Illustrator, cartoonist, poet and essayist born in Nuvuqquq (Nunavut) in 1951 – died in Ottawa (Ontario) in 2007.
Alootook Ipellie was born in 1951 in Nuvuqquq, a hunting camp located on Baffin Island, in today’s Nunavut. The son of Napachie and Joanassie, he was also the grandson of well-known carver Inutsiaq (also known as Ennutsiaq). Alootook Ipellie had a half-brother, Joanassie, and a half-sister Elisapie who died at an early age. Alootook Ipellie’s childhood was nomadic until he was four years old and his father died in a hunting accident. His family then moved to Iqaluit, where he lived with his mother and his stepfather. Alootook Ipellie contracted tuberculosis at the age of five and was sent to the Mountain Sanatorium in Hamilton, Ontario, and in this institution, he learned to speak English. During childhood summers in family in hunting camps, he was lulled by the many tales and traditional stories his grandfather Inutsiaq told him. Alootook Ipellie experienced first-hand the changes in the Inuit way of life that began in the 1950s: from nomadism to sedentariness. His stepfather’s alcoholism motivated Alootook Ipellie to go and live with his uncle, who became his mentor, just like his grandfather Inutsiaq. He completed his secondary education in Yellowknife (Northwest Territories), then in Ottawa (Ontario) in 1967. Traumatized by cultural uprooting and the inability to follow his artistic career dreams, he returned to the North and briefly worked for CBC Iqaluit as an announcer and a producer. He then resumed graduate studies in Ottawa in 1973. In the federal capital, he also attended the High School of Commerce in Ottawa, and worked as an English to Inuktitut translator.
Alootook Ipellie’s career as a journalist provided opportunities to engage in graphic arts and literature. In 1973, he was hired as a journalist-reporter by Inuit Monthly. Inuit Uplumi, a bilingual (English, Inuktitut) periodical founded in 1971 by Inuit Tapirisat (meaning “Inuit Brotherhood”, today called “Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami”, meaning “Association of Canadian Inuit”), an organisation based in Ottawa. This periodical, which targeted Inuit readers as well as non-Inuit readers interested in the North, published Alootook Ipellie’s first ink drawing which developed into the satirical cartoon series “Ice Box”. This cartoon ran from 1974 to 1982, focusing on the Nook family, and exploring the life of contemporary Inuit communities in a changing Arctic. From 1993 to 1997, Alootook Ipellie drew another cartoon series, “Nuna and Vut”, for Nunatsiaq News, an Iqaluit-based newspaper targeting Inuit living in the Eastern Arctic. Alootook Ipellie’s interest and ability in the graphic arts was not limited to drawing: he also wrote the script for the animated film, Legends and Life of the Inuit (1980) which was produced by National Film Board of Canada.
Alootook Ipellie simultaneously wrote essays and authored short stories, during his career as a journalist. His first column was “Those Were the Days” published from 1974 to 1976 in the Inuit Today magazine. He then became its editor from 1979 to 1982. (Inuit Today is Inuit Monthly’s new name as of 1975). He was a columnist for Nunatsiaq News from 1996 and 1997, writing “Ipellie’s Shadow”. In this column, he expressed his opinions on various subjects relating to Inuit daily life. Beginning in the 1970s, Alootook Ipellie’s short stories and essays, often inspired by autobiographical events, were published in Inuit Today issues. For example, “An Alcoholic Life Will Not Do” was published in 1976, and “We are Cold” was published in 1978. These stories deal with social problems in the Arctic in the context of the historical rupture induced by colonisation. Many of Alootook Ipellie’s short stories were selected for literature anthologies. Robin Gedalof McGrath’s Paper Stays Put: A Collection of Inuit Writings (1980), the first Inuit literature anthology, includes his writings and illustrations. An Anthology of Canadian Native Literature in English by Daniel Davis Moses and Terry Goldie, (1992,1998) includes several of his stories, as well as Penny Petrone’s Northern Voices: Inuit Writing in English, (1988, 1992). Alootook Ipellie’s work became popular in the 1990s, due to the publication of his first book, Arctic Dreams and Nightmares (1993). This collection of twenty tales are reinterpretations of Inuit myths through the lens of current events and cultural icons of the South. For example, the titles include “After Brigitte Bardot” and “Summit with Sedna”. Most importantly, this work brought together both sides of Alootook Ipellie’s creative activity: literature and graphic arts. This book disturbed a few traditional Inuit but was critically acclaimed by the Canadian literary world, generating renewed interest in Alootook Ipellie’s total corpus. His drawings and cartoons had already been known and loved by Greenlandic Inuit communities, as evidenced by three exhibitions in 1983, 1985 and 1988. It was in the 1990s, that his illustrations were exhibited across Canada (Ottawa, Ontario, in 1989 and 1993, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, in 1997), in Norway (1992), and in the United States (2001).
Alootook Ipellie’s poetry also flourished during his first years in Ottawa. In the beginning of the 1970s, several poems were published in the magazines North and Tukisivisksat. “The Dancing Sun” published in English and Inuktitut in Inuit Monthly in 1974, is a poem dealing with Inuit traditions, and “The Great and Mysterious Northern Lights” published in English and Inuktitut in Inuit Monthly in 1974, is a rewriting of Northern lights’ legends. It was Robin Gedalof McGrath who first highlighted Alootook Ipellie’s short stories in her publications Paper Stays Put (1980) and Canadian Inuit Literature (1984), and his poetry was honoured by Michael P. J. Kennedy who first published an anthology of Alootook Ipellie’s poems in the Canadian Literature magazine in 2000.
As well, Alootook Ipellie was an activist for the Inuit cause, whether promoting traditional culture to his community and non-Inuit, or fighting for the legitimacy of Inuit territory. At the beginning of the 1990s, he coordinated the Baffin Writers’ Project, to highlight and broadcast the literary works written in this territory. The group launched a short-lived periodical Kivioq: Inuit Fiction Magazine in 1990. In addition to working on the anthology Paper Stays Put with Robin Gedalof McGrath, he designed with her an Inuktitut textbook project for schools in Inuit communities, which remained unfinished. He collaborated as an illustrator with two German Inuit literature specialists, Hans Blohm and Hartmut Lutz on an edition of Abraham Ulrikab’s journal, The Diary of Abraham Ulrikab (2005) which was translated into German under the title Abraham Ulrikab im Zoo: Tagebuch eines Inuk 1880/81 (2007). He worked with the Tunngavik Federation of Nunavut, an organisation fighting for the establishment of Nunavut as a territory in the 1980s, and provided his graphic talent to their cause, illustrating the cover of the Nunavut Land Claim Proposal. Alootook Apellie was also involved in alcohol abuse prevention in his community in the 1990s and in the 2000s.
Husband of Deborah, Alootook Ipellie was since 1978, the father of Taina Lee Ipellie. Taina Lee Ipellie survived him when he died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 56. A eulogy, written by John Amagoalik, entitled “Alootook Ipellie” was published in Inuktitut Magazine in 2008. According to Inuit literature specialists Robin Gedalof McGrath and Michael P. J. Kennedy, Alootook Ipellie’s work was unfortunately under-profiled during his lifetime. Perhaps this injustice is being redressed posthumously. In 2018, a retrospective exhibition, “Alootook Ipellie: Walking Both Sides of an Invisible Border” was curated by art historian Heather Igloliorte and hosted by the Carleton University Art Gallery (Ontario), containing one hundred of his illustrations. This exhibition has toured Canada and in 2020 resides at the University of Winnipeg (Manitoba). In 2019, Alootook Ipellie was entered into the Canadian Cartoonist Hall of Fame. He is considered an artist and writer whose works are extremely inspirational to Inuit culture. He is also one of the first Inuit to undertake an inventory of Inuit literature, contributing to the development of a literary canon and a critical discourse necessary for its literary recognition.