Visual artist and author born in Cape Jones (Nunavik) in 1948 – died in Ottawa (Ontario) in 2009.
Normee Ekoomiak (alternative spelling: Eekoomiak), also known as Norman Ekoomiak, was born in 1948 in Cape Jones, on the southern shore of Hudson Bay. Normee Ekoomiak’s family originated from villages located in today’s Nunavik: his father’s family came from Puvirnituq and his mother’s family came from Great Whale River (today known as Kuujjuarapik in Inuktitut and Whapmagoostui in Cree). Normee Ekoomiak grew up several kilometres from Puvirnituq, in Fort George (today’s Chisasibi), where he lived from the age of five. Fort George is now a territory set apart for the Cree but then it was shared between Cree and Inuit people. Normee Ekoomiak spent most of his youth there, living in his grandfather’s tent with his mother, his father, his six brothers and seven sisters. Normee Ekoomiak’s grandfather and mother had a very strong influence on his life: they taught him traditional Inuit skills and the mastery of various techniques he later used in his artistic practice. Normee Ekoomiak completed his elementary and secondary education at the Fort George Catholic residential school.
In 1971, at the age of 23, Normee Ekoomiak moved from Fort George to his sister’s home in Ottawa (Ontario). One year later, in 1972, he entered George Brown College in Toronto (Ontario). In 1973, he worked at the Ontario Science Centre where he curated an exhibition about Inuit culture. He was then commissioned by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) to design costumes for the theatre play The Executioner, written by Farley Mowat, a writer who has authored several books about Inuit life. In 1976, Normee Ekoomiak began to study at the New School of Art in Toronto thanks to a Department of Indian and Northern Affairs support program. He specialised in drawing, painting and tapestry making. His artwork was considered autobiographical, as it displayed Inuit daily life in Nunavik in the 1950s. Normee Ekoomiak’s art was critically acclaimed across North America. In the 1970s and 1980s, he produced several hundred works, which were included in many exhibitions: for example at the Museum of the Indian American in New York (United States) and in art galleries in several Ontario cities such as London, Ottawa and Toronto. In 1986, he donated a tapestry entitled The Spirit of Liberty, for the hundredth anniversary of the Statue of Liberty and was awarded the honour “Native American Artist of the New York Statue of Liberty Foundation”.
First known and distinguished as an artist, Normee Ekoomiak also authored two bilingual (English, Inuktitut) books: An Arctic Childhood. [Ukiuqtaqtumi surusiuniq], published in 1980, and Arctic Memories, published in 1988. An Arctic Childhood. [Ukiuqtaqtumi surusiuniq] recounts Ekoomiak’s youth as an Inuit child living in Nunavik. The text is illustrated with paintings and embroideries made by the author. Normee Ekoomiak’s second book Arctic Memories is considered a “hybrid book” (Nelly Duvicq), since it displays both the art and the textual memories of its author. Arctic Memories was critically acclaimed. It was translated into five languages, in French as Inuit: tableaux d'une enfance dans l'Arctique (1988), in Italian as Inuit: scene di un'infanzia nell'Artide (1988), in Faroese as Inuit: barndómsmyndir úr Póllandinum (1989), in Japanese as Kyokuhoku no omoide (1990) and in German as Inuit Bilder aus einer Kindheit in der Arktis (1994). The original text was reprinted three times in its English and Inuktitut version, in 1989, 1990 and 1992. The stories it contains were different from traditional Inuit discourse: Normee Ekoomiak openly wrote about his alcoholism, his childhood traumas and his wandering episodes.
After many years living in the urban South, Normee Ekoomiak wished to move back home to Fort George (Nunavik). His wish could not be fulfilled because his village had disappeared: Fort George was partially flooded during the James Bay hydroelectic project and the remaining land became a Cree territory called Chisasibi.
Normee Ekoomiak died in Ottawa in 2009 at the age of 61.