Medium: Wood and Metal
Location: Yellowknife, Northwest Territories
Kenneth Ingniqjuk Mackay, who produces under the label Urban Inuk, is a wood and metal worker of Scottish-Inuk heritage. He designs and crafts uluit (the plural of ulu) using recycled materials, resulting in eco-friendly, ergonomic tools that represent the traditional Inuit values he grew up with. Kenneth's uluit have been enjoyed by both Inuit and non-Inuit alike for cutting everything from country food to pizza.
For our readers who haven't heard of an ulu before, could you briefly explain what it is and what makes it special?
An ulu is a traditional Inuit women's knife. It was and is an important tool in any Inuk kitchen, used for preparing foods, sewing and other tasks like fleshing hides.
Can you describe your process of designing and crafting an ulu?
I try to use as many salvaged materials as possible just like my grandmother used to do; things like scrap wood from renovations and old saw blades. I trace out my designs and cut them out with a grinder, then attach the stem with a brass pin, fashion the handle from either wood or antler and attach it to the stem with more pins.
You only started making uluit in 2018. Why did you decide to start crafting them and how did you learn?
I started making them for practical reasons, because we had moved south and my wife needed one to cut maktaaq - the Inuktitut word for whale skin and blubber - that her family had sent to us. From there more people started asking me to make for them and things just sort of took off. My father in law, Joe Karetak, from Arviat Nunavut has been a really great mentor for me. He has taught me a lot about uluit and how to make them properly.
You make both traditional style uluit and your own contemporary design. Could you explain how they differ as well as your idea behind the contemporary design? I just had the idea one day to try something new, so I did and I really liked how it felt in my hand and how it cut. The design looks different, with the stem placed off-center rather than in the middle, but they function much the same way, very intuitive and ergonomic to use.
Beyond the ulu being an Inuit tool, in what ways has Inuit culture and values shaped your craft?
Inuit have always tried not to waste. I grew up with that value being encouraged. My father-in-law also reminds me that we can use our Inuit values even if the way they are practiced looks different than it used to. Like the value of using up every bit of what we have is still an Inuit value even if we are salvaging from construction sites now, etc.
Pay it forward -- tell us about something or someone that inspires you that our readers should know about.
I am very inspired by my grandmother who was a skilled ulu maker. I hope she would be proud of me if she were alive today. My mother is also a big inspiration in my life. She had a very difficult life due to colonization. She had to make some tough choices for my brothers and I growing up. She always loved us and treated us kindly. I am trying to raise my boys that same way.