Entrepreneur works to strengthen Inuit identities in Collingwood and beyond

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People of Collingwood: Muckpaloo Ipeelie, entrepreneur and member of the Unity Collective

A Collingwood woman with roots in Nunavut has overcome a lot in her life to get to where she is today and is working to make Collingwood a more inclusive place for First Nations and Inuit.

For this week’s edition of People of Collingwood, we spoke with Muckpaloo Ipeelie, 33, entrepreneur and member of the Unity Collective.

Q: How long have you lived in the Collingwood area?

A: Since I was 19.

Q: What brought you to the Collingwood area?

A: I grew up in Ottawa.

This is where the largest Inuit population is found outside of traditional Inuit lands. In Ottawa, I was very connected to my culture, and there is a lot of multiculturalism there.

My mother was a full Inuk. I was born in Iqualuit, Nunavut. She came to Ottawa with me when I was three months old and my sister was 14. She decided it would be a better place for her to raise children as a single mother.

When I was 12, she left the family. My mother was a survivor of residential schools, but she left us because of the trauma that shattered her childish spirit during her time at school.

There were then four girls (including me). It was very traumatic for me and my sisters.

I stayed with my stepfather. When I was 14, he decided he could better care for our four daughters as a single father if we moved closer to his family in Welland, Ontario.

It was very shocking for me to be an Inuit girl then in an all-white class. It was very different culturally.

After a while, we adjusted to life, but my father had difficulty finding work there. He had a work friend who suggested he find work in Collingwood. He did and also found it to be a great place to live.

Soon after, we all moved to Collingwood.

Q: What is your job?

A: I am a certified medical laboratory technologist, but I have decided that I want to continue helping my people as best I can. Today, I’m CEO of the Urban Inuit Identity Project.

When I was 14, my Inuit support was not there. I felt a very great lack of native support and culture.

The Inuit live mainly in large cities like Toronto and Ottawa. Welland had no other Inuit.

I tried the Native Friendship Centres. They didn’t have the experience to help me. So I continued my journey to rediscover my culture and discover what it means to be an Inuk.

In Barrie, I went to the Barrie Native Friendship Centre. Many times an Inuk will try to ask for help, but there are not enough resources or training on how to help us.

Often we end up looking for a new indigenous culture, but we keep losing our own.

As I repaired the damage caused by my mother’s departure, I embarked on a journey to repair the generational trauma I experienced.

When I was 28, I was in a pretty good place to go to school. I went to school in Sudbury because I felt there was Indigenous support there and an Indigenous population at Cambrian College.

I learned Inuk values. We are a distinct people and it is important to recognize that.

I was in a health care program. We were going to help all Canadians. Throughout my show, there was not a single day where we talked about residential schools, the Sixties Scoop, or the disparities that Indigenous peoples face. It is important that healthcare workers can provide compassionate care.

The program was extremely competitive. I am a competitive person by nature. When I was there, I chose RVH (Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre) as my internship. It is an excellent hospital.

There was a time when I was competing with other students who didn’t even live in the area for this internship. It hurt me a lot because these people knew me and knew that was where my family was and I felt like as Inuk in Canada we see things from a different perspective.

We are always constantly aware of systemic racism or systemic bias, and the trials and tribulations we had to go through to be successful.

I was competing with privileged people. These people could go anywhere. Some of them were 18 or 20 years old. They went to school right out of college and had the means to do anything. It was frustrating for me.

I ended up getting the placement.

There wasn’t as much native support there. Again, I was the minority. I went to the Barrie Native Friendship Center. I thought I could teach Inuit culture because I realized that the Inuit distinction was not well known.

I had a lot of support. People started contacting me. It was something that made me feel good.

That’s how it started.

Since then, I have campaigned for Inuit identities to be strengthened. I have learned a lot throughout my journey which has helped me.

Q: This year you joined to lend your voice to the Unity Collective. How did you hear about it and what made you want to sign up?

A: When I worked at Collingwood General and Marine Hospital, I was there as a medical lab technician and was on their inclusion board.

Thanks to my advocacy there, one of the doctors referred me to Unity Collective.

Q: From your perspective, what could Collingwood do better to respond to the experiences of Indigenous peoples or Inuit?

A: Last year I participated in Orange Shirt Day. We met at the Awen meeting place.

I noticed that it was very inclusive for First Nations and Métis, but lacked an Inuit perspective. I am constantly looking for a safe place to be myself. I felt a bit alone.

I spoke with Jennifer Parker (the city’s Community Wellness and Inclusion Coordinator) about this and she invited me to bring cultural awareness to the Inukshuk which is at Sunset Point. I work with them and there will be an unveiling in June with educational pieces and materials that go with it to bring more Inuit culture to Collingwood.

Q: How does it feel to be able to contribute in this way?

A: It’s fantastic that people recognize that they can do better.

Even at CGMH, they teach staff about First Nations, Métis, and Inuit distinctions so they can provide more compassionate care. I am also part of the Collingwood Indigenous Circle Facebook page where people can come together to connect with each other and have a safe space.

That’s wonderful. It’s amazing to me that the town of Collingwood, even though it doesn’t have many Inuit residents, is aware of (these issues) and has enough humility to talk about them.

It means a lot to me.

For our People of Collingwood feature, we’ll speak with interesting people who are part of, or contribute to, the Collingwood community in some way, letting them tell their own stories in their own words. This feature will work on CollingwoodToday every weekend. If you would like to nominate or suggest someone to be featured in People of Collingwood, email [email protected]

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