Qaumajuq: The Naming

Project Spotlight: Reflections on integrating Indigenous languages at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

Indigenous Sovereignty Representation Possible Futures
A view looking across Qaumaujuq’s distinctive curving granite facade, with blue sky behind at left.

Over the summer of 2020, the WAG gathered a circle of language keepers from Indigenous nations across Inuit Nunangat and Treaty 1, Dakota and Métis territory. In an effort to support reconciliation and Indigenous knowledge transmission, we invited the circle to give Indigenous names to the Inuit Art Centre and the spaces within. 

A view looking across Qaumaujuq’s distinctive curving granite facade, with blue sky behind at left.


What was formerly known as the Inuit Art Centre is now called Qaumajuq, pronounced kow-ma-yourk or how-ma-yourq, Inuktitut for “it is bright, it is lit.” And in a true act of reconciliation, the circle gave the Winnipeg Art Gallery building an Ojibway name: Biindigin Biwaasaeyaah (pronounced BEEN- deh-gen Bi-WAH-say-yah), an Anishinaabemowin phrase meaning, “come on in, the dawn of light is here.” The names provide entry points into Indigenous traditional knowledge, reflecting the design and vision for the new centre and expanded WAG.

In the galleries, visitors will find Inuit names from several dialects of Inuktitut, and names from all languages of Indigenous Nations of Manitoba. Language keepers provided spellings based on their regional dialects, which may differ from other regional spellings and pronunciations within each language group.

What’s with the two pronunciations for Qaumajuq?! There are many sub-dialects of Inuktitut, including North and South Baffin, Labrador, Nunavik, Aivilik, Kivalliq and Natsilingmiutut. The other dialect group in Canada, Western Canadian Inuktun, includes Inuinnaqtun, Siglitun and Uummarmiutun, and is spoken in Western Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. The pronunciation HOW-ma-yourq is used in Nunavik, while KOW-ma-yourk is used across other regions. Linguists call the Inuktitut “Q” a uvular plosive—it comes from the back of the throat after a quick inhale—and there is no equivalent in English. The sound falls between the English “K” and “H” sounds.

A view from beneath Qaumaujuq’s distinctive granite facade, with a blue sky in the background at top right.

“I believe the new name of Qaumajuq will bring the curious ones to come and see, to want to know more about Inuit art and our history. The WAG made a very bold and much appreciated move by giving the building’s spaces Indigenous names, the first for a large institution. My hope is that others in Canada and around the world will follow the Gallery’s lead.” — Theresie Tungilik, Inuktitut Language Keeper and member of the WAG’s Board of Governors and Indigenous Advisory Circle.

This is an important step on the Gallery’s decolonization journey. Language preservation is directly referenced in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Article 13, as well as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action, Number 14i.

A view from beneath Qaumaujuq’s distinctive curving granite facade, looking up to the sky between two portions of the building.

Dr. Julie Nagam and Dr. Heather Igloliorte, co-chairs of the WAG Indigenous Advisory Circle, provided leadership throughout the initiative. Indigenous languages Inuktitut, Anishnaabemowin (Ojibway), Nêhiyawêwin (Cree), Dakota, Dene, and Michif (Métis) will now have a more powerful presence throughout the gallery’s spaces and welcome visitors to the WAG. 

“Seeing and using Indigenous names is a powerful thing, and the names help to assert Indigenous agency and authority. I believe the names will remind visitors that we are on Indigenous land.” — Krista Ulujuk Zawadski, Inuktitut Language Keeper, member of the WAG’s Indigenous Advisory Circle, and INUA co-curator.


Holly Carpenter • Elder Dr. Mary Courchene • Elder Verna Demontigny • EJ Fontaine • Johnny Kasudluak • Taqralik Partridge • Diane Powderhorn • Maggie Pululik • Eric Robinson • Marge Roscelli • Dr. Niigaan Sinclair • Theresie Tunglik • Katie Winters • Krista Ulujuk Zawadski 


Fred Ford • Jarita Greyeyes • Jaimie Isaac • Kablusiak • Julia Lafreniere • Tanya Lukin-Linklater • Cathy Mattes • Jocelyn Piirainen • Sherry Farrell Racette • Daina Warren 


Visitors are invited to practice their pronunciation at

Special thanks to Maxine Anguk and Julia Lafreniere for voicing the pronunciations on the website.


This story is part of the Qaumajuq Partner Spotlight. View more content from the Spotlight here.