||January/February 1999 issue
On the Land
An extended family from Igloolik keeps the traditional hunt alive — on weekends
Photos and text by Robert Semeniuk
I returned to Igloolik in 1998 for the first time in 20 years
— to old friends and memories of ones who have passed on, including
Pauloosie Attagutalukutuk, one of the last traditional Inuit hunters.
Pauloosie grew up when living
meant hunting. He lived in a sod house on Baffin Island until
his family moved to Igloolik in 1968. He left the Arctic only
once, in August 1997, when he was diagnosed with liver cancer.
He died two months later.
I cherish the summer I First camped with Pauloosie’s family
of nine in a canvas tent at Steensby Inlet on Baffin Island. I
arrived a stranger, a photographer on assignment, and left with
new tastes and deep respect for my Inuit friends. We ate raw seal
liver on the sea ice and cracked open caribou legs to slurp out
the marrow. It was a good day when other Inuit came to our camp
and joked about me, the qallunaaq, the white man, and Pauloosie
told them that the qallunaaq had travelled with them for a long
time, that he hunted and ate raw meat and was like a member of
Andy, the eldest son, is now 41, the same age his father was when
I first met him. He is married to Rebecca and they have three
children: Kevin, Alice and Thomas. Andy has a full-time job with
|A weekend out of town for Andy Attagutalukutuk
and his family means crossing Foxe Basin to go camping and hunting
on Baffin Island.
||Tides and overnight
winds conspire to scatter sea ice among the boats — modern arctic
workhorses — anchored outside Igloolik on Turton Bay.
Housing Corp., so his family can only go camping and hunting
on weekends and holidays. Twenty years ago it took his father
days to travel to Baffin to hunt. Now, in his powerful boat, Andy
can get there in a few hours. He gave away his dog team because
he was spending too much time hunting seals and walrus to feed
the dogs, when he would rather be hunting caribou.
skin around the neck is the strongest,” says Daporah to
her lifelong friend, Papak, as they discuss the fine points of
cutting a caribou skin to make a parka. Surrounded by Daporah’s
daughter, son-in-law and their children, the two women are passing
on the knowledge needed to live on the land. The children may
not choose to make a living as hunters but knowing how to survive
on the land will always be a useful skill in a territory as large
and sparsley populated as Nunavut.
Everyone in town still knows whose boat is anchored in Turton
Bay and who is out on the land, when they left and who they left
with. Here people have known each other all their lives. They
are still as friendly as I remember, but they seem to be hunting
less. One indication of that, among many, is the increasing number
of children, commonly called "town kids," who don’t
go out on the land at all.
Roughly 37 percent of the 1,200 residents of Igloolik are unemployed,
and problems associated with poverty and boredom are common. Malakai,
Andy’s younger brother, committed suicide four years ago, adding
to a gruesome litany of tragedies that continues to shake the
Yet Igloolik remains an extraordinary town of determined and positive
people with a long history of leadership in preserving Inuit culture.
The community was the only one that voted against local television
broadcasting in the 1970s until northerners started to produce
programming. The people also plan on having Inuktitut taught up
to grade four. Igloolik was a natural choice as headquarters for
the Nunavut Social Development Council, which promotes Inuit social
and cultural programs.
There are as many opinions as people in Igloolik, especially when
the subject is the new territory of Nunavut. Aime Panimera, Igloolik’s
mayor, believes the creation of Nunavut will open up economic
opportunities; Rebecca Attagutalukutuk thinks it will make everyone
|“I come here to eat,” says Andy, opening a caribou bone for
the raw, rich and sweet marrow.
after a successful hunt of his own (MIDDLE) Andy spots other hunters out on
the ice with a freshly shot ringed seal (ABOVE) and motors over for a visit.
Clear distinctions remain between life in the settlement and life
in the hunting camp. Most people of Igloolik believe the health
of their culture is inextricably linked to the land, and that
they belong to the land more than the land belongs to them. There
is a humbling simplicity to life on the land with Andy and Rebecca.
Their connection to the primal forces that renew and nurture and
take life is powerful. Here blood means life not death.
Photojournalist Robert Semeniuk
lives on Bowen