Ruby Arngna’naaq, writer, filmmaker and tireless advocate for her community in Baker Lake, Nunavut, passed away suddenly 11 October, 2013. Born in Schultz Lake, NWT, in 1947, she was raised during a time that brought profound changes to her Inuit community. Ruby’s life work was deeply influenced by these changes, including the transition from traditional to capitalist modes of economy and life, the transition from barter economy to the daily use of money, and the Canadian federal government’s initiative that introduced art production to Arctic communities as an income-generating activity. As a young artist, Ruby played a key role in establishing and managing artist collectives: in 1970 she was a founding member of the art-producing Sanavik Inuit Cooperative in Baker Lake and one of Sanavik’s first printmaking shop managers and art directors. She worked in the Inuit cultural sector as a political activist, a representative on arts boards and marketing agencies and as a Northern Liaison for “The First Minister’s Conference on Aboriginal Rights and Aboriginal Consultation on Justice Issues.”
Ruby’s creative work centered on writing and video production in direct relationship with her social awareness and political activism. She co-produced Inuit Myths and Legends for the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation (IBC), and co-directed Ikajurti: Midwifery in the Canadian Arctic, for IBC in 1990. As a member of the Art and Cold Cash Collective in Baker Lake, Nunavut, which focused on producing art and cultural experiences that interrogate the relationship between art and money, Ruby produced a series of videos, The Money Stories. Her writing “I Treated Money like Caribou,” published in the book Art and Cold Cash (YYZ 2009), provides a vivid first person account on how her life, on individual and community levels, was affected by the introduction of money and changing economic conditions.
Ruby’s self-published catalogue, Ingminirraqtuq (Life or Death by One’s Own Initiative) (1992), is an important document of a residency of the same name for Inuit women at the Banff Centre that Ruby co-curated with Jack Butler. It subsequently became a touring exhibition with six venues including “The Aboriginal Consultation on Family Violence” (Ottawa 1993), “Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples and the Canadian Committee on Suicide Prevention” (Iqaluit, 1994).
Ruby’s activism extended to participating and speaking on conferences such as TransCanada Three: Literature, Institutions, Citizenship (Mount Allison University, New Brunswick, 2009), where Ruby was a keynote speaker. She was scheduled to speak on the “Symposium on Decolonial Aesthetics from the Americas,” in Toronto, on 11 October, 2013, the day when her sudden death occurred. The next day, participants of the symposium fondly remembered her in an improvised ceremony, citing personal stories of their encounter with Ruby that showed her not only as a dedicated activist and an artist of great integrity but a loving, caring person who left profound impressions in everyone around her. Ruby left an important legacy through her activism and creative work, and just as importantly through her humanism and fierce wisdom.
— Written by Gabriella Solti
Note: This article edited on 7 February 2014. Arngna’naaq’s birth place was originally listed as Baker Lake.