Elisapie Isaac is a multidisciplinary artist who is simultaneously Francophone and Aboriginal. Born in Salluit, Nunavik, Elisapie's mother is Inuk and father is from Newfoundland. She spent her entire childhood in Salluit, a small village with barely 1,350 inhabitants, located in northern Quebec. Salluit, which means “The Thin Ones” in Inuktitut, is one of the northernmost Inuit communities in Quebec and Canada, and is accessible only by air.
“I lived there for 21 years before leaving,” Elisapie said in an interview with La Presse. “We spent our winters in the village, but every spring we left the village behind and headed to our summer camp. We travelled by ski-doo on ice that was so thin it was blue. We pulled a canoe and took all the provisions we needed for many months.”
Following the death of her parents not long after she turned 18, the women of Elisapie’s community helped her regain her equilibrium. These Inuit women became “cool aunties, women who offered me unconditional love and unbelievable generosity, which is very much a part of Inuit culture,” Elisapie explained in an interview with the magazine L’Itinéraire.
An accomplished artist, Elisapie has made her mark in the world of music as well as in cinema. As a musician, she composes and sings contemporary and traditional music in French, English and Inuktitut. Quebec and Inuit women are major sources of inspiration, and she thought of them as she wrote the lyrics for her most recent album, Traveling Love, released in 2012.
In her work, Elisapie addresses issues related to femininity and feminism and seeks to explore the contradictions that women carry. “Sometimes we feel intense, lost and overwhelmed by emotions and, at the same time, we want to be strong in the face of men,” she said. “We don’t want to be taken for granted.” The internal conflict between “the sensitive woman and an instinctive beast” is mentioned in her biography on her website.
* Lyrics from Wish Song (There will be Stars)
PHOTOS Elisapie Isaac, a multidisciplinary artist who is Francophone and Aboriginal | Salluit (Quebec) which means “The Thin Ones” in Inuktitut
As a filmmaker, in 2001 she won fourth prize in the Aboriginal filmmakers category awarded by the National Film Board of Canada, and started production of her film Sila piqujipat (If the Weather Permits). This personal documentary was made at a time when Elisapie was questioning her own identity and the differences between her and her ancestors, after leaving the far north in 1999 for Montreal, “where no one hunts caribou or fishes for Arctic char.”
If the Weather Permits was shown at many festivals and won a number of prizes, including the Rigoberta Menchu Tum Grand Prize at the Montreal First Peoples’ Festival, and the Spirit Award given out by Indian Summer Film and Video Image. In 2003, Elisapie also received the Prix Claude-Jutra du meilleur espoir de l’année, at the Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois.
Even though Elisapie now lives in Montreal, she often returns to Nunavik to rediscover the landscapes of the far north and reconnect with her roots and Inuit culture –a culture that she will endeavour to keep alive through her art.
Watch the full documentary "If the Weather Permits" by Elisapie Isaac, National Film Board
Watch an interview with Elisapie Isaac, produced by the Montreal Gazette