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artist Agnes Nanogak

November 11, 1996

In 1985, Agnes Nanogak received an honourary degree from Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. A little of her own history was told then:

Her father, William Natkusiak, came from Nome, Alaska, to the Canadian Arctic as a guide for Stefansson. In Baillie, Natkusiak meet and married Agnes’ mother, Topsy Ikiunak. In 1937, when Agnes was 12, the family moved to Holman, a tiny Victoria Island community – roughly 1,600 miles north of Edmonton.

In 1943, when 18 years old, Agnes married there the hunter Wallace Kunak Goose. Together, they raised seven children. Wallace Goose is here today sharing this special honour. For she is the first Inuit artist ever to receive an honourary degree from any university, anywhere.

She is one of Canada’s major artists, developing her career out of her rich cultural background ... She inherited the Alaskan tradition from her father who, even when she was a child, would encourage her to draw. Because of her mother, she was in contact with the different cultures and tribes living in the Mackenzie Delta and along the coast up to Baillie Island. When she was young, she listened to the old storytellers of Victoria Island. Later, she found in her husband’s grandmother, Mamie Mamovak, another storyteller of rare gifts ...

Her prints and drawings are dominated by shamanism – witch doctors, spirit dancers, sorcerers – by bird and animal spirits as well as by the games and contests, the dances and costumes, the drumming and chanting traditional to Inuit celebrations. Her work also reflects the closeness with which the Inuit lived on the land and their traditional dependence on animals ...

Agnes died on the May, 5 2001. She was diagnosed with lung cancer in August of 2000, and courageously succumbed to the illness with family members by her bedside.

Dr. Margaret Fulton, Mount Saint Vincent University’s president when Agnes got her LL.D., wrote this to Agnes’ daughter at the time of her death:

Dear Aldena Pearce,

Thank you very much for the news of your mother’s death. In every sense of the word, I feel I have lost a friend.

Agnes Nanogak Goose was an exceptional woman. We were so very proud to have her at Mount Saint Vincent University and to honour her with an Honourary Degree. She was special for us and some of her drawings are part of the Mount’s permanent collection. I am also proud to say that I have two of her drawings on my study walls. Whenever I look up from my desk, I look at them and feel her joy and sense of renewal.

One is of children playing in the snow. It is pure innocence and delight. The other is a drawing she did at the Mount especially for me. She knew that I was heavily involved in the Women’s Peace Movement, and that we were preparing for a World Women’s Peace Conference at the Mount . You can imagine my surprise and delight when she came into my office one morning and offered me as a gift a drawing she had completed the night before. It was two women dancing. As she said, “When women meet and greet each other, they dance. When men meet, they make war.”

How right she was, so many men in our world seem only to want to make war. And now, President George Bush wants even to make war in outer space. It seems incredible to me that we cannot get the Peace Message accepted by the peoples of the world. I think most people do want peace, but our leaders seem only to think of war.

Your mother made her contribution to a world of peace full of love and laughter through her art. I’m sure you must all be very proud of her achievements. I’m so pleased to have known her and shared with her some experience of joy. I know all who met her were touched by her. Nancy Ruth whom you have been in contact with was one such. We had such fun as your Mother and Nancy Ruth traded shoes.

My Mother died some years ago, but she truly lives on in my heart and mind, and I know yours will do the same with you. There is hardly a day when I do not think of her. Your Mother’s spirit will continue to hover over you, and over all of us who had the privilege of knowing her.

Please convey my sincere sympathies to all the family. Agnes Nanogak Goose was a woman of real substance.

Love, Margaret Fulton

more to consider

Images of Inuit art are all around us. Most of us look at those images and think automatically about what they mean to us in our society. No wonder we often treat it as decoration, or don’t understand it or get it wrong. Agnes Nanogak and others make it possible to look at Inuit life and history through Inuit eyes.

resources for this story
  • Cerny Inuit Collection, Switzerland. Includes early and contemporary Canadian Inuit artwork, as well as contemporary artwork from different circumpolar peoples in Russia and other northern regions.
  • Mount Saint Vincent Art Gallery, Halifax, has 20 Agnes Nanogak drawings
  • More Tales from the Igloo, illustrated by Nanogak, Hurtig Publishers | 1986
  • The Canadian Encyclopedia, second edition, Hurtig Publishers, has entries on the Inuit, Inuit Art, Inuit Co-operatives, Inuit Myth and Legend and Inuit Printmaking.
  • Art of the Inuit: Artists at Work, National Film Board, No. 0174216. Request this from your local library or the NFB at 1-800-267-7710.
  • Women of Baker Lake, Canadian Living magazine, a feature about their art and stories made out of cloth | September 1996
  • Women of the North, Canadian Woman Studies/les cahiers de la femme, volume 14, number 4, CWS/CF, 212 Founders College, York University, 4700 Keele Street, North York, ON M3J 1P3, cwscf@yorku.ca | fall 1994
  • Inuit Tapirisat of Canada, e-mail: itc@maji.com, 170 Laurier Avenue West, Suite 510, Ottawa, Ontario K1P 5V5, (613 238-8181).
  • Inuit Circumpolar conference, Canadian office, 170 Laurier Avenue West, Suite 504, Ottawa, Ontario K1P 5V5, (613 563-2642). For more information on the 115,000 Inuit across the Arctic region of the world.
  • Women and the Arts: A Cultural Legacy, Status of Women Canada, email: whissela@swc-cfc.gc.ca, 360 Albert Street, 7th Floor, ON K1A 1C3 (613 995-7835, TDD 613 996-1322). This booklet was produced to mark Women’s History Month 1996.
  • The Ontario Women’s History Network sponsored a poster on women and the arts which you can purchase, along with posters on the themes of Women’s History Month in prior years. The 1996 poster includes the names of 156 Canadian women artists, sculptors, writers, dancers, photographers and musicians. Contact Green Dragon Press, 135 George Street South, #902. Toronto, Ontario M5A 4E8 Phone: (416) 251-6366 Fax: (416) 251-6365.

This feature was first published on section15.ca’s predecessor site CoolWomen.

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