We have included below a tribute to some Inuit elders whose stories and hand drawn portraits were captured by the artist Gerald Kuehl. These are excerpts from his series and website called Portraits of the Far North. These brief stories of their lives offers a glimpse into the real lives of Inuit growing up across the north. We would like to thank Gerald Kuehl for allowing us to include his amazing artwork and stories in this site. We encourage you to take a look at his site and view his life like artwork that seems to capture the essence of these honored elders.
We hope you enjoy these fantastic drawings and stories and learn something new about Inuit and Inuit culture.
Rhoda was born in 1933 on the northern part of South Hampton Island to Mary Tarlik and Joe Curley. As a child Rhoda was determined not to be left out amongst her male siblings and cousins. She began trapping fox when she was 9 years old and sewing kamiks at age 12. Rhoda did not attend school as there was no opportunity to do so.
Rhoda married Harry Gibbons and had two children. 1952 found them at Maguse River where her father was helping missionaries translate a bible at the local Mission. It was during the 3 years at Maguse River many family members died from disease, including Joe Curley and her husband. Afterwards, Rhoda and her family relocated to Arviat.
In 1954 Rhoda married Johnny Karetak. Rhoda’s family continued to grow. In 1963 she spent 1 1/2 years in a sanitorium for treatment for tuberculosis. There she received a basic education. Rhoda has maintained a busy lifestyle. She raised her large family and cared for other people’s children. She sewed all her children’s clothing.
Rhoda has always been involved in traditional cultural activities and as such has continually promoted Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (traditional knowledge). She is the past president of the Inuit Cultural Institute, has been cultural advisor to the Nunavut Government and has worked for the Department of Education on curriculum development to include the Inuit perspective. The common thread through Rhoda’s many achievements and awards is her desire to, ‘keep Inuit culture alive.’ With that aim, she has been a tireless advocate.
Pelly Bay lies on the extreme northern coast of the Canadian Arctic. The people from this region, called Netsilingmiut, waged a constant daily battle to survive. They lived amongst countless lakes and rivers but the harsh climate disallowed vegetation other than mosses, lichens and small plants in this treeless land. Because of the permafrost, the earth cannot absorb rain nor melting snow.
In 1923 Mariano was born in this desolate wilderness of brutally cold winters and short, cool, summers. Survival meant harvesting the animals that also eked out an existence. Seal, caribou and musk oxen provided the necessities of food, clothing, fuel and materials for making tools.
In 1942 Mariano and Marie Tulimaaq were wed in a pre-arranged marriage in Repulse Bay. Mariano continued to hunt sea mammals but also trapped fox, to barter for other items at the Hudson Bay Company. Like many Inuit, Mariano experienced periods of deprivation but no one of his camp perished.
In 1981 Mariano and his family moved to Rankin Inlet. As the modern world engulfed the ancient Inuit culture, Mariano was advised to leave his traditional lifestyle behind. His vision was different, however. If the Inuit were to survive as a culture he felt they must keep the ties to the old ways alive. In pursuit of this goal, Mariano spends time traveling Canada, teaching traditional knowledge to young people. Believing current and future generations should know how to survive on the land, Mariano Aupilardjuk helps keep tradition alive.
Born on the land in 1925, Henry grew up in Whale Cove. He moved with his family to various communities in the north and for one year lived in Baker Lake. It was a desperate time as very few caribou could be found. Most of the people living in the camps survived on the few fish they managed to catch.
His father taught Henry how to survive on the land and by 16, after receiving a dog team as a gift from his uncle, Henry became a hunter. He was very successful and in 1945 Henry bought a boat from the H.B.C. with the fox furs he trapped.
Henry married Akupinik and in 1954 Henry and his growing family moved to Arviat. For 20 years he worked for the Arviat Medical Services as a community Health Care worker. During this period Henry hunted and fished primarily on the weekends. Henry also began carving and continues to do so.
Since retiring he spends more time on the land and also hunts seal and beluga whale. When I caught up with Henry in 2006 he had just returned from a successful caribou hunt. Henry is a small, friendly, fellow with an engaging smile who enjoys talking about his life and experiences.
Celina was born on January 1, 1928 at Siatuuq which lies north of Baker Lake. Her father, Akturungniq, drowned in a boating accident when she was a child. She remembers the difficult times she and her mother, Qaqsaupiaguk, experienced. "Soon after my father died, that fall, my mother had to build an igloo. She did not know how and was standing out in the snow crying as she tried to build the igloo. It was cold and winter was coming. She managed to cut the snow blocks for the sides but didn't know how to build the dome. That part she covered with an old tent. She and I lived in that igloo all winter. "
The husband is the main provider for the family through hunting, fishing and trading. Not having her father to perform these tasks made life extremely difficult for Celina and her mother. "My mom mostly fished to feed us. She was now the sole provider. Sometimes the Roman Catholic Church would give food to help us. That is how we survived."
Celina cooks caribou every spring and summer in a 45 gallon drum in her yard. She continues to sew although her eyesight is beginning to fail. Celina is a hard working, gentle, person who taught her children patience and to be concerned with the welfare of others. Although the Utanaaq family no longer live together on the land, they do enjoy occasional afternoons in spring and summer, in their tent, living as they did many years ago.
Tunnuq was born in 1928 in a place called Tuklirutit. Her people were called, Harvaqtuurmiut, because they lived in the land surrounding the lower Kazan River system. Soon after Tunnuq was born, she was brought by dog team to Baker Lake to be baptized. There she was given the Christian name, Elisapee.
During the spring her family spent much time by Harvaqtuuq (Kazan River) when the caribou began to cross. The land and in particular the crossing areas were treated with utmost respect in accordance with traditional beliefs so that the caribou would cross where expected. Their importance could not be overstated as these animals were indeed the essence of life to these people.
In May, 1944, Elisapee, 16 years old, married Moses Ookaulleeyak, aged 42. “There were some very hard times after I got married. We were at a place called Kitgavik and we were very hungry. I had my first child, Havaa, at that time. My husband would try to fish because there were no caribou around. He had hurt himself and couldn’t walk for a time. He would crawl on his stomach to go fishing.” It took 5 days to travel by dog team to Baker Lake to trade. When her family acquired rifles Elisapee killed tuktu with her .22. “I got lots of caribou. We needed them for clothing to survive the winters and for food and other things. ”
At the end of the 1950’s her family moved to Baker Lake where Elisapee worked at the Health Care Center. Elisapee is a healthy, spirited, little woman who is very popular at youth camps where she enjoys passing on traditional knowledge
Between Repulse Bay, on the Arctic Circle and Pelly Bay, to the north, lies Kamichee Bay. It was here John was born on September 18th, 1944. At age 9 John moved with his family to Repulse Bay. One of his earliest memories was his first taste of candy at the local Hudson Bay store. He recalled fondly, "It was so good!!”
John commented about living on the land, “I was taught by my father, uncles and close relatives about surviving on the land. When you know how to act and behave in different situations, you don’t have problems. For instance, I was taught to recognize when being too close to walrus and polar bears because they can become very dangerous. They will react a certain way and you must be aware of the situation to avoid the danger.”
In 1970 John married Uluta. The couple raised three sons and adopted a girl. John’s unique hat was purchased by his wife in 1978 from the Hudson Bay store. John initially didn’t like it, preferring his fur hat but began to wear it in the spring when the weather was warmer. In 1996 while out camping, it got torn, so Uluta, with no material to repair it put on a patch instead. She planned to put material on later but John suggested she keep adding patches to it instead. Others began giving John patches for his hat. Uluta says, ‘patches came from everyone and everywhere.’
John, a cancer survivor, is a healthy, friendly fellow who enjoys spending time on the land and as acting Lay Minister for the local Roman Catholic Church.
Sata was born in 1945 in the southwest of Baffin Island at Cape Dorset. His family moved to Repulse Bay when he was a young boy. Sata was taught to hunt by his father, Piluardjuk. He commented, "I was out with my father as soon as I could walk long distances." At that time his family lived predominantly in a sod house. He remembered losing many relatives to sickness during that period.
In 1968 Sata married Elizabeth. They have 6 children, still alive, plus 3 whom they adopted. Now Sata employed his own dog team to assist him in the hunt. In 1976 his family moved to Igloolik where a year later Sata purchased his first snowmobile. He gradually phased out his dog team. In 1984 his family moved back to Repulse Bay for the last time.
Sata likes hunting caribou, whale and seal. I photographed him wearing a hat made of ringed seal fur crowned with seal claws. Sata has been on the town council for several years and is a pastor at the Glad Tidings Church. He also guides for hunters who wish to experience the far north. I always enjoy seeing Sata. His solid presence and sense of humor characterizes how I pictured the inhabitants of the far north.
John Adjuk was born in 1913 in the Back River region of Nunavut. He grew up learning how to hunt and fish on the barrenlands. A resourceful young man, John rescued a girl from starvation who eventually became his wife. Monica and John have been together ever since.
Life took a turn for the worse, however, in 1949. Starvation was imminent so the Adjuk family (now 4 of them) began a three month trek to Perry River on the coast. It got so severe on the journey caribou hide was consumed after the hair had been scraped off. Eventually they arrived at their destination and remained for 5 years. In 1955 they returned to Garry Lake but in early 1958 the family of five was evacuated to Baker Lake when famine struck the land.
Agnes Turner, born in 1947, learned much from her father. “My father taught me how to hunt and survive on the land. ‘Use your common sense at all times. If you do not you will get lost. Survival skills are mental, physical and psychological.’ He also taught me life skills. ‘The best teacher is going to be yourself.’ He taught me how to deal with people when I grew up. He said, ‘God made you an Inuit. Be proud of who you are.’
In March, 1964, the Adjuk family, which now included 6 daughters, moved to Whale Cove because it was thought the hunting and fishing was better. I met John several times and admired his humor and intelligence. His portrait provoked laughter and the comment, “I look like an English gentleman.” John Adjuk, the oldest elder of Whale Cove, passed away in 2006 much loved and respected in his community.