Smiler, Isa

Sculptor, author and hunter born in Inukjuak (Nunavik) in 1921 - died in Inukjuak (Nunavik) in 1986.

Isa Smiler, also known as Aqiattusuk, was born in 1921 in Port Harrison (now Inukjuak) Nunavik. At the age of nine, both his parents died of a serious illness that caused many deaths in his community. He married Lucy, an artist and together, they raised a son named Daniel, now an engraver in Inukjuak, and a daughter named Siasi Smiler Irqumia.

Isa Smiler is well known for his artistic work as a sculptor. He made his debut in 1948, strongly encouraged by the Canadian artist, designer, children's author and filmmaker, James Archibald Houston (1921-2005). Houston was nicknamed "Saumik" by the Inuit and he played a significant role in the promotion of Canadian Inuit art and introduced many Inuit to the medium of sculpture.  Isa Smiler's carvings can be found in the collections of several art museums such as the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec (MNBAQ) in Québec City, the Canadian Museum of History, in Gatineau, Québec and the Penn Museum, located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. Among his most famous pieces is the sculpture "Mother and Child" (1950), carved in various materials including soapstone and ivory. The proceeds from the sale of Smiler's artwork allowed him, like other Inuit artists of his time, to save his family from starvation. In 2004, he was named one of the top four Inuit carvers by his colleague, carving artist Johnny Inukpuk (1911-2007).

In the Fall of 1967, two of his drawings appeared in the pages of The Beaver magazine, founded in 1920 by the Hudson's Bay Company and renamed Canada's History in 2010. Isa Smiler painted the majority of his drawings between 1973 and 1974, while staying at the Moose Factory Hospital in Moose Factory, Ontario.

Isa Smiler's contribution to the literary world is primarily associated with the publication of his autobiographical text entitled "Inukjuak". This text, written in English and Inuktitut, appeared in Inuktitut Magazine. his text tells both the story of Smiler's life, from youth to adulthood, and the history of Nunavik. The text’s sections follow the changing seasons as reflected in their titles "Summer Leisure", "Fall Preparations" and "Making Ready for Winter". In his autobiography, Isa Smiler outlines the changes that occurred in his community following sedentarization - the beginning of contemporary Inuit art, the establishment of co-operatives and the self-government politics of the 1970s, as well as describing the details of his life as an artist, the games he played as a child or how he learned to hunt, fish and trap. In 1978, he published in the Inuktitut Magazine an essay entitled "Children's Games" which describes and illustrates traditional Inuit games. According to Nelly Duvicq, author of Histoire de la littérature inuite du Nunavik, it is highly likely that Isa Smiler's writing influenced the writing of other Inuit autobiographies. As an example, she mentions the text "My childhood in Kuujjuaraapik" also published in Inuktitut Magazine by Apelie Nowra, who writes in a style similar to Smiler's.

Isa Smiler died in 1986, at the age of 65, in Inukjuak (Nunavik).

This biography is based on the available written material during a collective research carried out during 2018-2021. It is possible that mistakes and facts need to be corrected. If you notice an error, or if you wish to correct something in an author's biography, please write to us at and we will be happy to do so. This is how we will be able to have more precise presentations, and to better promote Inuit culture.


(c) International Laboratory for Research on Images of the North, Winter and the Arctic, Université du Québec à Montréal, 2018-2021, Daniel Chartier and al.