Leanne Thompson

Raven Spreads Her Wings and Flies: Leanne Thompson’s Exploration of Inuit Culture

Her name, Tulugak, means Raven and through a unique program for Northern youth, she had the opportunity to spread her wings and fly.  Leanne Thompson is a second  year student in Nunavut Sivuniksavut (NS) and she’s originally from Rankin Inlet. When she was two, she moved to Canmore, Alberta to be treated for acute myeloid leukemia, spending nine months in hospital. Since her bone marrow transplant she’s been almost 18 years cancer free. Her family lived in Canmore for 8 years and then they moved to Ottawa. 

As part of Nunavut Sivuniksavut, a two-year program, she is learning about Inuit history, from nomadic times, to whaling, trapping and initiatives like Project Surname where Inuit people are getting their Inuktitut names back. She’s also learned about the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation and land claims, about circumpolar Inuit, political science and community development. 

After growing up in the south, much of what she is learning is new because schools outside of the North didn’t cover that kind of material. Learning more about her culture and history has made a big impact on Thompson. “When I came to NS, I was like, ‘Wow!’ I felt so much pride in being Inuk. I was so happy,” she recalls. She’s had the opportunity to meet so many people, hear so many different dialects and stories from across Nunavut.

During her childhood, her mother was the only Inuk person around her and she would share about her culture but Thompson found those lessons didn’t “stick” with her. Now as part of this program, she’s learned throat singing, sewing and traditional songs. Her mom encouraged her to apply when she was otherwise considering Algonquin College and Ottawa University. Her acceptance was exciting as she was concerned she wouldn’t get to participate. 

When she was thinking about attending a mainstream post secondary institution, it was to pursue something artistic that would let her draw, like landscaping. But when she learned more about land claims in the program, she realized it’s an area where she wanted to help. In the end, she didn’t have to choose between artistic expression and learning about her culture because the program had space for her to be creative.

Illustration by Shaikara David

Two of her designs won a logo contest that NS was running to generate designs for swag. Now her art is available for purchase on shirts and sweaters and she designs under an Inuktitut name, Tulukara, which means Little Raven. She loves sharing Inuit culture in her art, with landscapes featuring inukshuks on the land, fish and the Northern Lights. Performing as part of the program helped her become less shy and build confidence, encouraged by the loving and warm staff and students she was getting to know. 

Her advice for others considering the program is, “Definitely go for it. I had no idea what I was gonna do. I was very lost. But once I attended this NS program, I really found myself. I connected with a lot of other youth that were like me. Go for it. I made like a second family, I'd say.”

One of her biggest obstacles was homesickness. Even though her parents weren’t too far away, she still missed them. Connecting with other people made the time go faster and helped her make lots of memories. She found calling her family, going for walks, taking a bath and trying to stay calm helped, too, in keeping her focused on her mental wellness. 

If she could give her younger self advice it would be, “Just keep being creative. Keep doing this stuff you do, it helps in the future. You can do this. Stay unique.” Her mom would sometimes scold her when she was doing strange things creatively and she would just want to encourage her younger self that she is on the right track and to continue following her dreams. 

With an Inuktitut name that means Raven and a program that has given her the opportunity to explore her culture, Leanne Thompson has been able to spread her wings and fly. Raised away from the North, she’s been able to come home to a new community that shares her traditions. A bone marrow transplant gave her a second chance at life, and Nunavut Sivuniksavut gave her a second chance at Inuk living. 

Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.

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Key Parts

  • Career
  • Identity
  • Province/Territory
  • Date
    December 20, 2023
  • Post Secondary Institutions
    No PSI found.
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