Inuit elder handcrafts new Ook mascots to mark NAIT’s 50th anniversary
NAIT and the NAIT Students’ Association (NAITSA) have gratefully accepted two ookpik mascots handcrafted by the institute’s Inuit elder, Peggy Richardson, to commemorate NAIT’s 50th anniversary. These Ooks stand approximately 10 inches tall. Richardson made both in the traditional Inuit style, using traditional tools.
“I am honoured to accept an Ook on behalf of all NAIT staff and faculty, both past and present,” said Dr. Glenn Feltham, NAIT president and CEO. “Over the course of the last five decades, the ookpik has become an iconic symbol for NAIT, the northernmost post-secondary institute of its size in Canada. The Ook will be displayed prominently as we celebrate our 50th anniversary, and will continue to be a powerful symbol for decades to come.”
The ookpik - which means snowy owl in Inuktitut - is NAIT’s official mascot. The institute’s sports teams are called the Ooks, which is short for ookpik. Ookpiks are an important part of Inuit culture, and are regarded as protectors.
“NAITSA is very excited and thankful that Peggy Richardson took the time to create two new ookpiks,” said Teagan Gahler, NAITSA president. “The Ook is part of our culture at NAIT and we feel it is very important for students to feel proud of their NAIT roots. The ookpik represents a unified institution between students and staff.”
In the early 1960s, as a young girl growing up in the community of Hall Beach, located on the shore of Foxe Basin, in present day Nunavut, Richardson used to make ookpiks for the men and women working on the Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line – a system of radar stations in the Arctic. Her father worked along the DEW line too, and would take her orders for ookpiks and deliver them for her. The ookpik was a popular symbol of Canada during this period.
Over the course of three or four summers, Richardson estimates she made hundreds of ookpiks, measuring either three or four inches tall. The smaller ones she sold for $2.50, and the larger ones for $3.50.
In the late 1960s, Richardson attended NAIT for academic upgrading. The clothes Richardson wore she bought from the Sears and Eaton’s catalogues, using money she made selling her handcrafted ookpiks. Peggy went on to become one of the first teacher’s aids in northern Canada. Today, the Edmonton resident serves as NAIT’s Inuit elder.
Prior to making the new Ooks for NAIT, Richardson had not made an ookpik in roughly 30 years.
She was inspired to create new ookpiks for NAIT after learning in April that the institute had launched a search for its missing original Ook, which was a gift from the Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources to NAITSA in 1964.
“I felt for NAIT, losing their original mascot, so I offered to make the ookpiks,” said Richardson. “They are handmade in the traditional fashion. I am honoured to present these to NAIT and the NAIT students’ association.”
The original Ook - which is made from seal skin and is roughly eight to ten inches tall – has not been seen in several years. To date, the institute has received many tips from the public about the possible whereabouts of Ook, but the little guy remains missing. NAIT has also accepted donations from the public of several toy ookpiks which will be displayed throughout the 50th anniversary celebrations. The reward of a five-course Chef’s Table for six at Ernest’s dining room to whoever finds Ook still stands.
The Ooks handcrafted by Richardson will be displayed prominently as part of NAIT’s 50th anniversary and find long-term homes in NAIT’s executive office and the NAITSA office.
High resolution photos to accompany this story are available for download on NAIT’s Flickr page: www.flickr.com/nait.
NAIT is one of Canada’s leading polytechnics, with almost 80,000 registrations worldwide in key areas including science, technology and the environment, business, health care and trades. Known for real-world education and student success, NAIT also engages with business and industry in applied research and innovation and provides corporate training around the world. NAIT enrolled its first students - 29 communication electrician apprentices - in 1962 and this year celebrates its 50th anniversary.
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