A Collingwood woman with roots in Nunavut has overcome a lot in her life to get her where she is today, and is working to make Collingwood a more inclusive place for First Nations and Inuit people.
For this week’s edition of People of Collingwood we spoke with Muckpaloo Ipeelie, 33, entrepreneur and member of the Unity Collective.
Q: For 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.
That’s where the largest population of Inuit are outside of Inuit-traditional land. In Ottawa, I was very connected to my culture, and there’s a lot of multiculturalism there.
My mother was a full Inuk person. I was born in Iqualuit, Nunavut. She came down to Ottawa with me when I was three months old and my sister was 14. She had decided it would be a better place for her to raise children as a single mom.
When I was 12, she left the family. My mother was a residential-school survivor but she left us because of the trauma that broke her spirit as a child during her time in the school.
There were four girls (including me) by then. It was very traumatic for me and my sisters.
I was left with my stepdad. When I was 14, he decided he could better take care of us four girls as a single dad if we moved near his family in Welland, Ont.
It was very shocking for me being an Inuk girl then in an all-white classroom. It was very culturally different.
After some time, we got adjusted to life but my dad was having trouble finding work there. He had a work friend who suggested finding work in Collingwood. He did that, and also found it was a great place to live.
Shortly after, we all moved to Collingwood.
Q: What is your job?
A: I’m a certified medical laboratory technologist, but I decided that I wanted to pursue helping my people the best I can. Now, I’m the CEO for the Urban Inuit Identity Project.
When I was 14, my Inuit support wasn’t there. I felt a very large lacking for Indigenous support and culture.
Inuit are mostly in big cities like Toronto and Ottawa. Welland didn’t have other Inuit.
I tried native friendship centres. They didn’t have the background to help me. So I continued on my journey to regain my culture and find what it means to be an Inuk.
In Barrie, I went to the Barrie Native Friendship Centre. There are many times when an Inuk person tries to seek support but there aren’t enough resources or educational background on how to help us.
A lot of times, we end up seeking a new, First Nations culture, but we continue to lose our own.
As I repaired the damage done from when my mom left, I went on a journey to fix the generational trauma I experienced.
When I was 28, I was in a well enough 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 about Inuk values. We are a distinct people and it’s important to acknowledge that.
I was in a health-care program. We were going to be helping all Canadians. Throughout my program, there wasn’t a day where we talked about residential schools, or the ’60s Scoop, or the disparities that Indigenous people are facing. It’s important for health-care workers to be able to provide compassionate care.
The program was extremely competitive. I’m a competitive person by nature. When I was there, I chose RVH (Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre) as my placement. It’s an excellent hospital.
There was a moment where I was competing with other students who didn’t even live in the area for that placement. It hurt me very much because these people knew me and knew that’s where my family was and I felt like, as an Inuk person in Canada, we see things through a different lens.
We’re always constantly aware of systemic racism or systemic bias, and the trials and tribulations we have had to go through to be successful.
I was competing against people with privilege. These people could go anywhere. Some of them were 18, or 20. 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 Indigenous support there. Again, I was the minority. I went to the Barrie Native Friendship Centre. I thought I could teach Inuit culture because I was becoming aware that the Inuit distinction wasn’t well-known.
I had a lot of support. People started to reach out to me. This was something that made me feel good.
That’s how that started.
Ever since then I’ve been advocating for Inuit identities to be empowered. I’ve learned a lot along my journey that has helped me.
Q: This year, you joined up to lend your voice to the Unity Collective. How did you hear about it, and what made you want to join up?
A: When I was working at the Collingwood General and Marine Hospital, I was there as a medical lab technician and was on their inclusion council.
Through my advocacy there, one of the doctors referred me to the Unity Collective.
Q: From your standpoint, what could Collingwood do better to address the experiences of Indigenous people, or Inuit people?
A: Last year, I attended Orange Shirt Day. We met at the Awen Gathering Place.
I noticed it was very inclusive of First Nations and Metis people but it lacked an Inuit perspective. I’m constantly searching for a safe place to be myself. It felt a little bit lonely for me.
I spoke with Jennifer Parker (the town’s co-ordinator of community well-being and inclusion) about it and she invited me to bring cultural awareness to the Inukshuk that’s at Sunset Point. I’m working with them and there’s going to be an unveiling in June with educational pieces and materials that go along with it to bring more Inuit culture to Collingwood.
Q: How does it make you feel to be able to contribute in that way?
A: It feels fantastic that people are acknowledging that they can do better.
Even at CGMH, they are working on teaching staff about First Nations, Metis and Inuit distinctions so they can provide more compassionate care. I'm also part of the Collingwood Indigenous Circle Facebook page, where people can come together to connect with each other and have a safe space.
It’s wonderful. It’s amazing to me that the Town of Collingwood, even if they don’t have many Inuit residents, are aware of (these issues) and have enough humility to bring that up.
It means a lot to me.
For our feature People of Collingwood, we’ll be speaking with interesting people who are either from or are contributing to the Collingwood community in some way, letting them tell their own stories in their own words. This feature will run on CollingwoodToday every weekend. If you’d like to nominate or suggest someone to be featured in People of Collingwood, email [email protected].