Sedna is goddess of the sea and an important powerful woman figure in Inuit culture. That is why an Inuk offender chose to carve Sedna and anonymously donate her to Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada.
“He came up to me completely on his own and said, ‘I had a vision. My mom recently passed away and in my dream, she told me to do a carving of Sedna’,” said Dalila Boukhaloua, a community parole officer in the downtown Ottawa Parole Office. “I didn’t know what Sedna was, and he explained to me she is an Inuit mythical mermaid creature.”
The offender had been living at Ikaarvik House, a community residential facility (CRF), primarily for Inuit adult male offenders in Ottawa run by the John Howard Society. The house has a gazebo at the back with heavy outdoor plastic around it for protection from the wind, rain, and elements. It is here the men do their stone carving.
“Carving is a strong piece of Inuit culture,” said Joe Morin, Director of Ikaarvik. “A good majority of these men learned to carve when they were younger. When they come out and see one or two older guys carving, they want to get back into this.”
The carver holds the unfinished Sedna he was carving that he donated to Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada in honour of women as part of his healing journey.
He explained that Ikaarvik House supplies stone that the men can purchase by the pound. Or they can make a trade for which they make two carvings: one for the ‘house’—which Ikaarvik House sells to replenish the stone—and the second piece to do what they like with. The caseworker helps find locations where the men can sell their carvings. Joe noted that for some of the men, carving becomes their full time job. They sell their carvings to make enough money to support themselves and send funds back home to family.
The offender who carved the Sedna had been a carver for many years. Joe recalled that the carving, which is about 10 inches high by 10 inches wide, took him about a month to carve and polish out of quartz from a quarry near Wakefield, Quebec. A parole officer often accompanies one or two of the residents to the quarry where they can choose chunks of rock for themselves and bring stone back for the others.
Ikaarvik House is unique in Canada, with its focus on helping Inuit men reintegrate into the community, as Ottawa has the largest population of Inuit outside of the North (Inuit Nunangat). It provides the cultural support that is important to CSC and to offenders. Some of that support comes from its partnership with Tungasuvvingat Inuit (TI)—an Inuit organization that provides community supports for Inuit in Ottawa. TI offers services at Ikaarvik, such as weekly counseling and visits from Elders.
“Having Ikaarvik in Ottawa that is specifically geared to Inuit offenders and supporting them in reconnecting with their traditions and carving, directly responds to CSC’s priority to provide effective, culturally appropriate interventions and reintegration support for First Nations, Inuit, and Métis offenders.’ That is powerful,” said Dalila.
On behalf of the carver, Parole Officer Dalila Boukhaloua (middle) presents the Sedna carving to Carrie Wapachee (left) and Diane Alorot (right) of Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada.
CSC has a unique approach for Indigenous corrections called the Indigenous Continuum of Care that was developed in consultation with Indigenous stakeholders. It ensures culturally relevant programs and interventions are available to Indigenous offenders. Inuit Elders play a critical role in offender rehabilitation. They provide access to culturally relevant ceremonies and teachings, and help them re-establish connections with their families and communities. Elder assistance is key in helping CSC and communities plan for the offender's eventual return.
“CSC has Indigenous and Inuit specific programming that offenders relate to a lot better. It integrates their own cultural aspects into the program that makes sense to them; they have a background in it,” said Parole Officer Supervisor Lindsay Maahs. “It keeps them in touch with their culture, recognizing the very unique history they have.”
Carving is one meaningful aspect of Inuit culture that can allow an individual to connect with or reconnect with their culture, while helping maintain a pro-social lifestyle, and developing a sustainable source of income. Carving provides a means for successful reintegration while also contributing to the individuals’ healing journey.
“For the Inuk carver, within his own story, it’s something that has a big significance because his violence touched his family as well, and was the key to why he wanted to make it,” said Joe.
Dalila echoed this.
“He had committed a lot of violence against women, so his connection to this is important. He wanted to honour women in general and decided that Sedna was the powerful woman creature and asked me to donate it on his behalf,” said Dalila.
“He sells pieces routinely for $1,000,” she added. “For someone who has nothing, to donate a piece he has made is something. He said he could have sold it for $1,500 to $2,000. So, that was very generous of him.”
Sedna is an Inuit creation myth that is told across the Arctic from Alaska to Greenland. The common element of the various Sedna stories is that she was in a kayak with her father when a storm began. Worried the kayak would capsize, her father threw her into the sea. Sedna clung to the kayak but her father cut off her fingers, which turned into sea creatures: seals, walruses, and whales. Sedna became half-woman and half fish, and gained control over all the sea animals. She releases them to humans for hunting if she is appeased, and can cause famine if she is angry.
Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada, announced the gift on Facebook in December: “Every man, woman and child has a time for their healing journey. It may take a few tries until you are able to find balance and support while finding one’s inner self and your rightful place in society. Pauktuutit acknowledges and supports many Inuit men and boys in their healing journeys. Pauktuutit’s board and staff thank the anonymous carver for his contribution and wish him a continued path towards healing.”