Shina Novalinga - Canadian student and Inuit activist

Shina Novalinga - Canadian student and Inuit activist

Shina Novalinga is a Canadian student and Inuit activist.

Since April 2020, at only 22 years old, she proudly claims her cultural heritage and now has 4 million followers on TikTok and 2 million on Instagram. From traditional clothing to throat singing, food and traditional customs, she uses social media to share her Inuit culture, an ancestral, unknown and misunderstood culture, and tries to raise awareness of the indigenous cause among younger generations.


Born in 1998 in Puvirnituq, a small village in Nunavik in northern Quebec, she moved to Montreal when she was four years old and describes herself as half Inuk and half Quebecoise. As such, she learned to speak Inuktitut and began throat singing at the age of seven, with the help of her mother, Kayuula Novalinga, a professional throat singer.


She graduated from John Abbott College in Quebec in the Spring 2021 with a degree in Business Management, and in the Fall 2021, began a one-year program in Inuit Studies at Nunavik Sivunitsavut in Montreal.


In her videos, she is often joined by her mother, especially for throat singing, as this is an almost exclusively female practice, involving two women facing each other, holding arms and using their throats and deep breaths to create sounds and form a natural harmony. Throat singing usually ends in laughter. Shina explains that it is a "very informal practice. Even though people sometimes say it's a competition, we don't take it too seriously. It's a hobby that reconnects us with ourselves, with each other and with nature."

They imitate the sounds of nature, of animals, "you sing from your throat and from your heart" and "we really connect with our spirituality through our voice and the vibrations we create". This singing can have many meanings, it can be use "to win an object or even a man. The vibrations also helped children fall asleep."

It is a musical tradition specific to the Inuit people, forgotten by a majority of people and which almost completely disappeared with the arrival of the British colonists in the 16th century, because they considered this practice as demonic. It was also banned by Christian missionaries at the beginning of the 20th century. "We almost lost a whole part of our culture. My mother was lucky enough to be taught by an elder. She in turn teaches me, and today I want to change the way people perceive this tradition". "We are now taking it back and passing it down to keep it alive. Throat singing allows us to connect with the sound of nature and the animals. It also allows us to connect with our ancestors, our soul and our voice. The connection between my mother and I grows bigger as we throat sing together. It's always a beautiful moment for us."

In addition, in June 2021, Shina released an album, "Mother and Daughter Throatsing," with her mother and Canadian producer Simon Walls, exclusively dedicated to traditional throat singing. "We throat sing for those who couldn’t", she says in one of her TikTok videos.


In addition to throat singing, Shina also promotes other aspects of her culture, such as traditional clothing, made by her mother in the Inuit tradition, parkas (atigik), mittens (paaluk), hats (nasaks), boots (kamiks), but also traditional jewelry and accessories.

In order to promote these Inuit arts, she has also launched her own Inuit clothing and jewelry online store. Still in development, she only offers a few items for the moment, including sealskin earrings that she creates herself.

She recognizes that this can be difficult to hear today, with all the associations and animal rights movements, but she wants to remind people that [contrary to other more "popularized" cultures] "we don't hunt for pleasure, but to survive, because the prices are very high in the northern regions. People don't necessarily understand this and sometimes say very hurtful things to us. We hunt ethically and we use all parts of the animal. All of our clothes are handmade: the top I'm wearing right now, for example, made of seal skin and fur, was made by my mother."

She also hopes, through her store, to be able to help young Inuit designers sell their products. "Our jewelry is so beautiful. It's important to spread and share our craft."

Additionally, in 2021, Shina posed for a Sephora brand ad campaign featuring all-Indigenous models and crew for the National Indigenous History Month in Canada. In 2022, she was also featured in Elle Canada magazine, where she modeled for Inuit designer Victoria Kakuktinniq.


Shina also shares Inuit legends, customs and traditional meals, such as beluga, which she is particularly fond of. "We eat Beluga completely raw, we don't cook it, it's very healthy". She adds for the benefit of people supporting the animal cause: "The beluga had a happy wild life, and please, all those who comment saying that it is cruel, that belugas are cute, we totally agree! They are intelligent creatures, they are beautiful, and we are very grateful for what they give to our community."


She also brings to the attention of her community the clichés that people may have about Inuit culture, such as the famous Eskimo kiss for example, as well as the violence and abuse suffered by her people.

The "real" Eskimo kiss has nothing to do with rubbing nose to nose. "You have to stop saying that this is the Eskimo kiss". She then proceeds to demonstrate on video, with her mother, that the "Eskimo kiss" is in fact a pressing of the nose and upper lip on the cheek of the person being kissed.


She also speaks, very frontally, of the discrimination suffered by the Inuit since the arrival of the settlers: acculturation, children torn from their families, marginalization of traditional tattoos... "We often have the impression that the situation is perfect in Canada, but there are still so many things to do. Inuit don't have many rights. I have met many people in Quebec who don't even know what it means to be Inuk [the singular of the word Inuit which means "person" in the Inuktitut language]. They sometimes think that we come from another country. So it's very important to raise awareness, otherwise no one really takes notice of our existence."

The situation is even more dramatic for Inuit, Indigenous women, who are overrepresented in domestic violence, disappearances and murders, and face a rate of violence 14 times higher than other women in Canada. To help them, Shina and her family launched a social media fundraiser in late 2020. In just two months, over $12,000 was raised. This amount allowed the purchase of masks, gloves, food and hygiene products for hundreds of indigenous women hosted in Montreal shelters.

Shina confides that she has not been able to meet with them because of the Covid-19 pandemic, but hopes to do so once the health crisis has passed. "I was raised by strong, beautiful, independent women: helping each other has always been part of our values."

She also creates videos drawing attention to the oppressive history of assimilationist residential schools and in the summer of 2021 released several videos responding to the discovery of Canadian residential school graves. These residential schools, which emerged in the 20th century, were "indoctrination centers" designed to educate, evangelize and assimilate indigenous children, with the ultimate goal of eradicating their culture.


In November 2021, she shared on Instagram her first facial marks, traditional Inuit symbolic tattoos called Tunniit. For Shina, they are a triangular mark on each cheek and a vertical line on her chin. "Yesterday was a very special day for me and my mum to receive our first facial tattoo, Tunniit. A tradition that we Inuit, are now reclaiming. No one can take away our power & our identity. I am and will always be proud of them. I am thinking about my grandma and our ancestors, what they are feeling right now, what they are thinking right now. For over a year I have been thinking of getting them and I was ready. There are so many meanings behind them but I am not ready to share that right now. All I can say is that I am connected spiritually with my ancestors, with our goddesses and our people."

The artist who made the marks, Zorga Qaunaq, used a traditional hand-stamping method to apply the ink. After making her Tunniit, Shina received many messages about them, and not all of them were positive. "A lot of people told me I would regret it and that it would ruin my face, my 'beauty'. I don't think so."


Shina has never hidden her desire to educate others about Inuit culture and history. She frequently adds "indigenous twists" to TikTok trends to share her culture, and has collaborated with Cree creators, one of North America's Algonquin peoples, including hoop dancer James Jones and model Michelle Chubb.


Despite the success of her videos and the positive reactions to the revelations of this ancestral culture, Shina has to face many negative, mocking and sometimes racist comments. "This is a new way of censoring us. But there is also so much positive feedback. People are sending us messages from all over the world telling us they appreciate our culture. This pushes us to make more videos to show indigenous youth that they don't have to be ashamed of who they are."


In a November 2020 interview with Vogue magazine, Shina confides that "I started TikTok for fun, but it evolved when I started to educate my subscribers about my indigenous culture. [...] It's important for me to pass that on to others through TikTok, because not many people know about our history or Inuit culture. It has always been pushed aside. My goal is to change that and not be afraid to talk about it."

She tells Radio-Canada that it is even more important to share this culture, according to her, because the cultural practices of the Inuit people are really not well known by the general public. "Many people I meet do not know that, in their province, there are Inuit as well as a culture and a reality that is still very much alive and different from their own."


Now 24 years old, Shina has started a degree in Native Studies in the fall of 2021 to learn more about her culture, history and heritage, and would like to be able to return to her hometown to reconnect with her community.

"I want to be able to tell indigenous youth that they are beautiful, that they are important, that they are capable of anything. Our culture is so rich. I want to make a positive change."


Article by Julie Poutrel for Adama Toulon