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Jun. 11th, 2011


Inuit Art

Inuit art is extremely common. Especially in white people's homes!

During my stay in Gjoa Haven, I believe I met 6 carvers. Uriash, Wayne, Joseph, Louis, Charlie, and some guy I can't remember the name of. I met another Joseph who carved quite well when he was younger, but hasn't carved for fifteen years. There are a couple more carvers, I'm sure.

A whole lot of the art is sold to local white people and tourists. The white people have big paychecks, and once they buy one piece, they start wanting more! As you can see, that's the case with my dad, and his roommate Steve:

Usually, a less well-known carver will try and finish a piece before 4 or 5, and go around to the white people's houses, knocking on their door. They'll show it to you, and if you ask how much they want, they'll say "oh, 60 or 80". There's always an option, and it's always bank machine denominations. If they manage to sell it by 5.30, they can head over to the Northern Store to spend their earnings.

A better known carver can sell their carving to a middleman, who resells it to a gallery, who again resells it to the eventual consumer.  The filtering throughout this system causes a huge increase in price. I gather that this is typical in the art industry.

Of course, you can sometimes get a well-known carver's work locally, which I had the fortune of doing!

It's a hunter, with a snow knife and a weapon for tangling the feet of a caribou. There's a bird attacking his face, so he's ducking backwards. It's a carving by Wayne Puqiqnak, Uriash' son. He's becoming more well known these days, and when Uriash passes on, he'll be the foremost Gjoa Haven carver. Cool!

There's some other arts and crafts that are sold to the white people as well. Drawings, sewings, clothes, replicas of traditional tools. They're all really cool! Check these out.

It's a peregrine falcon taking a bird in mid-air (I saw two such falcons!), and a sewing of an inuit spearing a fish, with a small-scale spear on top. The falcon is actually made by a Dene, the First Nation band next to the south of the Inuit.

I actually have a good deal more to say about this, but I don't have the energy or pictures to post it now, and I should really go and socialize with my host, juggler Lacey!

Jun. 10th, 2011


Hello Darkness

 It's dark out. If I turn off the lights, I can't see. This is really weird.

Coming back down south was a lot more shocking than going up north. Gjoa Haven is a lot like my hometown in a few ways, so it wasn't all that surprising. There is a very sharp contrast between Toronto life and northern life, but it felt pretty normal to me to be up there. Now that I come back down south, it's ... strange. And I was only gone for two weeks! All the buildings and roads and cars and people and heat and green and trees and straight lines. Even when I got to Yellowknife, it was so different. The first thing I thought was 'Holy crap, look at all the white people!' There were more white people in the short line-up in front of me than I'd seen in the last two weeks. Now, in Edmonton, there are *millions* more.

When I got to Edmonton, I had two daypacks, an expedition backpack, and an action packer full of game. I didn't want to be walking around with it, so I waited in a Starbucks until it closed, then sat on my container full of caribou and char, on the sidewalk, near downtown Edmonton. My friend was to pick me up after he got off work at ten. I saw a homeless person go by, and another, and another. The third guy was about to cross the street; he stopped contemplatively, and turned around and asked me for some change. I saw it coming as soon as he stopped, and already had my hand ready to fish out my wallet. I gave him a couple of dollars, and he asked, because of my baggage, where I was travelling. "I just came from up north. I was visiting my Dad."
"Where up north?"
"Gjoa Haven, Nunavut. It was my first time there."
"Ok. I was in [I forget the name] working. Been there 31 years. I need to go back up and get some work. I'm wasting away here."

He mentioned he was famished, and that he had a hard day. The only food I had on me was some caribou jerky that I made over the last couple of days, so I offered some to him. "That sounds great, yeah.", so I gave him a small handful. I think it was then that he introduced himself, as Tony. I wished him good luck, and I think he was tearing up as he went away.

Who knows what went wrong on his life, but I hope things work out for the better.

Jun. 9th, 2011


Trip to Cape Sydney, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Danger

As you all know, this past Friday, me and Dad left to head up north to look for polar bears. Unfortunately, we didn't see a polar bear. Not even a track! But an adventure, we did have...

Not every adventure is good, and I'm not sure if this one was a good one or a bad one. It certainly had some really cool and great parts, and heck, I was away from EVERYTHING for three days. But there were also some really shitty parts.

We were supposed to be going with George Kanana, who is the local hunter. If you google his name, you get a bunch of hits about a polar bear survey. That's because this guy knows and does not fear polar bears. I heard a story about a Southerner hiring him as a guide, and he drove her right up alongside a polar bear because she asked if they could 'get closer'. Unfortunately, he had to stay in town and wait a couple of days for an elder to get back from some thing, so we were on our own.

About twenty miles from town, Dad stopped the skidoo on a lake and told me "This is muskox country here. We were up here in the winter to look for them, but didn't see any." So I pointed over there, and said "What, like those?" There was a herd of about 22 muskox, almost straight ahead. The old man's losing his senses!

Muskox are cool.

Well, the rest of the trip to Port Perry, where we stayed the night, was less exciting than this rock.

We got to the lake that Port Perry was on at around 2 am, looked around to try and find the cabin. I pointed towards some dark splotches and say "Is that it?" Dad thought it was just rocks, but I thought it didn't look natural, so we drive over. Yup, here's our chalet.

So we dig it out, look inside, and set up camp. All 8'x10' of it! 

Side note: caribou hides are amazing sleeping pads. So warm!

I forget what time we woke up, but it was sunny. VERY shortly after breakfast, though, I fell back asleep. When I woke up again at 1PM, it was snowing. A lot. Actually, it never snows a lot in the Arctic, but it was really windy, so there was basically no visibility.

Also, the blowing snow liked to deposit right outside our cabin door, which opens outwards. That means, if we wanted to be able to open the door once the storm stops, we had to open it up and shovel it every 90 minutes. It stopped sometime after midnight. So we stayed in the cabin all day. Dad didn't bring anything to read, so he took some of my paper and started writing a story of some sort. I read a paper about the eigenvalue distribution of Gaussian Hermitian matrices. Rad.
So that was the trip there, and Saturday. I'll talk about the remainder of the trip in a later post or two. Tomorrow I head down south, to Edmonton, but I'll still be writing about Nunavut for a while. There might be some Rocky Mountain Adventures mixed in.

Jun. 8th, 2011


Curiosity Killed the Caribou (Back River Part III)

So I'll clue up the Back River trip, and I'm going to talk a bit about hunting (more specifically, the killing and cleaning part). I've decided not to post many pictures.

There's not really that much else to say about the Back River trip. After fishing on Sunday, we came across some caribou on the way back to the cabin, so we stopped and Paul got the second one his father asked for.

 OK I can't figure out Live Journal cuts, so if you don't want to hear me talking about dying animals (it's kind of sad) SCROLL DOWN UNTIL YOU SEE A PICTURE!

I guess now's a good time to talk about seeing my first animal die. Ok, I've killed squirrels as a kid, fished a tonne, and caught rabbit in a snare. If you think about it, catching a rabbit in a snare is pretty gruesome, but you don't think about it. And, well, I first caught a fish at god knows what age and didn't really think anything of killing them (we'd stab salmon in the brain after reeling them in to kill them, but when cod fishing or whatever, you just throw them in a bucket and they suffocate).

The caribou were a bit skittish, but you could drive to within a couple hundred metres of them and they'd stand still and not run away. Sometimes they'd even walk towards you and get a good deal closer! That was pretty strange for me to see, as all of the moose that I've seen in my life would dash away at the slightest sound.

Anyway, the first caribou killed, on Saturday morning, went down on the first shot, but wasn't dead. I'm not sure how common this is in hunting, but I don't think it's that rare. It was shot in the neck at point blank, but it didn't kill it, so a quick head shot killed it of course. Ublu was going crazy -- he wasn't on a rope at this point and was pulling fur off before it was even dead. That was pretty unsettling, but then again, it was the most natural part of the process (and it's the only negative Ublu moment!).

After it was killed, we dragged it all of 100 metres, maybe, to the front of the cabin. We had a lunch before we started -- Paul said they usually wait half an hour before cleaning it. After that, they started. I'd seen quarters of moose hanging many times back home, but I've never seed anyone actually clean an animal. Dad and Paul did it, while I watched and Ublu drooled. I was kind of speechless throughout the whole process.

Even though the caribou had antlers, it was a doe. That surprised me a lot, and was really quite sad. While gutting the animal, Paul removed the baby caribou from the fetus and layed it in the snow -- "We always let the little caribou out, because he never had a chance to see the world, yup." Where I'm from, it's not really accepted to take a female who's with a calf, and the hunting season misses calving season, so situations like this don't arise. The Inuit hunted for survival, and didn't avoid this situation -- heck, you can't even tell it's a female by the lack of antlers, like you usually can! -- but I thought that this was a good way to pay respect.

From start to finish, I was feeling pretty sad, emotionally. Of course, being rational about it, it's a natural thing to die, and as humans, hunters usually try to kill the animal as soon as possible and with as little pain and suffering. People sometimes think that doing this to an animal isn't right, but have few issues with eating a nice juicy steak, without thinking about the rather dismal life that the cow went through -- and the often much more brutal death. That dying is natural helped me not feel entirely shitty about it.

The second caribou I saw die was quite a bit easier to see go down. We loaded it onto the sled and brought it back to the cabin, and cleaned it there. Dad got started on a lunch, while I helped Paul clean the caribou. So, while I have yet to kill an animal, I have helped skin and clean one. Actually, once we got back to Gjoa Haven, I ended up cutting up the meat into (mostly) roasts!

In the end, I don't think I'd have that much trouble hunting an animal (for meat, not sport!), but I'm sure it would be scary my first time. I'd want to practice shooting first though. I've only shot a gun half a dozen times in my life, so I'd like to maximize the chance of an instant kill. Me and dad are going sealing tomorrow afternoon/evening, and I'm going to practice shooting a bit, but probably not on a seal ;-)
Oh yeah, and Paul shot down a goose from the sky with a 22 magnum (not a spread shot!), duck hunt style.

Ok it's safe to read again!
After cleaning up the caribou and packing up, we headed back to Gjoa Haven. The trip back was pretty much the same as the trip there, except that a bit past the part in the inukshuk/Ublu picture, Dad got lost. We were supposed to go up the east side of the peninsula to Ogle point, but he was heading west. I kept yelling to him to go east, to turn right, but he'd keep going west. Once he finally stopped, I told him to go east, and he turned east but then started going south! He must have been tired or hungry or something, because (even though it was cloudy) I knew exactly which direction we were going, and which way to go, even though I'd only been there once before.

We got back safe and sound, with plenty of spare gas and a "country tan"!
Tomorrow, I'll start talking about the trip to Cape Sydney (it's exciting in many ways!). I leave for Edmonton on Thursday, but I'm going to keep writing some posts, maybe half a dozen or so, about Nunavut while I'm down south. Some things to look forward to: the sun, and 24 hour daylight (with cool pictures!!!), Inuit art, and drinking/drugs.



Jun. 7th, 2011


I'm alive

 but barely! Details to come in the morning, or afternoon, whenever I should wake. 
Tags: ,

Jun. 3rd, 2011


Trip Up North

 Me and Dad are going to the northern part of King William Island to head north of 70, get some fish, hunt seal, and look for polar bears. We'll be back either Sunday night, Monday, or Tuesday. I hope that my random arrival time doesn't leave you in that much suspense about whether I ate or was eaten.

On children.

Inuit children are adorable. The whole lot of them. The night I arrived here, me and my Dad were walking down the road and quickly came across a couple of children stomping around a puddle. I smiled and waved to them, and one of them said out to me "Hi!". I returned the greeting, to which he said, to my dad, "What's your name?". This is the phrase I've heard most up here. It's how people, especially children, seem to greet you. My dad said "I'm Ed!", and he asked me "What's your name?" "My name's Andrew, what's yours?" "Sebastian."

After talking for a moment, he said "Bye Ed. Bye Andrew." The Inuktitut language is notably percussive and gutteral. There's a lot of p's and k's and q's, interlaced with more pronounced stops than I'm used to in English. There are also lots of g's and r's that sound like the classic 'r' sound that you hear in French: Paul Puqiqnak tells me that the French have an easier time pronouncing things. Inuktitut is spoken by all elders and some middle-aged people, and is taught in school, but not so many younger people know it. Even so, the local accent is heavily influenced by the language. For example, "What's your name" has a heavy emphasis on 'what's', followed by a stop nearly the length of a comma, say, then a fairly normal sounding 'your name'. Pretty much every kid says it this way. When kids say "Hi Ed", "Bye Ed", it's really noticeable. After saying 'hi', the back of the throat closes off completely, and the 'e' in Ed is very percussive. The two words are said in a monotone way. Every kid says it the same way.

I would post pictures of adorable Inuit children running around playing tag at a dance, but I had forgotten my camera. I'd post pictures of adorable Inuit children chasing me right before I judged the Bannock contest, but I was too busy being chased by kids! I do, however, have one picture of an adorable Inuit child, Peter.

Peter used to come and visit Dad and Chris rather often. Chris is moving down south tomorrow, and I guess he heard, because he came by today even though he hasn't been here for a month. I heard a light knock on the door: "tic, tic-tic tic tic, tic tic". I thought it was dad, but when I opened it I had to look down, and saw a small kid. He pretty much came into the house on his own accord, saying "Hi, can I come visit?"
"Sure, what's your name?"
"Oh, you're the kid my Dad was telling me about! I'm Andrew."

I told him he'd have to take off his shoes, but he could come right in. Right away,
"Can I have some water?"
"Can I have some bread?"
"Sure! What do you want on it?"
"Butter, please."

He didn't really talk a lot, and was really shy, but wasn't shy about asking for bread and butter! I asked him all sorts of things, but he didn't talk much. He'd usually be staring down, but every once in a while he'd look up at me and smile. After a couple of minutes, he pointed to above the stove, on top of the cupboards. "Can I have my bank?" There was a yogurt container with 'Peter's Bank' written on it. I took it down, and there was some change in it, so he fished out a toonie's worth of quarters. He started playing around with them, and looked at them a lot. I started to piece together what I thought must be the picture. After some more questions (his favourite team is Pittsburg, he's going for Vancouver, but he didn't get to watch the game...) he asked if I had a dollar. I checked my wallet and I didn't have one, so I offered him a five dollar bill in exchange for the eight quarters. A fair trade! 
He asked if I had something to fix his sunglasses, which were broken -- I think a kid broke them a couple of days ago. I didn't see a pair of sunglasses around which I knew no one would miss, so I asked what colour sunglasses he would like.
"Oh, is that your favourite colour?"
He looks up and smiles, and nods his head.

I gave him a glass of juice and put an apple and orange in his pocket. He got up, smiled, and said "Thanks", brought his dishes to the sink, and went on his way.
I found out later what story Dad and Chris know. He's ten years old, and used to come by all the time after school, or in the evening. He'd ask what they had for supper, and when there were no left-overs, Chris would feel bad and ask "What do you want to eat?" "Bacon and eggs" was a common response, apparently, and so he had bacon and eggs.
His father committed suicide two years ago. His mom took ill a few years ago and ended up disabled (don't really know any details). His little sister has cancer. His uncle passed out in a snowbank and froze to death. For the last month, he hasn't been staying with his mother, and hasn't been making school much.
There are more stories like Peter's up here. It's sad.

Jun. 2nd, 2011


Back River (Part II)

 So, we had arrived at the cabin at about 3 am. There were Caribou maybe 100 yards from the cabin! Since Paul's dad wanted two caribou brought back, we took one down and cleaned it. After setting up camp and having a lunch and a cup of tea (weird time for tea!?!?) we got to sleep at about 5.30 or 6 am. I don't think we woke up until 2 or 3 pm. We found even more caribou in front of the cabin!

Since we had other priorities, we drove the skidoo up to a fishing pond to try for a trout. When you go fishing in Nunavut you bring two 10 foot poles: one with a chisel and one with a scoop. The ice is six feet thick. It takes a while to get through. Fortunately, there were some holes already there, since Paul had been there the week before with his family.

They must have caught all the fish, because we got no fish. None. We were there for hours! Paul, in his 31 years, had never had that happen to him. (The week before, he alone caught 14!) I didn't mind anyway because it was very peaceful, and we came across EVEN MORE caribou crossing the lake in front of us. After a couple of hours, we decided it was too late in the day for the fish to bite, so we headed back to camp. Had lunch, got to bed before midnight this time. The next day we got up to the fishing lake early in the day. On the way, I came across some ptarmigan while we were stopped for a break. The buggers were stun enough to let me (and Ublu!) get within 10 feet of them!

Maybe 20 minutes after I put the hook in, I got a bite. I thought it must have been a tiny bugger because it wasn't fighting at all. I'm used to fly fishing for Atlantic salmon, which fight a lot. I pulled it out onto the snow, though, and it was a good 3 lbs!

Ok I was a little sleepy. Anyway, that's enough for today. I'll finish off the trip (there's not that much to say, really!) later today or tomorrow.


Jun. 1st, 2011


Culinary adventures!

The Inuit people have a palate like none other.

The old term for the Inuit, which, of course everyone knows, is 'Eskimo'. It means 'raw eaters', according to Paul (our Back River guide). I always heard it as 'Eaters of Raw Meat'. Paul says that the name comes from the First Nations people down south. They didn't always got along: sometimes they would trade, sometimes they would fight.

I asked Paul if he found it offensive. He said he didn't, and most around here don't, but some do. I guess it's the way Newfoundlanders feel about the term 'Newfie'.

So, back to foodstuffs. What do they eat? Fish, seal, caribou, wolf, grizzly, polar bear, muskox, walrus, whale, ptarmigan, geese, ANYTHING that they can catch. The last Inuit people to come off the land moved to a town around 1970. They lived in igloos and tents. They traditionally ate whatever they could to survive.

Of course, during certain times of the year, food is plentiful. As I'll tell you later, we saw about 500 caribou at Back River this weekend. We could have taken home 50 if we had the inclination and towing power. (An Inuit can catch as much of anything they want except Muskox and Polar Bear, for which they need a tag.) During these times of year, food will be stockpiled and cached -- buried about a foot deep in the dirt and covered with rocks. Wolverines are notorious for breaking into these caches. Anyway, the meat will stay there for months on end, sometimes growing rancid. And they'll still eat it, with pleasure. Dad's roommate Steve was telling me about how they brought some walrus in to some social event and he had to go in his office, shut the door, and put a towel along the bottom of the door because of the smell. But the elders loved it!

On top of eating basically spoiled food, they'll eat pretty much any part of an animal. Eyes, brains, tongue, heart, liver, stomach, intestines, kidney. Of course, being from Newfoundland, I've eaten half these things already. Heck, there is a parasite that's nearly an inch long and half an inch in diameter that lives under a caribou's skin that they eat up here. "It's nutritious!" Paul says.

After digesting all this, eating raw meat doesn't sound half bad does it!

I had my first piece of raw caribou on Saturday morning, after we had killed the first caribou. I took a small chunk off the neck, and tried chewing it, but it was like rubber. It just had a lot of sinew. On the way back from Back River on Sunday, Paul took out his knife and cut off a chunk to eat from the rear. Probably a gluteus muscle, if I remember correctly! So I took out my knife and cut off a chunk to try. It was honestly the best meat I've ever eaten in my life. It didn't taste as gamey as cooked caribou (not that I mind that!), but more like a very expensive steak. It had no connective tissue in it whatsoever, and was just at the freezing point (stiff, but not frozen), and melted in my mouth. I probably had a quarter pound or so, and then last night when I was butchering half a caribou I had to eat a few chunks as well. I won't get this opportunity for a while.
Of course, the modern Inuk doesn't live on this food, what they call 'country food', anymore. Gjoa Haven has double the stores as most towns. In other words, there are two. You can buy an amazing selection of food up here for such an isolated place, but it comes with a price. A container of cheese whiz is $17.99. A dozen eggs is actually a steal, at $7. Two litres of fresh juice will run you $18.99, and a can of Coke will cost you $3.23 these days. The locals don't know much about proper nutrition, so they tend to eat the unhealthy food that is designed to appeal to our taste buds. Obesity is rampant!
The introduction of 'southern' ingredients gave rise to new 'traditional food'. Tonight, I had the pleasure of judging a bannock cooking contest. Bannock is flour mixed with water, salt, and baking powder, as far as I could tell. Sometimes there's other stuff. It's fried up in lard. It's goddamn delicious. Me and two jolly old Inuit ladies were the judges. One of them was asking my Dad if he wanted to judge, and he was a bit apprehensive, so I jumped in and said "I'll do it!" Hah!
Here's me giving my expert opinion.
And here's the jolie old Inuit lady who won.

Bon appétit!

May. 31st, 2011


Trip to Back River (Part I)



 Ok maybe I'll talk about this trip in two or three parts -- one part tonight and the rest tomorrow.

From Gjoa Haven to Back River (Haningayok in Inuktitut) it's about 80 miles. For about half the year, skidoo is pretty well the only means of transportation. (For maybe three months you can get around in boat, and for three months it's hard to get around because of the ice breaking up and forming.)

We drove on the ice, which is SIX FEET THICK. This is the ocean we're talking about. That's an unimaginable amount of ice. You can drive a transport truck on three feet of ice. Here is a Google Map of our path: http://tinyurl.com/3qymvp2

We tow a sled, which you'll hear locals call a 'quamutiik', behind the skidoo. This is what it looks like fully loaded.

Because my dad is a little stubborn, and characteristically not quite prepared, we didn't have a box to block the wind. That wasn't such a big deal. We also didn't have any foam for cushion. By the time we got to point B, which is called "Half Guard Island" (as far as I could hear, anyway!), I knew I was in for a looong trip.

However, my company was great. Paul Piqiqnak is a really cool guy, and we had lots to talk about. He would tell me about the north and I would tell him about the "south". Plus, he brought along his dog Ublu, short for Ubluriaq, meaning "star". Here he is, chasing us out of Gjoa Haven!

He was pretty shy around me at first, but after he got tired he came on the sled and was pretty much forced to be next to me for a while. Later that night (we left Gjoa Haven at around 9pm!) I fed him some meat, and he warmed up to me pretty quickly!
Once we got to point D, we came across some cabins, and inukshuks. My first *real* inukshuk!
People use them for different purposes: for directions, to point towards or mark useful things, or just to tell future people that someone has been here before. These ones were put up maybe 30 years ago to mark their trail to Back River.
After stopping for a snack and some tea (peppermint green tea, spiked because we were outside the 20 mile radius of the dry township of Gjoa Haven), we made the crossing to the other side of the bay. About halfway across, the sun came out for the first time since I touched down in Gjoa Haven. This is what it looked like, at 1 in the morning.
Ok, it's getting late so I'll wrap the rest up. When we got to the other side, we saw (through some whiteout) some nice "mountains" (i.e. small hills!), a couple of seals, and more and more birds -- mostly geese, a couple ptarmigan and a few seagulls. As we pulled up to the cabin, at point F, there was a "small" herd of about caribou! So, since Paul's dad asked him to bring back two caribou, we shot one, cleaned it, and went to sleep.
That's a story for another time.

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