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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 the family.


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 the Igloolik

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.

“The 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 community.

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 poorer.

“I come here to eat,” says Andy, opening a caribou bone for the raw, rich and sweet marrow.   Later, 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 Island, B.C.


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