Honouring the Ook: the Inuit origins of NAIT’s Mascot

Oct 1, 2021 | News

“Ooks” has become a regular term for NAIT students; our athletic Ooks teams, our Ooks Life events, the Ook on various items in the book store, even our Ooklets here at the NAITSA office. The ook is a snowy owl, a big bird known as an ookpik in the Inuit language of Inuktitut. The “Ook for Life” identity has become strongly embedded in NAIT’s culture, unifying over five decades of students and alumni. Once an ook, always an ook! But where exactly did the Ook come from?

In 1964, at a special ceremony, federal Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs Mr. G. Rancier presented NAITSA’s president with an ookpik and the “Ook” became NAIT’s official mascot. This Ookpik was created by Jeannie Snowball, an Inuk elder from Northern Quebec and was made of sealskin. This original Ookpik was a beloved mascot and resided with athletics in the 60s. It was actually a game for NAIT and SAIT to steal each other’s mascots. The Ookpik did get to SAIT a few times during these years and was even forced to wear a Calgary Stampede hat!

The original Ookpik also inspired this mascot concept for NAIT, which was slightly creepy looking and it was swapped for a more updated version at the 25th anniversary in the 1980s. Unfortunately, NAIT’s original Ookpik was lost sometime around 2007. For NAIT’s 50th anniversary in 2012, NAIT put out a call for their missing Ook and anyone who brought the ookpik’s return was to be rewarded with a five-course Chef’s Table for six at Ernest’s dining room. The original Ookpik was never found but instead NAIT got other ookpiks – donations from friends and staff of the institute. Peggy Richardson, the NAIT Inuk elder at the time created replicas of the original Ookpik for NAIT to replace the lost Ookpik.

Over the past few months, NAITSA has been hard at work trying to create a land acknowledgement that would capture everything we wanted to say. By researching and collaborating with the Nîsôhkamâtotân Centre here at NAIT and Aboriginal communities, we were able to achieve this. When we heard about the Ookpik, we knew it needed to be incorporated into our office and story. Upon connecting with different departments, we found that one of those replicas that Peggy created happened to be in the hands of NAIT’s Alumni Relations. That replica is what you can now see in the NAITSA office beside our land acknowledgement. This Ookpik is a symbol of tradition, strength, and community as it connects all students, staff, and alumni and will continue to do so for decades to come. Next time you are on campus, be sure to head to the NAITSA office to see our land acknowledgement and Ookpik displayed proudly and chat with our staff about it.

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