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From Inuit fashion to suicide prevention, Malaya Qaunirq Chapman opens up about her passions

RAINA+WILSON/The Globe and Mail

This is part of The North, a Globe investigation of unprecedented change to the climate, culture and politics of Canada's last frontier. Join the conversation with #GlobeNorth

Malaya Qaunirq Chapman, Globe Style's model for its Arctic fashion shoot, was born in Iqaluit before moving as a child to Pangnirtung, a Baffin Island hamlet 40 kilometres south of the Arctic Circle. After spending her adolescence in Los Angeles with her adoptive parents, the 25-year-old returned to Nunavut's capital, where she models for many of the territory's designers and works as a reporter on the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. The Globe spoke to her in Iqaluit about Inuit design, the anti-sealing movement and the challenges of working in her tradition-bound society.

What inspires you most about Inuit design?

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There is so much love and passion that goes into the pieces. Plus I know the artists. It's such an honour to have the opportunity to show their beautiful garments. Fur is commonly used in Inuit fashion.

What is your view of the anti-sealing movement?

I think the controversy started by showing these cute seals in commercials. But they [the activists] are turning a blind eye to the fact that we use the seal for survival. In the North, we use the seal for absolutely everything. We use it for meat, for nourishment; that's something that my ancestors have always done. The reason I am sitting here now is because my ancestors survived on this [food], which has lots of nutritional value. We also use the bones for tools, for needles to create more garments. And then we use the fur to keep warm. So each and every part of the seal is used and never wasted.

You represented Nunavut at the Miss Canada International pageant in Toronto in 2011. What was that like?

It wasn't a typical pageant where you had to have the best body and wear a bikini and you were judged based on just the way you looked. You had to have a platform and talk about your passion.

You chose to highlight suicide prevention in the North.

Suicide is really something that has become an epidemic in Nunavut. And it's 100-per-cent preventable. There just needs to be more resources. We've been too silent for too long. I wanted to bring it out in the open so people could start talking about it. Because the sooner you acknowledge something, the sooner you can fix it [and] the less you're in denial.

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You're now working as a television reporter in Nunavut. What are some of the challenges of your job?

One is to get people to open up about issues they're facing. The Inuit don't like to speak with the media. It's part of our culture – it's taboo to talk about deep-rooted issues. I really encourage them to open up, no matter how hard it is.

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