You have probably never heard the name Chantel Emiktaut or anything about the Nunavut junior women’s basketball team, but in one community up north, they are kind of a big deal.
In 2014 Emiktaut was a member of the squad when they made history in their territory becoming the first Nunavut women’s basketball team not only to win a game at the Arctic Winter Games but to finish with a medal.
“When they found out we made history, our story went viral in Nunavut,” recounted the 19-year-old who along with her teammates took home bronze. “It was the greatest feeling to have the first ever [women’s basketball] medal around our necks. The emotional impact it had to many people from Nunavut made my team even stronger.”
Emiktaut who competed for the North American Indigenous Games (NAIG) for the first time as a rookie in 2014 will be back representing her territory at the Toronto 2017 NAIG. Intrigued by the travel and social aspects of being on a sports team, she took up basketball while in her early teens.
“My high school announced there was going to be a tournament in Baker Lake [Nunavut],” Emiktaut said. “When my friends and I found out we would get to travel and have fun together we started practicing. Although we had barely touched a basketball before then, we noticed that we were pretty good so we just kept going.”
The Inuk athlete has since graduated high school and is now a student at the Nunavut Sivuniksavut College in Ottawa, where students are given a unique cultural, and academic learning experience designed to equip them to contribute to the building of Nunavut.
“My goal after first year Inuit studies is to attend the environmental technology program,” says Emiktaut. “I’d like to become a wildlife officer now that I know the rights for the territories.”
Coming from a small community of 900 in Coral Harbour, Nunavut, Emiktaut says it took a while for her to adjust to living in the large Metropolitan city of Ottawa.
“It was a big culture shock for sure,” Emiktaut said with a chuckle. “I was so impatient with the streetlights. Back home we only have stop signs so you stop and just go.”
Admittedly a little homesick, Emiktaut says she misses the food more than anything else and is anxious for her next visit home at the end of May.
“We have a subsistence economy where we survive off the land by eating traditional food,” Emiktaut said. “Our main food source is seal and caribou. Eating the food our ancestors did helps to keep our culture alive.”
Excited about the Games in Toronto, the student will travel to Finland as part of a cultural exchange in early May before gearing up for the NAIG in July, which she hopes will introduce more people to the unique culture of the Inuit people.
“There are many Indigenous groups and people often think of us all as one,” Emiktaut said. “We would rather be called Inuit rather than Native because we are really different living in the high arctic. I’ve been representing my territory [playing basketball] for a while now and just having my name on the list and having people know I am representing Nunavut means a lot to me.”