Elisapie: A woman who cherishes tradition

Posted on March 7, 2022

Elisapie Isaac is a singer-songwriter, actress, director, producer, presenter and activist. She’s also a spokesperson for the 2022 edition of the Rendez-vous de la Francophonie, which runs from March 1 to 31, 2022, under the theme “These traditions that forge identities.” The Our Languages blog team recently interviewed Elisapie to talk about women and tradition.

Strong, powerful female role models

Elisapie was born in Salluit, a small village in Nunavik, Northern Quebec. She explained that 20 years before she was born, her village was still a nomad camp, where men spent a lot of time hunting and women took a leading role in raising the children.

Elisapie grew up surrounded by strong and independent women, women who stood out for being inquisitive and open to others. The women who inspired her in her youth wanted to learn from others and were interested in other cultures. “As Indigenous people, as Inuit, curiosity has always been part of our DNA. That curiosity seems to me to be a wonderful example for all the cultures of the world.”

As a child, Elisapie was a dreamer with a desire to express herself that lives on today. In her teens, she joined the regional community radio station, where she was surrounded by “cool” Elders with sharp communication skills. These talented women taught her a lot and instilled in her a deep conviction that women can do anything. One of these female communicators was Elisapie’s biological mother, whose smile has always shone on camera and who loves to bring people together.

The role of women in Inuit traditions

Elisapie emphasized that women play a very important role in Inuit traditions. She spoke about her cousins, who make beautiful mittens using traditional sewing skills. For Elisapie, this traditional art is about more than just survival—it teaches the important virtue of patience. Working at an unhurried pace is seen as a gift. Girls and young women who rush are told to slow down so as not to make mistakes, to take their time to do things right. The process is what’s important.

That process results in beautifully made items like coats and mittens. Elisapie is pleased to see the renewed interest in Inuit fashion and its many possibilities. These days, women who make traditional clothing can choose from a greater range of materials and colours. As a result, artisans are eager to add new elements to their creations. The tradition remains a source of great pride even as it evolves.

Traditional crafts also create a space for women to share. They gather to socialize while sewing. In this space, no one tells anyone what to do, but there’s a lot of support. The women listen to the Elders and can always ask them for advice if they need it. Elisapie stressed the importance of honouring the Elders, who have acquired a lifetime of wisdom.

Evolving traditions, unchanging values

While traditions remain deeply rooted in Inuit communities, Elisapie notes that in 2022, they are changing. Inuit are involved and interested in everything. They appreciate technology and modernity, and they’re looking for ways to combine traditional customs with new methods. New traditions are coming into being.

However, some important values remain ever-present, such as the sense of community that Elisapie still observes among her people. They still continue to help one another and to listen carefully to their Elders. Elisapie emphasized that we must look beyond tradition and live in the present moment to be happy and celebrate life. She believes in tradition, but she also believes that everyone deserves to be happy.

Names that honour ancestors

Among the various ancestral traditions is one very special one that Elisapie has adopted: that of naming her children after Elders who have passed on and who are thus reincarnated in a way. Elisapie’s children therefore have a strong bond with the Salluit community despite growing up in Montréal. Elisapie said that this Inuit tradition is still very much alive in her community. As they grow up, the children take on the qualities of their namesake, and people take upon themselves the task of reminding the children of these qualities so that they can embody them.

A strong bond is created between the child and the family of the person whose name the child bears. A young boy named after another family’s grandfather will be called “grandfather” by the members of that family. In her village, Elisapie has been called “grandmother,” “great-grandmother,” “aunt” and “wife” by different people all her life. “I was given the name of the mothers of two families. The grandmothers in those families have called me ‘Mom’ ever since I was born. It’s really very cute!”

This tradition creates bonds between people: naming a child after an Elder who has passed on is a source of great pride for families. At birth, children are already blessed with multiple ties of love and friendship, because they have connections to others from the moment they are born. With their name also comes a responsibility to treat their namesake’s family members with love.

Whether you’re already a fan of Elisapie Isaac or are just learning about her here, stay tuned! In honour of National Indigenous Peoples Day, we’ll be publishing a blog post in June in which the singer-songwriter and producer shares how the different languages she speaks inspire her songwriting.


The opinions expressed in posts and comments published on the Our Languages blog are solely those of the authors and commenters and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Language Portal of Canada.

Get to know Sophie Martin

Sophie Martin

Sophie Martin

Sophie Martin is a translator by profession. She’s always been interested in languages and history, so it’s only natural that she has a passion for etymology and the history of languages! Her interest in these areas prompted her to start a bachelor's degree in medieval and Renaissance studies at the University of Ottawa some 10 years ago. And though she hasn’t had the chance to complete these fascinating studies, she plans to return to them once she retires, one day…

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Submitted by Donna McGee on March 9, 2022, at 6:42

I really enjoyed this article and learning about Elisapie, who is indeed a Strong Powerful Canadian Woman with beautiful traditions.

Submitted by Sophie L. Martin on March 9, 2022, at 9:11

Elisapie is a great artist, and a beautiful person. I'm glad you enjoyed reading about her and her traditions.