“it means power” An Inuk woman going viral 70 years later

Helen Konek at her dad’s igloo, she was 17 – Photo Richard Harrington

Helen Konek is 88 years old now and living in a elders home in Arviat – she has dementia but knows enough to remember family names and some stories of her life in the past. This particular photo of her went viral on Twitter, with 28 million views, 50 thousand retweets and 500 thousand likes. It was quite the surprise to get so much attention over this photo and up to date we are still trying to understand what it is about this photo that makes it viral, but here are some clues we have on why it might have gone viral.

Photo shoot day with Richard Harrington My grandmother also known as Agaaqtoq (Inuktitut name), says she remembers when a white man came to their camp in a dog team. In 1949, most Inuit were still living in Igloos during the winter and caribou hide tents during the summer before moving into settlements later in the 1960/1970s. But Agaaqtoq says when the white man came, her parents welcomed him into their home. After the photo went viral I asked her for the story behind this photo, she didn’t remember the man’s name but it was Richard Harrington, a famous Canadian photographer known for his work between 1948 and 1953. Agaaqtoq says Harrington had asked if her family can dress in their traditional clothes for the photoshoot, it’s what they understood at least, because they didn’t understand each other, Harrington spoke English and my grandmother’s family spoke Inuktitut. But grandmother says Harrington gave directions for the photoshoot during that day.

Dad, Helen Konek, little brother, little sister, little brother and Mother – 1949 Richard Harrington photo

An image of power – People from around the world were tweeting and messaging me on my twitter @JordanKonek telling me why they liked the photo, many of whom were saying “Her face speaks power, confidence, and leadership”. It makes sense in many ways, especially growing up with her as my grandmother and teacher of life skills in general. In my family of 16 altogether in Arviat, we all had to work as a team and follow orders from my grandmother and grandfather James Konek. If my uncles came home with 6 caribou to feed the family, my grandmother called all her kids and grandkids to come and help. At times we didn’t like going there because we knew we had to do physical hard work. Not only that we had to do the work all day and the next day as a group until the work is done. My grandparents kept the family together and made sure we all ate as a family and stay connected between each other regularly. It makes a lot of sense that people saw power in her, but she was also the nicest person and most loving to all her kids and grandkids. Every Christmas time she would buy every single one of us a gift even if it was something small. As they got older and started aging and couldn’t work anymore, my grandmother was still out every single morning. She started her day kneeling down in front of the porch outside at 6am to pray for her family, light a cigarette then clean up outside the house. Grandma would also have leftover food saved for the neighbours dogs to feed them and also had some food to feed for the birds. It was her that knew how to be kinds but also be confident and show leadership to my family as a kid.

An very large igloo It’s no surprise when Inuit go down south for medical and Southerners ask if Inuit still live in Igloos and no we do not live in igloos anymore. Many people on twitter were also asking me questions about the igloo and said they shared the it because of how amazed they were by the size of it, grandma says her dad used to build really large igloos for his large family. The igloos were built to have a space in the front, like a porch where their food would be stored to make space and keep them frozen because the larger part is as warm as any house today. So the porch was big but a little smaller for cold storage, but it also had another little room where they used it as washroom. In the image that shows my grandma walking into their igloo is stairs that show how she said her dad build igloos, he would dig down the snow and make stairs to make a warm home. That is where the photo was taken in their porch as she walked in.

Jordan and Helen Konek


"Behind the lens are the eyes that capture the good moments" - KonekProductions 2012

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