Canadian Ctories

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Location: Eastern Townships, Quebec, Canada

I'm a father, a seakayaker, a guitarist, a writer, a geocacher and a lover of all things arctic. I try to dream big, journey far, kayak well, and above all, cherish my family and friends. I believe in self-sponsorship, Team Zero and being as carbon neutral as I can.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Ilatsiak - 71 - The Rowboat

By the fall of that year, many things had changed. David was being openly called ‘Ilatsiak’ by people. It seemed to be a joke, something to do with a man who’d lived years ago who’d miraculously learned to understand the language of the white people who came on ships. At that time several ships had become locked in a small bay on the east side of Boothia. As the ships remained there a number of winters, many Inuit became accustomed to visiting the sailors and getting favours of one sort and another from them. A few people learned words spoken by the sailors, but only Ilatsiak was able to speak full sentences. He became well known among the people and was often sought out when visiting the ships.
Given David’s origins, it seemed natural that David would acquire the name of this old man, especially given he had died some years before David began living with Agayuq’s family. Taking on the name of a person who’d passed away was commonplace especially if some sort of relationship was apparent.
This was made more clear to David as he, his son Tulugak and Agayuq walked along the broken rocks of the beach, each leading a dog on a line. They’d come to the west side of King William Island to hunt bears, something they rarely did. This year the aging Agayuq had woken up one morning with the dream of killing a bear. He’d killed one when he was young, but not since and something deep inside him told him that a bear was his if he wanted to hunt one. So gathering the boys together, they set off from the fishing camp by the lake when they’d spent the late summer. Finally they’d reached the shore and stared out at the ice they seem to never melt in this area.
“No wonder the ships got stuck here.” Agayuq said. “This sea never melts...”
David said nothing and headed off walking along the beach towards the south. His dog seemed to have sensed something, although as far as he could see, there seemed to be just more of the light brown fractured rock they’d been walking on for the past few days. The only change was that almost nothing grew in the area and here and there heavy pans of dirty ice lay shoved up on the beach, melting. The other dogs had caught the scent now and they too pulled at their traces, eager to be off towards whatever it was.
Coming to a wide bay leading westward, the dogs all pulled south. Whatever it was, they indicated it was inland along the old trail that led over to the south coast. Agayuq was not eager to go that way hoping to find his bear roaming the shoreline. He could see the ice was jammed close to the shore further west and was sure that would be where his bear was waiting. After a brief discussion t was decided that Tulugak would take his dog up the trail, while David and his father continued around the bay to the west.
It was a difficult time to hunt bears as they left no tracks either on the ice or the shore. Still hungry bears often searched the floes just offshore for seals hunting the small fish which frequented the shallow water. So as they walked along, both men stared out to sea, watching for any movement which might be a bear. They failed to notice Tulugak when he ran up the highest hill and waved his arms trying to catch their attention far below.
As the afternoon stretched on, David began to tire and suggested they walk up the small hill behind the point of and they were on. They could scour the ice floes in the bay and wait for Tulugak to catch up with them. Agayuq was getting tired as well, in fact David was amazed at his stamina, better than he’d seen it in years. This bear was giving him new strength, it seemed! They walked up the hill and as they neared the crest, Tulugak came bounding over it, obviously excited about something.
Catching his breath, the story spilled out in bits and pieces. There was a boat up the trail. A boat miles from the water. It was heading towards the bay. He’d seen a bear... He’d tried to signal them...


Monday, November 10, 2008

Illatsiak - 70 - Old Names

He tried to busy himself with his wife’s assortment of stretched seal skins, moving them to better catch the drying rays of the spring sunshine. He turned some caribou meat, also sun drying, as it hung over a stretched out seal skin line. Then he turned his attention to some slabs of seal blubber, moving them away from a couple of poles, the two wooden snow shovels, one still having parts of the wood painted in a pale yellow colour. Rotting seal blubber would stick to anything, he’d better get it out of the way before someone stepped into it... David watched his father doing chores usually reserved for his mother. “He is upset.” he thought to himself.”I have never seen him doing things like this...”
In spite of his outward showing of unconcern, inside, Agayuq was worried about the sudden arrival of these white people. He kept thinking of how they had suddenly appeared from the northeast with dog sleds and lots of equipment. It bothered him how they had stayed around most of the morning and then continued on to the south towards Back’s Fish River to the land of the Utku’miut where his son David was living with Qajaq’s family. The strangers didn’t speak the language of the people very well. It had been hard to understand them, but it was clear that their questions were all about where the ships were, how could they get to see them and what had happened to the shipmen. Agayuq had been so afraid of them, he had told them nothing except that the ships had sunk long ago, maybe eight or ten years ago. Finally he pretended not to understand the words of the Inuk translator who told him what they wanted. Agayuq didn’t want to admit to them that all the men must have died because most of them were never seen again after that awful summer when people had encountered them walking along the south coast. He knew the stories about how upset the white man who had come from Repulse Bay had been when he was told the stories of the camps of the starving ship men. He knew there had been at least three of these camps and, in some of them, men had eated the ones who died. The Inuit had found pots of cut up legs. Although there were similar tales of such things among his own people, it was so awful to think about, especially when his son could have been one of them had he not come to live with them. It was not something people talked about anymore.
Finally he turned and headed back into the snow house. The family would leave this camp and return further east to where his relatives would be spending the late winter and spring. It would be better there in the company of real people who didn’t always ask so many nosy questions about a time best forgotten.
“All those men from the ships died...” remarked his son seeing his father back on the sleeping bench.
“Yes, they all died...all of them. There are no more of them.” Agayuq, changed the subject seemingly relieved him and he began to tease his wife about what a fine cook she was. David knew what was coming next. He motioned to his daughter to follow him as he pulled on his boots and crawled out the doorway. Once outside, he stood up, peering to the south, wondering what those men might be doing. His father had been acting so strangely since he had arrived on a rare visit to go spring hunting. Had the strange men been dangerous? It was so unlike him to act this way. Maybe Agayuq is getting old and is worried about things too much. Hunting will cheer him up. It always did. Taking his daughter’s hand, he pushed her into their newly built snow house entrance ahead of him. He followed her into the snowhouse he and Qayak had built only a few yards further along the glistening snowdrift. When they had arrived the day before, he had not anticipated his father’s stories. He would tell Qayak. She would have something to say about the visit of the white men. She always had good advice, and would straighten things out.
“My father says white people have come,” David whispered to Qayaq later than evening as they sipped the hot seal gravy she had prepared.
“I know, “ Qajaq answered. “Your mother told me yesterday about them. Everyone was afraid, but they have gone. Strange they would come to our land. Why are they coming here when they don’t like it here?”
After pausing a moment in thought, David looked up at Qayaq, “I don’t know.
"Did you ever know your grandfather, your father’s father?”
“My grandfather? No. I was too young. Why?” David was curious where this was leading.
“You have his name. He was a brave man who knew white people. Your mother told me that when the white people came, she thought they were looking for him because he had learned to talk with white people who had come a long time ago. She was afraid they would want to take you with them because you have the same name.”
"He had my name?"
"Yes. The name people call you when you're not around: Ilatsiak..."
"I don't understand. Why am I called that? I am David. Everyone knows that..." David was genuinely puzzled by Qayaq's strange remark. He had another name?
"Yes, but don't tell anyone. I shouldn't have told you that. Forget it..." Qayaq was embarrassed to have openly mentioned this secret name. It wasn't normally done.
“We should not speak of the old ones. I will go hunting with Agayuq tomorrow if the wind calms.” The questions and explanations ended there, which relieved Qayaq immensely. She knew she had gone too far.


Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Illatsiak - 69 - More Whitemen Come Searching

“Blue eyed people have come here again looking for the frozen ships...” were the first words out of old Agayuq’s mouth when he finally sat down and finished sipping the hot juice from the boiling seal meat stew in the snow house.
“The frozen ships? When?” David looked confused. What an odd thing to mention after all these years. He and Qajaq had not seen the old man for at least two winters now and this was the first thing on his mind on their return from living in the Fish River area.
“Yes, a few days ago. There was a strange sounding Inuk and two other white men, one with blue eyes. They were looking for the dead shipmen. They wanted to find them, but I told them they had all died a long way away from here. I don’t know if they understood. Perhaps not. It was such a long time ago the frozen ships were here and these new men didn’t speak our language very well.”
“Blue eyes? White men? Where did they come from?” David became more and more puzzled. White men have not come to Kigitarjuk for many, many years. Not since the men from the frozen-in ships had died had they come here. It was usually a sign of bad things to come, illness and dying. But it also meant interesting things and supplies of rare things like wood and metal.
“They wanted to take my wooden things with them, but I said no. They asked if the wood had came from the ships where men had died long ago. They asked where the ships were and wanted to know where the men had gone. I could see them looking at my tent poles and spear handle. I was afraid of these men. It was not my fault their men had died or their ships had sunk. It was so long ago, maybe ten years have passed since that time.”
“What did you tell them?” David asked his father hesitantly. He found this whole conversation somehow confusing and could feel it upsetting him, but he couldn’t tell what exactly it was that was bothering him. It was true, so many years had passed since those days.
“I said nothing about the white men who died. I was afraid to speak of them. They are not our people. Finally I told them that the two ships had sunk. I said the wood came from the ship that sank about five days travel from here, past Malerulalik, past where the caribou cross over the ice to the mainland in the fall, over in the Ootjoolik area. No wood was had from the other ship. It sank too fast.”
“What about the wood? What did you say about the things you’ve made with it?” David could see his father was quite shaken from his experience, and even now, after the white men had left, he was reluctant to say much more about meeting these strange white men. He was afraid to lose the wood which had been so hard to obtain. Did he still have bad dreams about the ships and what had happened to the men on them? It was not something they had talked about very much especially in recent years. It semed to be painful to both of them so was never brought up.
“I said nothing. The wood we have now came from trading with some Utku’miut. You know that is true.” At that old Agayuq dropped to his knees and crawled out of the snow house in company with his favourite old dog, his constant companion these days. Once outside, he stood up and scanned the southern horizon. There was no one to be seen in any direction. They were gone for good, swallowed up by the vast snow fields which at this time of year stretched beyond the land, onto the sea ice and to the horizon. He knew they would not be coming back. That’s how it always was. White people seemed to only pass through this land, although he had heard the new stories about the whalers who had been coming to the land of the Aivilingmiut in Hudson Bay. Nothing seemed to interest white people in Kikitarjuk except the frozen-in ships, and that was only rarely these days. Yet these men had come. What did they really want?


Illatsiak - 68 - Second Child

Tulukaq was almost five when David and Qayaq found themselves once again pregnant. As before they were living with Agayua and Maneetaq, this time on the west coast of Boothia. When they discovered the baby was a girl, both immediately knew her name must be Assita after Qayaq’s mother had died the previous fall. Now here she was back again as their daughter. Living on the Boothia was a good choice for the young family. Hunting was good and hardly anyone ever brought up the old stories of the frozen-in ships. With Qayaq’s mother dead they seldom visited the Fish River area as her father now lived with them and had become good friend’s with Agayuq.
The years began to slowly go by, season by season. Each year they moved back and forth along routes which became ever more familiar and homelike. Only exceptionally did they venture off the usual path to hunt or camp in new areas or stay with new people. David came to realise these times were good ones, living with happy people and an abundant land.