Saturday, January 6, 2007

Back to the Land

In 1969 only a single family was left living on the land in the old way. For those in town, returning to camp life after a winter in the new community of Igloolik was fast becoming an economic impossibility. Too many hunters were competing for too few resources and the trading price of seal skins plummeted to almost nothing thanks to the seal protest movement in the south. Returning to camp cost money, especially for outboard motor gas and other basic supplies. Money people didn't have.

I was anxious to learn about camp life as part of my research project and offered to 'finance' a family from my grant so they could spend the summer in their former home. During the winter, drums of gas were taken out by dog team to the old home at Iglujjuak, about 100 miles from town. Then, in late May, we headed off ourselves. We went part way by dog team and then split into two groups, the family and I by canoe and the two older boys continued in a roundabout way by dog sled over the sea ice, a three day trip for them and two for us.

We hunted along the way and stopped at the only permanent camp to socialize. By the time we got to the shore ice at Iglujjuak, the boys arrived with the dogs and we were able to cross the ice and set up camp on shore. The above picture is my tent, set up in the traditional way with sleeping quarters at the rear on winter caribou fur 'mattresses' with the 'kitchen' at the side in front. The young lady is Noreen Kuroyama, a McGill student, who worked with me collecting hunting data. Note the 'tin' seal oil lamp we used to take the chill off during those long summer evenings. The tin had come from a crashed airplane in Hall Beach about 200 miles further south.

Hunting immediately improved. There were seals everywhere and having not been hunted all winter, they were very approachable, especially as we shifted our sorties each time we went out, utilizing a different area each time. We hunted with the dogs until July when the ice finally melted. Then it was time to repair the boat and hunt with it. By the time we returned in September, we were flush with furs, food and a great sense of well-being.

Next time, I'll talk about catching a bearch seal and turning the hide into seal skin line.


Silbs said...

I look forward to reading your "memoirs" each day.

clairesgarden said...

wow, it looks amazing. but basic and very chilly!