Out of Office: Katajjaq

By CBA/ABC National July-August 2014

Reviving an Inuit art form.

Out of Office: Katajjaq

Marie Belleau celebrates her culture and her artistic side with
throat singing, an Inuit tradition enjoyed by people of all ages.
Photo by Vincent Desrosiers.

In 2006, Marie Belleau attended the International Training Center for Indigenous Peoples in Nuuk, Greenland. What she learned there sparked her interest in indigenous rights and the international legal system. She went on to law school, receiving her LL.B from Laval University and her JD from the University of Ottawa, then moved home to Nunavut to put her knowledge to the service of her fellow Inuit. 

She now works in Iqaluit as Legal Counsel at Nunavut Tunngavik Incorporated (NTI), which represents the Inuit of Nunavut and is dedicated to working with the federal and territorial governments to realize the full implementation of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement.

Photo of Marie Belleau by
Alice Beaudoin.

Upon her return, Marie started throat singing. She learned the art from friends, family and whoever was willing to teach her.

What does throat singing mean to you?

Throat singing connects me to my culture. It was mostly Inuit women who used to throat sing and it was important for me to learn that tradition and embrace it and pass it on. It is also always a pleasure to present it to a variety of audiences as it is so unique and intriguing for most people. I love taking time to practise with friends and family as we share an enjoyable time of laughter and creativity. It also gives me the opportunity to celebrate my artistic side. Since high school, I have loved being on stage and presenting different art forms and this one, being directly linked to my culture, brings me the most pride and joy. Throat singing, at one point in recent history, was close to becoming a lost art form but Inuit have reclaimed it and it is now being taught to Inuit of all ages. I am happy to be a part of bringing back such an important and beautiful tradition.

Some songs are called “competition song” where two women (or men) singing together try to throw each other off and make the other one make a mistake. Usually one person leads the song and the other one follows so the one leading tries to use difficult sounds that the other person may not know in order to win the friendly competition. You’ll notice that most songs end with a burst of laughter.

What is next for you with throat singing?

I am performing with Kathleen Merritt in Inuvik at the Great Northern Arts Festival the 3rd week of July. I also perform a mix of throat singing and beat boxing as part of a gumboots dance collective that I am part of called Kasuktaqtiit and we have a performance lined up in September. I will continue practising and performing katajjaq whenever I am invited to.

5 songs on Marie’s playlist

1. Wish Song – Elisapie Isaac

2. Sisters – A Tribe Called Red 

3. Nunaga  – Jaaji Okpik 

4. Nuiuarput  – Nanook

5. L’Eaumélie– Webster

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