Remembering Mathewsie Tunnillie 1984 – 2009

Weather: -16c; grey and snowy

Cape Dorset (Kinngait), Nunavut – Ever since I knew I was coming to do a story in Cape Dorset, I was hoping to meet a young carver named Mathewsie Tunnillie.

I got one of his carvings for Christmas this year. It was beautiful and I loved it.

Mathewsie was exactly the kind of young, emerging artist that I wanted to talk to for my story.

I wasn’t familiar with Mr. Tunnillie’s work before so I started researching him. I learned he was one of the rare, young Cape Dorset carvers that was really making a name for himself.

The Elca London Gallery in Montreal specializes in Inuit art and they called him one of Dorset’s most promising young carvers.

They also said he had committed suicide.

However, as I was speaking to people in Dorset as I planned my trip and story, nobody would confirm it. There was just a lot of awkward silence at the other end of the line.

So now that we’re in town, I ask Bill, the studio manager how I might find him. Bill doesn’t know, but takes me to see Toonoo Sharky, a well-known carver who happens to be filling in for the studio’s soapstone manager that week.

“Eilís here is interested in meeting Mathewsie Tunnillie,” Bill said. “But is he…uh…gone…”

Toonoo looks at the ground and nods his head. “Yes he is.” Toonoo goes on to tell me what a quiet and very nice guy Mathewsie was.

“Has it been long?,” I ask.

Toonoo tells me it was in 2009 and goes on to tell me the exact day and month. I was so stunned I just realized I didn’t even write it down.

“You remember the exact date?” I ask.

Toonoo nods his head. “Yes. Because my younger brother killed himself on the same day too.”

Dancing Bear by Cape Dorset carver Mathewsie Tunnillie.

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

One thought on “Remembering Mathewsie Tunnillie 1984 – 2009

  • Friday, May 29, 2015 at 07:20

    During a visit to Stratford, Ont. in September 2009, to spend time with my older brother Brian Reynolds and his amazing wife Gayle at their home on Bay Street, truely fantastic, loving, wonderful and interesting people to share time with. During my time there, I was introduced to Gallery Indigena and was massively impressed by the treasures that I discovered there, spoilt for choice barely described my feelings! After much deliberation, I fell in love with and purchased a Serpentine sculpture/carving of a Mother and Cub bear by Mathewsie Tunnillie. It has taken pride of place on a shelf in the lounge of my UK home and been admired by all those lucky enough to feast upon it’s beauty.
    I am deeply saddened by the passing of both gentlemen, time will never erase them from my
    memory R.I.P.

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