants visiting the graveyard where their family members were burried, and the remains of the houses where they once lived. Many participants used the experience to begin re-learning some of the cultural knowledge from the area that was lost due to residential schooling. This included land based activities such as hunting, fishing and land navigation. The trip lasted 16 days due to bad weather preventing the boaters from crossing the open sea in their return to Cambridge Bay.
The primary objective of the Perry River camp was to bring people back to their former home and begin creating closure for their residential school experience. The project was hugely successful in this regard. Many of the individuals brought to Perry River had not been there since they were children. They were able to see their old houses, and mourn the graves of past relatives buried at the site. Additional goals of the project included building cultural awareness and skills among participants. This was accomplished by having elders on site to teach individuals in harvesting food, navigating the landscape, and making decisions in a traditional collective capacity.
This program was developed primarily through the use of Residential School education credits. Additional support for the project was generously provided by the Evergreen Foundation and the Kitikmeot Inuit Association.