Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Lily turns 3 and Richard goes hunting

Sorry for the lack of postings the last couple of weeks. It seems like if we leave it too long then it becomes such an undertaking to get caught up with the backlog that it then gets put off even longer. So this posting is a bit of a mish mash.

Lily’s birthday:

She had a great time. We had a party and invited a few of her friends. We had a friend dog sit for us as the puppies may have scared some of the kids. Everyone arrived, played and had a good time. We all had hot dogs and Kraft dinner with a cake Margot made. MMMMMM. Then after Lily’s nap we had a couple of adult friends over and had another party for Lily. She had a great time turning three.

Personal Improvement Week:

We all need to improve (some more than others) ourselves, and this week all of us teachers in the Qikiqtani region got to do just that. We were given a set amount of money and it had to be used towards professional development. We had to set up what ever we wanted to do and put a proposal together that needed approval. Some did course work both up here and down south, others had projects they were working on and some chose to learn about Inuit culture. Margot and I both chose to go the last route as we are new and very interested in what is important to the community in which we live and teach. It makes for a more authentic teaching and learning model when you have personal experience with a subject. So Margot is making seal skin kamiq’s (boots) and I am learning to carve stone and have arranged for a local guide to take me out on the land to hunt and fish the Inuit way.

I love GPS:

A bit of back-story about hunting and I. When I was a kid in southern BC my dad was quite a hunter and I grew up hunting birds (using a small 22 caliber gun, not a shotgun) and such. I have never shot a large animal and I stopped hunting in my teen years. It has never been something I really wanted to get back into, but having lived up here, it reignited my interest in it. This community and the Inuit people have such a strong foundation built on hunting and fishing. It was something I really wanted to be a part of, to be a true hunter up here. I wanted to be able to relate to my students and members of the community about something that is important to them. I can only learn so much from reading books and watching educational videos. What follows is not a story about blood lust and my desire to kill. It is about my wanting to experience a new part of the culture that is important for the men in my community. Also I wanted to feed my family and share with my community. Trust me, nothing goes to waste up here. I was very conflicted about killing such a beautiful animal, but I also know that is how the food chain works if one eats meat (which I do) and these animals have been harvested for hundreds of years and are being carefully managed now. I know this is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I am here to experience Inuit culture and this is part of it.

My day Caribou hunting started well after picking up the snowmobiles, loading up gear into the Qamutiq (I built, with help) and getting fuel. As we were departing, I set up my new (borrowed) GPS unit to track our day. This would allow us to follow a trail home in case we got turned around or bad weather came in. Gabriel, my guide, scoffed at my GPS a bit, but didn’t say too much. I told him it was just in case and that I did not really know it very well. I reassured him that he was the one who was going to get us home.

It was an amazingly clear day and around -32 C (not incl. wind chill). We headed off and began our journey on the frozen ocean. I must admit how terrified I am of being on frozen water. It does not help that everyone I talk to who has been traveling/hunting on the ice has some horror story about how they have either had a snowmobile fall through or the ice they were standing on break off and float away. That’s scary stuff. So, I was very careful and we followed other fresh snowmobile tracks. We traveled 45 miles north east across the southern tip of Baffin Island. We traveled through some amazing terrain and it was so very beautiful. At times it was a bit frustrating though because it was so cold, I had to cover my face to avoid frostbite. But, when I did that, the condensation would eventually make it’s way up into my goggles, eventually forming a thick layer of ice that made it difficult to see. So, we would stop, thaw out and then carry on. We drove for about 2 hours passing over frozen mountains, wide open flatland's, lakes and streams. We passed over numerous tracks, both Caribou and Polar Bear but still no animals. I did see an arctic hare streak across our path which was pretty cool. It was the first wild, non-airborne animal I had seen since we moved here. Right about the time I was starting to give up hope, we came across two Caribou. They were in the lee of a large hill and stopped to watch us as we prepared our guns. In hindsight, this would have been good time to put on some thin gloves, like mechanic or biking gloves to stop the intense cold and wind from freezing them. However, in my haste to leave the house I forgot them, along with a camera and my binoculars. Anyhow, as we began to approach them they began to trot at a leisurely pace away from us. Gabriel did not seem too concerned as we neared them and he tried to shoot the larger of the two, which turned out to be female as they both were. He missed a few times and then asked if I would try to shoot the other. Now, as an aside, I am a resident and a licensed hunter who is legally allowed to shoot up to five Caribou this season. I did not bring up a rifle to Nunavut, but I am having one shipped up now. I did bring along my model 12, 12 gauge Winchester pump action shotgun that was my grandfathers. It is a very nice gun. I brought along rifled deer slugs for bear protection, but they are also used for hunting thin skinned, large game. Now on with the story:

Caribou are a strange animal. I have never seen an animal stand and watch you while you shoot at it. Generally they run away, but these ones would run a couple hundred yards and then stand and watch, as we would try again. It took about 10 minutes for the actual hunt, during which I had exposed hands while holding my gun and driving. We would drive, stop, get off, shoot, reload and repeat. By the time I took my last shot, I could not move my thumbs and was trying to load my gun by shoving shells in with my burning, frozen, unmovable thumbs. It was so very painful! It took us a few tries but eventually we did shoot them. It didn’t help that Gabriel’s gun was not sighted properly. I was quite impressed with my shot. It was at least 125 yard, using a shotgun in the wind, using open sights on a gun I had never hunted with. Gabriel was very impressed which made me feel pretty good. I took a total of 7 shots. 4 misses, two body shots and one final one to kill the animal quickly after it was on the ground shots. I don’t want to see an animal suffer needlessly. Gabriel’s Caribou was a full grown female with antlers, mine we estimated to be about two years old. It had small antlers and a bit smaller body. They are much larger than the deer down south with large hooves, noses, eyes and long, long legs.

Then the work began. I stood back and tried to help, but soon realized that I was only slowing Gabriel down as he expertly skinned, limbed, gutted and butchered both animals. He told me that when he lived back home in Coral Harbor, Nunavut, he butchered over 30 Caribou in one day. His hometown has a very large heard and they supply many communities with Caribou meat. It took about 25 minutes per animal. We lined the qamutiq with a tarp then used the skins to hold the meat, innards, legs and heads. The only things left were the intestines, everything else was used. I took some ribs, the shoulders and the hind quarters from the smaller one that I shot for my family and friends. I also took the hides, one set of innards (a delicacy), and the vertebrae, which I gave away as a thank you to an older Inuit woman who has worked with both Margot and I at our schools. She sent her son over to help me butcher the pieces of Caribou into specific cuts of meat, which I then processed later. Gabriel took the rest of the meat, limbs, innards and heads to feed his family and friends.

After we got cleaned up and had some bannock and tea we began our trip home. By this time, it was about 2 pm and the sky was still clear but a very cold wind was tearing across the land. It was very cold. We figured we had another 45 minutes before we should start heading home. Gabriel led the way as we continued our hunt. After passing over a never ending criss-cross of old snowmobile tracks and a few more mountains Gabriel admitted he was a bit turned around and asked if my GPS was working. At this point I was concerned and brought out the GPS that I had hastily set up to track our route prior to leaving town. We both looked at it and the map I had brought and he figured he knew where to go and we set off again. 15 minutes later, he stops and says he’s lost and wants to see the GPS again. After a couple of "comments" from me he smiled and said he knew where we were. I said so do I, Nunavut, but that doesn’t help me get home. He asked for the GPS again and he used it for the next 30 minutes until he got us back on our old tracks. Now, I am sure we would have been fine and figured out which way was home, but GPS is amazing. I also was sure to bring extra batteries, fuel, emergency food, tools, clothes, maps and such. I tend to over prepare which usually turns out to be a good thing.

We then began the long and very cold trip home. There was one section that was about 15 km long in which the wind was hitting our side with such force that it was blowing the qamutiq (fully loaded and heavy) sideways a bit as we traveled at a pretty quick speed.

We made it back to town and filled up our fuel. Many people gave us big smiles and were very happy for our successful hunt, however, most also “jokingly” asked for either an invite to dinner or some of the Caribou. I had to drop Gabriel off, stop by the store and get Lily and Margot also. By the time I got home there was a small army of kids wanting to know about the hunt. Two girls refused to believe that I shot one of the caribou, or that I built the qamutiq or my harpoon (with help) and called me a liar. I asked is it because I am a teacher and therefore have no life or skills outside school (from their perspective) or a qallunaat (non-Inuit) and they told me it was because I was qallunaat. After explaining that what they were saying was racist, I suggested they should go home.

Lily thought the whole thing was very exciting, as did we. We called up a few friends to come over and check it out and have dinner. Kala and Smoot were also very excited. Margot spread out cardboard on the kitchen floor while I brought everything inside. I then went and returned the snowmobiles. I had been told to throw the hides out by numerous people because they were not good for making anything this time of year, but Margot got on the phone with an elder, Qupi (Hope-ee spelled phonetically) and she sent over her son to get them. He will use them as bedding while out camping once they have been cleaned, stretched and dried in the spring. He also said he would help me with my meat as I was completely out of my element. He and his girlfriend arrived with a gigantic cleaver/axe and after I assured him I had our dogs, who were sequestered in the living room, under control, set about chopping and portioning up the Caribou. Within ten minutes he was done. He commented on how often he has done this before and I believe him. After we said goodbye, I began the arduous process of cleaning, trimming and packaging everything up. Lily thought it was great and went and put on a party dress for the special occasion then desperately wanted to sit on my lap as I sliced and diced. I explained to her that she needed to put on other clothes if she was going to “help”. That night we ate bbq’d Caribou steak for dinner and it was very tasty but a bit tough. I think that is why many people up here eat it frozen and raw with soy sauce (I haven’t tried this yet) or in stews. Sadly it was too rich for the dogs and they were both a bit ill that night, along with Margot. We did not get done until about 8:30 pm. I must admit, I love bleach. The kitchen was such a bloody mess afterwards (literally) that I created a mixture of pine sol, sunlight and bleach. Margot and I then used it to clean and scrub every surface in our kitchen.

It was quite a day and I am still processing everything. It will be a day I never forget, that’s for sure! Thanks to everyone’s help and generosity as it made the day a success.

Conquering ones fear:

I had planned on spending another day with Gabriel as my guide setting up fishing nets under the ice in a nearby lake. But sadly the plan fell through, as he could not locate the nets. So, as a plan B, we spent the day out on the ice floe edge. Now, I am terrified of being on frozen water. I have seen people and snowmobiles break through ice after being reassured “don’t worry, it’s perfectly safe. You could drive a truck on this!” This is why I have waited so long to go out on the ice, and never by myself. I managed to hook us up with another hunting party who was also heading out. They even had a little boat. They use the boat to go pick up whatever they shoot in the water off the flow edge (seals & walrus). It was also nice to go with men who go out on a daily basis and have a very good understanding of this area, currents and ice thickness. Also, the more the merrier I say!

As we left the relative safety of town and firm ground for a day of ice, I must admit to being quite scared. But, it seemed as good a day as any to conquer my fear, so off we went. It was really amazing to feel the difference between regular snow and the snow on frozen ocean. On regular snow, my snowmobile just scoots along without much resistance, but on the frozen ocean it felt as if I were towing a heavy load. The engine struggled to overcome the resistance from sticky frozen ocean’s snow. As we approached open water, I could feel a slight panic attack coming over me and I had to work very hard at calming down and trusting the men that I was with.

The floe edge was very beautiful. The day was clear with blue skies, a moderate wind and about -30 C (temp, not wind chill). The cold air blew across the frozen land and ice and when it hit the open ocean, created a thick fog about 50 feet out that extended high into the sky. I was told that when it warms up, the visibility will increase on the water. We parked about 50 feet from the edge and everyone used their harpoons (I am glad I made one) to stab at the ice to ensure it was thick enough. If after one stab it goes through it is dangerous, 2 stabs okay for one man, 4 stabs it’s okay for many men and snowmachines, 6 stabs and it’s safe for a truck. We were at about 5 stabs. It still seemed very thin. I explained that I am a large man and maybe their stab scale was only for smaller Inuit men. They all laughed and one man said his dad was very fat and would be safe out there too. So with that we all watched the ocean looking for seal heads.

The day proved to be unsuccessful for hunting, but we did get to explore much of the shoreline, meet other hunting parties and get some good riding in. We left Cape Dorset Harbor and headed across Parchetuk bay, over a couple islands known for duck hunting, past Negus Bay and out to the Neta Islands in search of weed. When I asked what we were looking for and was told “weed” as we all poked at the ice with our harpoons, I must admit my southern BC brain was not thinking seaweed. When I explained my confused look to the group, they all had a good laugh.

It was a calm day filled with lots of stories about the past and how things used to be. How people had to fight for their lives and work together. I was told a story about a man and his friends who had a the piece of ice they were standing and hunting on, break off and float out into the open ocean. They would fall off and the waves would lift them back onto their ice again. They huddled together to keep safe and warm. Finally after two days, they were rescued by helicopter. Another story that stuck in my mind was a group who also had a large piece of ice they were on break off. They rushed over to their snowmobiles and raced across the ever widening gap of deep, black ocean water that separated the piece of ice they were on and the new floe edge. They lost 1 snowmobile and 2 guns. I cannot imagine being faced with these challenges. This is not a place for games or to not take nature seriously. I am still afraid of the ice, but I am very happy I got to experience it with so many warm and friendly people.

Lily in the morning. She decided she need to wear her some of her snow clothes while we watched the news. What a funny kid!

Some people drive trucks, others drive snowmobiles and quads. This person rides their scooter all year. It's the funniest thing to see them flying down a road so icy that kids can use their ice skates. The riders keep their feet down like outriggers and often have passengers! What a crazy place.

Lily and Daddy at the dump looking for a snowmobile part. This is a place the locals call "Canadian Tire".

Lily on the phone wearing daddy's boots.

Lily getting ready to "go out" in her play amouti

Give Lily a pack of stickers and guess were they end up?

A man cleaning snow off the vent stacks with no safety equipment. He almost fell twice, so scary. A WCB nightmare!

Margot and Lily out for a big walk.

Lily and Kathy using Margot's smartboard in her classroom.

Margot commuting home from work.

Richard coming home from work.

A hunter on the floe edge.

Snowmobiles on the floe edge.

A destroyed seal den. This is what they build to have their pups in. It must have been crushed by a hungry bear.

Hunters planning our next move.

Looking for weed.

A very icy island.

My gun and seal skin mittens.

A view looking east from the Neta Islands.

An elder on the floe edge waiting to help a group of hunters with their canoe. They will be returning, hopefully, with walrus.

The edge of the floe edge.

My Qamutic.

My Qamutic returning full after a successful hunt before I returned the snowmobiles.

Lily and Kala enjoying a Caribou foot.

Lisa and Lily checking out our Caribou.

Amy and Lily check out the action. Notice Lily's fancy dress. I thought Amy did pretty good considering she is a vegetarian.

Richard learning how to butcher Caribou in the kitchen. Notice his gigantic knife on the floor beside him.

Lily's birthday lunch.

Lily's birthday presents.

Lily enjoying a ticky loopy after the party.

Lily playing on her new bike.

Lily and Daddy have a bit of wind-down time.

Lily checking out the glove from the new Michael Jackson dancing game.

Lily giving the new sweater her Grammy made for her a 'yes' face.

Lily enjoying the new toque from her Mama and Papa

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