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Obituary

Kananginak Pootoogook: The guiding voice of Cape Dorset artists chronicled the Inuit past Add to ...



In 1997, then governor-general Roméo Leblanc commissioned him to build a nearly 6 foot tall inukshuk in Cape Dorset, which was then disassembled and shipped to Ottawa, where Kananginak and his son Johnny put it back together again on the grounds of Rideau Hall.



He travelled to Vancouver for the Olympics in February 2010, attended the opening of a solo exhibition of his drawings at the Marion Scott Gallery, received the National Aboriginal Achievement Award for the Arts later in the spring and had another solo exhibition at the Museum of Inuit Art in Toronto from February through May, 2010.



Settled disputes



Until about four years ago Kananginak worked at home in Cape Dorset, but he was finding it more physically difficult to carve and decided to spend more time in the Kinngait Studios. Studio manager Bill Ritchie thinks he also wanted to spend more time with the art community in town because he had things to say to them. "He was a real gentle soul, always settling disputes, just one of those guys who was always there to help out."



The younger artists flocked around him in the studio when he took a break from his own work, according to Ritchie. "Even then he was teaching people how to get along and how to work in groups and not to be isolated and sit by yourself as so many drawers do," said Ritchie. "It was a real communal experience when he was around."



Much as he gave to the younger artists, he also gained something: the impulse to work on large scale drawings, as they were doing. These huge pieces represent Kananginak's final artistic flowering. In fact, his last unfinished drawing was a huge depiction of his father's diesel powered Peterhead, a wooden boat with two masts that was used for hauling soapstone, walrus and whale carcases. Ritchie can remember Kananginak being so racked by coughing spells while he was drawing the boat that he would have to stop and hold his chest. "He said it was cancer and he was right."



Earlier this year, Kananginak and his wife Shooyoo went to Ottawa and moved into Largo Baffin, a facility housing Inuit people who have come south for medical treatment. He was diagnosed with lung cancer and underwent surgery in October, but he never recovered from the operation.



As family and friends gathered round, he continued to decline. His son Kavavaok Pootoogook described his father as "a kind man," who "taught him to go hunting and how to tie ropes." When asked what he would miss about him the most, Kavavaok said simply: "Everything."



Kananginak Pootoogook leaves his wife Shooyoo, seven children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.



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