THE VOICE OF THE PEOPLE
This section showcases the voices of Nunavimmiut who were willing to share their thoughts and certain moments in their lives. From the wisdom of elders to the aspirations of young people, the ideas expressed by each participant offer an opportunity to enrich one’s understanding and appreciation through closer contact. Children also have a place in this forum, and they communicate their vision of the world through artistic expression as well as through words.
Maata Tuniq (top left), Mary Kiatainaq (top right)
Inuluk Qisiiq (bottom left), Lizzie Irniq (botom right)
THE WISDOM OF ELDERS
Mary Kiatainaq, Inuluk Qisiiq, Maata Tuniq and Lizzie Irniq, all live at the Kangiqsujuaq Elders House. They share with us their childhood and the hardships they had to endure, their memories of dog teams, the importance of the Inuktitut language, country food and telling their knowledge to the younger generation.
«I was born between Salluit and Wakeham Bay during the famine, when there was no food. I don' know how my parents raised me during the famine years. Those were hard years. I had older sisters but I don't remember them, they died when I was young, probably from the famine. I have an older sister living here in Kangiqsujuaq, she was adopted. My brother died a few years ago during a canoe accident.
During the famine, my Mother used to feed my sister with blubber, like seal blubber or beluga, on a piece of wood so she could suck it. Before there was anything to eat, my Mother also used to melt ice in her mouth for her kids to drink.
During World War II there was a big famine in the North. All the white people left because of the war. As soon as the war ended they came back. The priests and northern companies came back with supplies so it started to change from there, for a better life. Since then it's been getting better and better. »
«I was born in Kangirsuq, and raised during World War II. There was a big famine all over the North, in Nunavik and Nunavut too, and probably also in Labrador. At one point we survived by eating our dogs. We didn't have to kill the dogs, they died of starvation and then we ate them. That's how we made it through the famine. It was extremely hard.
My parents would say we would have to eat dogs, but they weren't really good to eat. They used to tell me "We're eating these now, but there's better food coming soon".
After the war, everything became better. But when the white people came again, there were more dogs to travel around. Our leader, we used to have a leader, had to walk far away to get food supplies, and he came back with dogs so we started to breed them again.
After, I used to follow my Father a lot. We used to go fishing, camping and hunting with nothing but dogs. Usually it was the men that went, but when they didn't have a son, they used to bring their daughters. My father didn't have any sons, and since I was the oldest I followed my dad a lot everywhere he went during my early teenage years. I went with him until he couldn't go anymore because of old age. Then I took care of him for the rest of his life. »
«I didn't follow my Dad a lot, only twice, because he had sons. »
(Mary Kiatainaq, Inuluk Qisiiq, Maata Tuniq, Lizzie Irniq)
«The men used to go hunting with dog teams for three weeks to one month and they'd come back to the village. Trapping, fishing and caribou hunting. They were taking their time, there was no rush. There were mostly women in the camp, while the men were out hunting.
The size of dog teams varied. One man had five dogs, another man had ten, another had seven. The more successful the man was as a hunter, the more dogs he could feed and keep.
Today, it's much easier with ski-doos. In a way it's better, but in those days dogs were free: no gas and no mechanics to fix the machines. Today it's all very expensive. So life is still hard but not for the same reasons.
Nowadays, we have dogs everywhere around the village, but these dogs are naive. Before, they could find their way even during a blizzard white-out. The men didn't even have to direct them. They just knew where to go. Dogs back then were really intelligent. We all believe preserving the tradition of the dog team is very important.
Inuktitut our language, is also very important to us and we Elders have a better knowledge of it. Young people speak inuktitut in a different way. They can still speak the real Inuk language, and that's very important for us. Of course some words the youth don't understand, because they're from a different generation. Sometimes we speak inuktitut but with different meanings. So it's very important for them to learn the language.
It's also important for the young people to listen to the Elders so they'll know how we used to live, and that they can preserve our traditions. We're losing our traditions with each generation. We do our best to tell them the stories and the good ways of living. Some of them remember and follow those traditions.»
«When we were growing up, we did not have the technology of today and went through very hard times, trying to survive through the famine. Today, many people don't know the hardship we went through, technology has made many things easier, so many of them wouldn't know how to survive if they had to go through a famine like we did.
Back then, before there was money [up North], there used to be credit, like one fox, one credit at the trading post. We never saw cash or coins. We just got credit and shopped with no money. Money's not good. Many of the younger generation today think they can survive only with money.»
(Mary Kiatainaq, Inuluk Qisiiq, Maata Tuniq, Lizzie Irniq)
«Today, we do a lot of sewing and stitching of traditional clothing. We mostly do it for our grandchildren or children.
Country food is also really important to us. It was really important we they were growing up. It was the only food back then. And today we love it the best, but sometimes we have to buy store bought food.
Today, we live in a warm house, with electricity and running water. It's ok. But when food is concerned we prefer eating country food; mostly seal meat, it's our favorite. Since we were little, we've eaten seal and fish, like arctic char. If we were given the choice we would eat country food all the time instead of store bought food. The men from the village can provide us with country food, but sometimes we have to buy store bought food instead.
We also have all kinds of plants to eat from the Land. For example there's airaq [oxytrope] , immulik [foxflower], a very sweet plant with natural sugar. There are also some yellow flowers that we just add seal blubber oil to. For medicine, we brew tea with tiirluk [fireweed] as cold and cough medicine. We also eat kimminaq [partridge cranberry] , a very sweet red berry for sore throats and mouth infections.»
A Balance Between Past and Future
Born in Quaqtaq, Beatrice Deer now lives in Montreal with her husband Charles where she currently studies web design. An accomplished songwriter, she's performed for many Northern festivals and, among others, major cultural events in Quebec and Ottawa.
She speaks to us about her music, the importance of traditions and her views on living in a changing world.
«I'm from Quaqtaq, on the Ungava coast. My mother is an Inuk and my father comes from Kahnawake, he's Mohawk. I lived in Quaqtaq all my life until we moved to Montreal in 2007. I graduated from high-school when I was 16 but after going to work everyday [for several years] I just wanted to go back to school and experience living elsewhere. That was my biggest fear, to leave my comfort zone, it was a very big challenge. But, we toughed it out, we like it here now, it was hard at first, but we've grown to like it. It's home now.
Ever since I was a kid, I liked singing along to music. In 1997, my brother died, my sister too. My cousin and I started playing music, he played guitar and I liked singing so we tried to write songs, so I guess the first song I wrote was to my brother, to express the way I felt. That's when it started, when I was 15.
All of my songs are very personal. What I say in my songs is kind of blunt. I sing about sadness, happiness, I have a song about our land, where we come from, those kind of things. People seem to like them.
Traditions are extremely important to me. I made it very clear to my family, when we left, in this house in Montreal, we speak inuktitut, to the kids especially. That was the most important thing. And, I don't want them to ever lose their language. For sure they're already forgetting a few words here and there. But they're still very good in inuktitut.
We eat traditional food, my daughter eats more than I do. I didn't really grow up eating, enjoying, like, the rotten walrus and those kinds of things. I eat frozen fish, beluga, caribou, geese, but I don't eat as much as other people. My mother has to eat country food on a daily basis, because that's what she grew up on. But I grew up on, I don't know, pork chops and mashed potatoes and that sort of thing. But we still do eat that too.
When I go back to Quaqtaq, I like to go camping and fishing. We used to go, when I was a kid, but as time went on I lost interest for that, and also because my mother traveled a lot so we only went camping once in a while. Today, camping really brings us closer, it's not like being in your house in the village. Like, even the beds are all... it's one big bed for everybody! [laughs] Yes, it's a small cabin, but we help each other out more, like if the kids' clothes get wet we all help to hang them up and find dry clothes. We go fishing together, it brings us closer. I guess the contact with nature provides the environment for us to get closer. And it gives you a sense of pride too for being Inuit, because being outside of the town, where there's absolutely nothing out there? Inuit survived. They didn't have wood, gas or stores where you can just go in and buy food. They stayed there, hunted for their food, to stay alive and keep their family alive. That really amazes me when I think about it.
It's important to stay connected to the changing world. You can't advance without knowing the modern side of things. Our Elders have their own mindset, they grew up very differently, but we younger people also have to keep in touch with the world. So, you have to find balance in your life. And if you go to school today, you'll have a better chance in succeeding and having a job that you want, that you like. The most important thing for the Nunavik of tomorrow is education.»
The Power of Faith
At the time of the interview, Timothy Sangoya lived in Tasiujaq and worked as a police inspector. Originally from Nunavut, he moved to Nunavik at the end of the 1990s.
He speaks to us about his difficult youth in a residential school and the power of his Faith.
«I'm originally from Nunavut, in the Pond Inlet area. I've been in Nunavik for the past 10 years. When I was young, a lot of us lost our parents due to a tuberculosis epidemic back in the 1960s. For myself, my mother left when I couldn't even remember. I was a year and a half. A couple of years later she came back but I couldn't recognize her so I couldn't go back to her. I ended up growing with my grandparents. Then, I left home when I was eleven years old to Iqaluit, that was Frobisher Bay at the time. I stayed there for seven years. I went to residential school from eleven to eighteen.
A lot of us were abused both physically and emotionally by teachers and supervisors. We were too trusting, we didn't know what we were getting into. Our trust was abused and we lost it. We didn't know who to talk to. As for me, I couldn't even have contact with my grandparents. There were no phones back then. We could communicate by letters, but I wasn't used to it, I didn't take the time. I think I wrote three letters in those seven years. In those letters I kept my pain inside. I felt that they wouldn't understand. I guess at the same time I was going through the changes of being a teenager as well. I felt that they were too old fashioned to understand what I was going through.
Today, a lot of my schoolmates are dead, a majority of them are dead. Most of them by suicide. Some of them from alcohol and drug abuse. And some are in penitentiaries. My generation has gone through a lot.
There was a time I had to make a choice. To hold on to the grudges that I had against teachers and supervisors, or let them go, so I chose to forgive. It's the best thing. You might find it weird, but my message [to younger generations] is that there's no life worth living without Jesus Christ. Although there are some things that can never replace what I've gone through. Like my family, in Pond Inlet. It doesn't exist anymore. But I feel at home now [in Nunavik].
Christianity is not meant to make you a better person, that's not the point. The point is for you to be born again. That's how I was changed. Before that I tried to confess my sins and make every attempt to be a good person. I would last a few days to two weeks, that was it. [laughs] Ever now and then I would have to do something really bad to calm myself. To have a party until I dropped dead [laughs]. It became a cycle. I couldn't get out of it.
Later in life I tried to live a traditional way of life. I felt it wasn't for me. I felt I was trying all kinds of things. Even at one time I thought that if I had two ski-doos, a canoe, everything that I need as an Inuk, I would be happy. I did that, I bought two ski-doos, a canoe, a motorcycle, but still there was something missing. And it was only when I met Jesus as my Savior that I finally found it. For thirty years now, I wake up having inner peace.
When I got saved, there were some things that I started finding out and some of them were shocking. In one instance I found that not all preachers knew Jesus Christ as their personal Savior themselves. It was only a ritual for them to conduct services, treating it like a job. Being a Christian is different. You become a new being. You can sense that God is for you and living in your heart. Some Churches don't realize this. They don't know Jesus personally. You have to know him in order for you to communicate with other people.
People today are looking for something. For the peace that they know exist, but they can't put their finger on it. What I can say is that they're looking in the wrong places. That peace is a person, and that person is Jesus Christ. Only He can satisfy that inner thirst.»
Traditions in a changing World
Allen Gordon is Executive Director of the Nunavik Tourism Association. He shares with us childhood memories about how life has changed since, and tells us of the importance of country food for the Inuit and the community in general.
«During my upbringing, there have been a lot of changes, everything from culture to school. We were in a transition period. The signing of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement in 1975 brought quite drastic changes, in a short period of time. For example, halfway through my schooling, we started to have inuktitut as a subject, which we never had before. It was difficult not to have started inuktitut early in school. Services changed a lot too. When I was growing up in Kuujjuaq we still had a portable toilet we had to bring out every day, even in blizzards. Kids today couldn't imagine that we had no running water, just one big tank and a single tap. That's how we'd get our water and if we wanted to heat it we had to take a big bucket and put it on top of the stove. My two brothers had it even harder when they were growing up. There weren't even oil stoves, there were wood stoves that would heat the house. Back then they were not well off. Nobody had snow machines, there were dog teams but that's the way life was.
Back then too there was a lot more respect for Elders. When I was growing up there still were a lot of cultural taboos. For example, we were very discouraged to even look at the the full moon by Elders who told us "Don't watch it because someone from up there will shoot you in the eye with an arrow". Little things that the Inuit grew up with all changed suddenly. We're loosing many of the legends that we used to hear when we were camping at night.
When I was growing up, before television arrived in 1979, everyone was a hunter. In the fall after school we'd go set our traps and hunt birds. It's still happening today but generally a lot less than when I was growing up. There still are a lot of hunters now but overall the children that are keen to go out each day is less now, because we have a lot of things going on in our lives, like the internet. Things have changed quite a bit.
Today, country food continues to be very important to the Inuit, although things are changing rapidly. But kids today still crave for country food. For example, my son needs to have frozen char, frozen caribou, it's the same as for anybody who grew up with traditional food. They crave for it. It's a big part of our cultural identity as well, having community feasts, like this past Christmas where there was frozen caribou, frozen char, maktaaq... it's the way we are. Living off the Land is still very important for us. There are still a lot of people that go out on the Land to fish and hunt. The tools have changed dramatically as we now have motor boats and snow machines. But it's still what our grandfather and people from our past used to do and that we're still doing now.
The James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement was signed partly to protect our rights but we also gave up a lot. It encourages us to live in communities, more than it does for us to go out on the Land. That's my personal opinion. I wish there were programs to encourage families to be out on the Land. Each Inuit community has a Hunter Support Freezer or a community freezer and when there is a lot of caribou in the area hunters sell it to that freezer so people have access to that as they wish. Not everyone has a hunter in the house, especially Elders or widowers, and thanks to community freezers they have access to country food, free of charge. But that also makes some of the people just stick to town instead of going out on the Land there and to be self-sufficient.
For hunters, there's also assistance in purchasing some of the material they need, the wood to make komatiks (sleds) for example. Each village has its own hunter support program that they manage in their own way. Part of the budget is also set aside for emergencies. If people get lost or need assistance, gas and material is provided to rescue them.»